Are School Dress Codes Sexist?

Published September 22, 2018
Teenage girls t school

It's been widely reported that females get written up more often than males for dress code violations. However, are dress codes sexist?

Why Dress Codes Are Considered Sexist

Many argue that dress code violations are sexist because dress codes themselves tend to target female students.

Target Female Clothing

Many feel dress codes typically target female clothing both because dress codes tend to ban things females typically wear, and they tend to require clothing that is not easily available for women (but are for men.) For example, tank tops, yoga pants, and leggings - which are often banned by typical dress codes - are generally worn by females. Additionally, guidelines like the "fingertip rule" state students' shorts must be longer than the fingertips when hands are down at sides. While longer shorts are easy to find for boys, most girl's shorts are not this long.

Prioritizes Boys' Classroom Needs

Many times the wording of a dress code tells female students they should dress in a specific way because their clothing is distracting boys. For example, shorts and skirts should be longer than fingertips because you don't want to show your thighs as that might cause a male student to be distracted. Shirts should be up to your neck because cleavage is distracting. Leggings should be covered by a long shirt so your rear end isn't seen. This tailors a dress code for female students and implies their education is not as important as a boy's education. Banning these kinds of clothing takes away a female student's comfort level at best, and at worst, suggests that boys should be comfortable but girls do not have the same needs for comfort in a class.

Body Shames Girls

Need another reason why school dress codes are bad? Girls come in all shapes and sizes. In addition, the teenage years are a pivotal time of growth for a girls' self-image. Consequently, many kids want to dress like their friends. However, whereas a shirt might fit according to regulations on one girl, it might show cleavage on another. Therefore, you have punished a girl for having bigger breasts. This will start to make the larger chested girl self-conscious. You can also look at the fingertip rule again. A girl with long legs and arms is punished by wearing longer shorts than someone with shorter arms. These distinctions in the dress code can have a negative effect on a child's self-esteem during a crucial growing period.

How Dress Codes Are Changing

The purpose of many dress codes is to ensure that all students feel comfortable and ensure modesty in the classroom and at events. While they are necessary, many schools are changing the wording to ensure their codes are gender neutral.

Modified Wording

Many schools have addressed sexism in the dress code by changing the language of their dress code. For example, they remove wording like showing cleavage to covering private parts. Additionally, some schools have simplified their dress codes. For example, the dress code simply explains what constitutes a shirt, pants/shorts and dress/skirt for all students. This is what happened at Indian Hills High School in Wisconsin when students protested the sexist dress codes enforced for girls more than they were for boys through various means. This has caused the school to modify the dress code to be more gender neutral. And this same change is happening all over the country.

Promotes Positive Learning Environment

Many proponents of dress codes point out that a dress code promotes safety and learning in a public school. With the right language, a dress code is meant to make everyone feel safe and to reduce fights and bullying in schools. It has also been shown that a dress code can enhance learning.

Alleviates Pressure

Sexualization of women is everywhere. TV shows to entertainers and in between are all sexualized. Dress codes help to alleviate the pressure on students, allowing them to dress modestly. Dress codes still allow room for self-expression but in a controlled environment.

The Problem With Dress Codes

Dress codes are a sticky area for most parents and schools. While most schools need to update the wording of their dress codes, there are ways to ensure that the dress code in your school ensures modesty among students without harming a person's self-expression or self-esteem.

Are School Dress Codes Sexist?