At Educon last weekend Michael Doyle and I did a session together about gender. It was the last session of the conference. As Educon tends to be quite intense I was concerned the last session would be a serious challenge, that those who were still there would be too intellectually tired to do much. I was definitely worried I would be that way! In fact, I tweeted that basic idea about half an hour before our session.
Luckily, I needn’t have worried. The folks who were there definitely engaged. We had some really interesting conversations about gender broadly in society, our personal experiences, and in education. People didn’t always agree, which I think is a good thing because it makes me think more deeply. One of the things that came up very briefly was dress codes. The conversation didn’t follow that tack but I would have been interested if it had (as I was interested in the various directions it did go).
Michael and I had talked about our own personal dress choices for school and we talked some about the societal expectations for men and women. But we didn’t talk much about dress codes for students.
Then I returned to school this week at the start of our third quarter. Our administration had made a video to review our district’s Student Rights and Responsibilities with all of our students. I showed the video to my class. It started off and I was on board. It focused on every student having a right to feel safe and able to learn at school. Before too long, however, it got into dress code.
So much of my district’s dress code is about girls covering their bodies. I know of kindergartners who have been told what they are wearing is inappropriate because it has spaghetti straps. Anyone who finds a five year old’s shoulders to be a distraction is a pedophile. Five year old boys are not distracted by their classmates’ shoulders. That argument is absurd. We should not be telling young girls that their shoulders are a problem.
As girls get older I am no more convinced this argument is valid. We should not be policing girls’ bodies in this way. What message are girls getting when they are told from a very young age that their bodies are sexual? Not strong or powerful bodies, just sexual. And that the sexuality of their bodies is a problem? What message are we sending boys when they are told that girls’ bodies are such a distraction? I don’t think anyone is learning anything healthy from this.
Like far too many policies and practices in education I believe many dress codes are in place simply because it is what we have done for so long. Because no one is willing to ask why we do it.