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Dress Codes Encourage Sexism

March 17, 2019

At the start of every school year in high school, my homeroom teacher would pass out a thick packet to each of us that we were expected to read aloud from entitled "School Handbook." Inside this handbook lived a lengthy list of Dos and Don'ts, and the pièce de résistance was the dress codes section placed right at the end. The contrast was apparent between the girls section and the boys section immediately. Girls: do not have hair at 'immodest lengths,' do not have 'immodest makeup,' do not have a shirt strap skinnier than two inches, do not wear shorts with less than a four inch inseam; Boys: no earrings, hats, or tattoos. Now, I was never someone who tried to test the rules intentionally by disobeying them, but every year my mind would circle back to the same angry question. "Why does the girls' section last for paragraphs while the boys' only takes up a few sentences?" I would silently try to make sense of it.

Whether it's intentional or not, dress codes, and the people who create them, are inherently sexist.

It was only until a few years ago when my interest of this topic really sparked. I started asking the teachers and administration why dress codes were so unfair and why I couldn't wear any of the clothes that I owned. The response I received all too often only served to further enrage me, "Girls have a stricter dress code so as not to distract male classmates and faculty." First of all, in the real world, boys are going to have to see women wearing strapless dresses, or short-shorts and learn how to control themselves anyway. This only creates a more coddled male population that will go crazy when exposed to an environment that doesn't have dress codes. And second, inferring that male teachers may be distracted by my choice of clothes is completely outrageous- any grown adult who is distracted by a minor's body should obviously not be trusted working at a school in the first place.

My outfit choices are not picked in order to avoid tempting men to look at my body; "and yet it points to the basic assumption that girls’ bodies are shameful — something that is to be covered, evaluated, or objectified" (1). In addition, "The vast majority of [dress code] cases have targeted girls and LGBTQ youth on the basis that what one might wear reveals too much — that it’s sexually suggestive, distracting for other students, or offensive to the local and cultural norms of the community" (1). How can I focus at school when I'm constantly worried if my shirt is going to divert the attention of the fragile male population from their studies and onto me?

Dress codes also further the authoritative voice that comes from a school board's sole decision on what a student should wear. In 1969, these sexist rules were put in place by the U.S. Supreme Court. "The case, known as Tinker vs. Des Moines Independent School District, involved several high school students who wore black armbands to school in a planned protest against the Vietnam War. In a far-reaching decision, the Court essentially decided that schools may limit student expression (such as enforcing dress codes)" (2). Even the phrase "limiting student expression" is a clear violation of the rights protected by the First Amendment; it states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech..." (3). 

Because of the new complaints being raised by students, some schools are beginning to revise their policies in favor of a more inclusive and practical dress code. In Evanston Township High School, a new dress code; "it aims to "ensure that all students are treated equitably regardless of race, sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, cultural observance, household income, or body type/size" (4). To make students feel more included and accepted in their learning environments, more schools should consider mimicking this policy. In most colleges, dress codes are slim to none; somehow students are still able to study for their exams amidst the 'distracting styles' of their peers.
written by yet another angry Feminist; can you tell? 

Works Cited:
1) Gereluk, Dianne, and Associate Dean. “It's Time to Address the Hidden Agenda of School Dress Codes.” The Conversation, 5 Nov. 2018,
2) “School Dress Codes.” Findlaw,
3) “United States of America 1789 (Rev. 1992).” Constitute, 1992,
4) Heller, Susanna. “A High School Updated Its Dress Code to Be More Body-Positive - and It's about Time.” INSIDER, INSIDER, 30 Aug. 2017,


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  • spearmint

    THANK YOU!!!!!!!!!! Boys always have more freedom with their expression and style. Lucky for me, the clothing I like to wear is school dress code: shirts are longer than your butt, and any sleeve must be at least the fingers wide. But for many people, it's very unfair, and a lot of the boys wear somewhat revealing clothing. I've only heard of girls getting dress-coded at my school so far, and it's incredibly unfair.

    3 months ago
  • RainAndSonder

    i totally agree with this! what does hair at "immodest lengths" even mean? my school doesn't have a super strict dress code, but there are still some rules that annoy me. also, why aren't boys allowed to wear earrings if girls are? i mean, i can understand why they have dress codes, and it's reasonable to say that shorts have to be a certain length or that you can't wear stuff with violent imagery, but only if it's the same for everyone, not just girls.

    3 months ago