I’ve written a lot about sexist expectations for girls on how they should dress in certain locations. Many times, dress codes are unfairly aimed at women and emphasize hiding/covering up their bodies, even blatantly non-sexual parts. Yet, sometimes it isn’t even the dress codes that are slut-shaming; It’s teachers who have old, traditional values and shame kids simply for clothing choices, even if there is no dress code violation.
Take today, in one of my classes. Dresses without sleeves are permitted at my school, as long as the straps are not “spaghetti straps” (I.e.; really thin). My dress has relatively thick straps, went down to my knee, and seemed appropriate to wear for school. Admittedly, it was slightly low-cut, but nothing obscene (See below for a similar looking dress so you can judge for yourself).
When I went to put my jacket on during class because I was cold, my teacher felt that it was acceptable to say “Well of course you have to cover up, you’re practically naked.” While this irksome comment could have been passed off as a joke or a rude, incorrect observation (I assure I was fully clothed), she continued to talk, saying I was “clearly dressing to get attention” and “if I want to get attention from the boys by showing off my body, I should.” The body part I was blatantly parading to win the gaze of my male peers? My. Freaking. Shoulders. About as sexual as a piece of cardboard.
Not only were these statements misogynistic, hurtful and ridiculously uncalled for, they were said in front of the entire class, in order to ensure my humiliation. The feminist in me really wanted to get angry; internally, I was screaming. But, because she is a teacher, I had no power to say anything, and I had to sit in class with my jacket pulled over my dress, humiliated and upset.
This teacher is a female, so I was shocked at how blatantly sexist she was towards me. Firstly, she was accusing me of dressing in a “slutty” way (in her perception) solely to gain the attention of males, without considering I chose the dress simply because it was comfortable and I liked how I looked in it. Secondly, she publicly humiliated me by calling attention to my perceived “sluttiness” and allowing others to see that such embarrassment of their female peers is acceptable. It is attitudes like hers that contribute to the rape culture in our society.
No matter the motivation behind my clothing choice, it was deeply wrong for her to insinuate that I was making choices for a boy and I was trying to get attention. In doing so, she detracted from my education and reduced me to a distraction for the boys in my school, rather than allowing me a safe environment in which to learn. The tragedy is, so many girls face situations like the one I described above. So many girls are punished for being a “distraction” or a “disruption” to make education, with no regard to how such punishment and embarrassment will affect their education. Teachers have been prioritizing male education over female education for far too long, and us women can no longer stand for this blatant disregard for our educational and emotional health.