By Annika Hammerschlag
Naples Daily News, Fla.
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) From New Jersey to Oregon, protests have taken the form of walkouts, picketing and deliberate mass dress code violations. Many other online petitions take aim at bans on all leggings, yoga pants and tank tops, in addition to short shorts and skirts.
Naples Daily News, Fla.
High school students across the country are pushing back against what they find to be sexist school dress codes, and the revolution is happening both at school and online.
Dozens of recent petitions on Change.org, many of which have received upward of a thousand signatures, are calling on high school administrators to reverse policies they think reflect a larger societal issue: women being blamed for the actions of men.
“You make it seem as if by showing skin on our legs or, god forbid, our shoulder. (sic) We are welcoming guys or trying to tempt them,” reads one petition, written by Jenny Rivera, a junior at Barron Collier High School in North Naples. “School should be a safe place to learn without concerns over whether my shoulder is causing guys to pass out in the halls.”
Barron Collier, which began enforcing its dress code this year, prohibits students from wearing ripped jeans, leggings with mesh or short shorts.
Violators are sent to an office where they must stay until a parent drops off acceptable clothes, Rivera said. If a parent is unavailable, the student must miss classes for the rest of the day.
Rivera’s petition has received more than 1,800 signatures.
Many other online petitions take aim at bans on all leggings, yoga pants and tank tops, in addition to short shorts and skirts. Some schools have banned T-shirts that reveal students’ collarbones, prompting public outcries from students and parents alike.
Offline, from New Jersey to Oregon, protests have taken the form of walkouts, picketing and deliberate mass dress code violations.
School districts, including Collier County Public Schools often define prohibited items in their rule books as clothing that “creates a distraction” and allow principals to determine specifics at their schools.
“But it’s a distraction to whom?” asked Lyn Brown, a professor of education at Colby College in Maine and author of “Powered by Girl, A Field Guide for Supporting Youth Activists.”
Brown, who specialized in girls’ development and resistance to oppression while pursuing her doctorate degree at Harvard, is far from the only person who finds the term “distraction” irksome. Student protesters often write “I am not a distraction” on their forearms and on the T-shirts they wear to school. The hashtag #iamnotadistraction appears in more than 1,300 posts on Instagram and in at least hundreds of tweets.
Brown said the issues brought up by student protesters sound all too familiar.
“When we talk about what girls wear and how it’s somehow provocative, it contributes to the wider climate where it’s normal, or it’s ‘just locker room talk’ to harass or even assault girls,” she said.
But things are changing, Brown said, and adults aren’t giving the current generation of teenage boys enough credit.
High school boys today, she said, are more inclined to support the efforts of their female counterparts, not perpetuate the forces working against them.
Brown pointed to groups of boys who have protested their schools’ dress codes in solidarity with their female classmates.
Dress codes, Brown argues, are results of an older generation’s outdated expectation of male behavior.
Brown suggests school administrators work with students to come up with dress codes that are culturally appropriate, inclusive of trans students and that work “to protect students, not just to discipline them and shame them.”
Schools administrators should seize the opportunity to use these uprisings as lessons in democracy and civic engagement, she said.
One school leader in Ohio did just that.
Matt Montgomery, superintendent of Revere Local Schools, created a “Superintendent’s Think Tank” where he meets with 15 students quarterly to have an open dialogue about school policies and procedures.
Students brought up concerns about the school’s dress code in the past, he said, but there was never enough student or faculty support to warrant a change in policy. Revere Schools prohibit leggings, yoga pants, ripped clothing, short shorts short skirts and short dresses.
However, Montgomery said he appreciated hearing from students who explained the difficulties of finding long shorts and jeans without rips.
“Students are the population we’re serving,” he said, “and to rob them of their voice seems counterintuitive to the purpose of what we’re trying to teach them about advocating for their beliefs.”
Collier County Superintendent Kamela Patton and the Barron Collier administrative team declined interview requests but issued comments through the district’s communications office affirming the school was following the student code of conduct.
Stephanie Lucarelli, a Collier County School Board member and Barron Collier parent, said she thinks it’s important that students dress in a respectable manner, but she sympathizes with girls who find the rules sexist.
“If girls are being told that what they’re wearing is disruptive to the boys’ education,” she said, “that I have a problem with.”
Collier parent Denise Murphy said she doesn’t find the rules sexist and that girls would be just as distracted by boys who wore short shorts and ripped jeans.
She said students need to be prepared for the “real world” when they’ll be required to abide by office dress codes.
“These kids should be more focused on their grades, not on making a fashion statement,” she said.
School uniform proponents argue strict clothing requirements level the playing field between wealthy and economically disadvantaged students. Uniforms also can help students save time while getting ready in the morning, quash fights between parents and children about what they can and can’t wear and encourage school pride.
Studies on links between uniforms and academic and behavioral outcomes have been mixed.
In perhaps what was the largest study, conducted over 10 years by Virginia Tech professor David Brunsma, uniforms were found to have no significant effects on attendance, grades or behavior.
In an April 2017 blog post, Galen Sherwin, a senior staff attorney at the Women’s Rights Project of the ACLU, weighed in on the issue.
“Even when dress codes seem gender-neutral, they are frequently used to police girls’ bodies — sending the message that girls are a ‘distraction’ to boys or men,” she wrote.
“They are often disparately enforced against girls, students of color, LGBT students, or students of different sizes. And enforcement means students may be sent home from school or forced to ‘cover up’ — in other words, excluded, shamed, and victim-blamed.”
Rivera, the Barron Collier junior, said she simply wants to feel comfortable, and she is proud she spoke out.
“I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback,” she said. “These are things that people have been thinking about for a long time but haven’t said anything.”