Dress Codes; Policing the Next Generation of Women

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From elementary school through high school, dress codes are a hot topic for disgruntled young people who just want to wear their spaghetti strap top or their ripped jeans (do high schoolers still wear ripped jeans?). While certain dress codes are reasonable and there for protection, such as only allowing close-toed shoes in gym class and science labs, other dress codes are simply sexism dressed up in the idea that we want students to look “professional.”

I call bullshit.

I challenge you to think about how many times your administration has had a female student change, and how many times that same administration has had a male student change. Maybe an unfair comparison, as many girls wear shorter shorts and shirts with narrower straps than boys. But why are girls in yoga pants criticized, but boys in sweatpants whose junk is all but in your face fine? As a college student, I see just as many outlines of men’s nether regions in sweatpants and athletic shorts as I do women’s nether regions in yoga pants and leggings. I see just as many men’s nipples poking through their thin shirts as I do women’s thighs in short shorts. Why are women so often told they’re being offensive and too sexual? Why are we telling these women that their clothes are “showing too much?” Why are we saying that “leave most to the imagination” is sexier than showing it off, all the while obsessing over Kate Upton in bathing suits and celebrity nudes?

Dress codes in schools simply police what is and what isn’t allowed for a girl to be. We’re teaching young girls that their body is shameful, it’s something to be hidden, and those three inches above your knee and that shoulder is way too sexy for boys to even control themselves. And this should be offensive to boys, too. Strict dress codes imply that boys are so animalistic that they can’t possibly focus in class while the strap on little Sarah’s training bra is showing. It normalizes insane sexualization of the female body from a young age. It tells young girls that their bodies are to be made a spectacle of and tells young boys that if he can’t control himself, it’s the girl’s fault–she was seducing him. To me, that sounds like a slippery slope that leads right into rape culture. Ooooh, she said the thing!

Sure, there’s the argument that we should dress appropriately for a situation. But public school classes are by no means a red carpet affair. It’s not right to tell girls that they’re not dressing appropriately for class when the boy sitting next to her has his bunched-up plaid boxers proudly displayed like a baboon. And don’t even get me started (just kidding, too late) on parents and teachers who think that girls should be sent home for wearing something they deem is too sexy. Let me reiterate: parents think preteen girls should be sent home because they’re too sexy. Still too abstract? Sexualizing girls, sometimes girls who haven’t even hit the double digits yet, is considered okay and normal.

Sending girls home from school because of the way they’re dressed sends a huge, disgusting message slathered in sexism. Think this doesn’t happen? I guarantee that any girl you ask can tell you a story of how she or one of her friends was sent home or was taken out of class to change her clothes. This says that a boy’s right to objectify the female body is more important than a girl’s right to obtain an education.

Take a look at your local high school, middle school or even elementary school’s dress code and you’ll see a common theme. Or look at mine–here’s the first rule from my elementary school’s student handbook, organized under “dress code.” Keep in mind this dress code is for girls aged between five and 11 years of age:

Low-cut tops, see-through blouses, midriff tops, tank tops, spaghetti straps, very short skirts or shorts are
examples of styles which are considered unacceptable for students.

Can we start realizing how sexist this is, or should we continue to tell young girls that they are all succubi who are waiting for boys to feast their eyes on the girls’ too-sexy shoulders and thighs? Let’s stop being hypocrites. Telling young girls to be proud of, and feel good in their bodies after years of saying that they should be ashamed and sexualized is backwards and all kinds of nasty.

Stop strict dress codes. Stop the sexualization of the female body.

OU Women’s Center holds feminist art event

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On Friday, April 18 the Women’s Center at Ohio University held A Celebration of Women and Feminists in the Arts. The event featured a variety of art, including a documentary on the hip-hop scene in Athens, original poetry and paintings and even a Persian song and dance.

The event was suggested by student Alice Ragland to the Women’s Center program coordinator, Sarah Tucker Jenkins. The two planned the event all year, ultimately coming down to the relaxed yet empowering atmosphere of Friday’s event.

Alice Ragland and Sarah Tucker Jenkins

Alice Ragland and Sarah Tucker Jenkins at the Celebration of Women and Feminists in the Arts event, held at the Women’s Center.

“Alice was interested in doing an art event and we thought it was a really great idea,” said Jenkins. “I think people seemed to really enjoy it, we’ll definitely plan on doing it again next year.”

Jenkins appreciated the “interesting range of artistic mediums, talents and styles” included in the event.

The event, held in the Women’s Center room in Baker Center, was very intimate and eclectic. Participants with hair of all colors and styles sat in a circle on comfy chairs, listening intently to each artist explain their piece, asking questions and making inquiries after each performance.

This colorful board at the Women's Center shows many events, affiliated groups and informational fliers.

This colorful board at the Women’s Center shows many events, affiliated groups and informational fliers.

Senior English and Spanish major Juannie Williams performed an original song called “Through With You,” mixing her experience with a guy and the experiences many women have with significant others. The song, which took an estimated 45 minutes to an hour to write, was written to a friend’s instrumental but performed a cappella at the event.

“When women come together, we empower each other,” Williams said. ” Feminist art is very important because we’re promoting equality; we want to feel as important, as recognized, as appreciated, respected, as men and don’t ever want to feel inferior to them because we don’t feel like we deserve that–or at least I don’t as a feminist.”

As Williams sang, participants snapped on rhythm, applauding and exclaiming words of praise and encouragement after the performance.

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“THIS IS WHAT AN OU FEMINIST LOOKS LIKE” — Two posters hanging in the Women’s Center show a multitude of feminists, people of many genders and backgrounds.

Graduate student Zahra Khosravi dazzled the circle with two unique pieces. She sang one song in English, another in her native Persian language and performed a Persian dance. A smile on her face throughout the dance, her hips and arms moved hypnotically.

“After my husband and I moved to Athens for our education, I was a little homesick,” said Khosravi, whose mother had suggested the Persian song to remind her of home. “I hope people enjoyed it.”

Painting by senior Jesper Beckholt. Beckholt, who identifies as pangender, said the painting represents their struggle with femininity.

Painting by senior Jesper Beckholt. Beckholt, who identifies as pangender, said the painting represents their struggle with femininity.

Art events like this one have been an empowering place for female artists and feminist artists alike, as the art world has reflected gender equalities.

Even events that claim to be inclusive can be discriminatory toward women. The Whitney Biennial, held in New York City every two years, is one that has sparked controversy in history. It garnered negative attention in 1987 when the Guerrilla Girls, a feminist group dedicated to gender equality in the art world, protested the fact that only 24% of featured artists were female. Check out this chart showing the percentage of female artists in recent years, which has declined since year 2010.

Even today, female artists face discrimination, despite efforts made by groups like the Guerrilla Girls and organizations focused on women and minority artists.

Events like the one held at the Women’s Center focus on pieces that are often overlooked in the mainstream art world, but are no less important or powerful than any other piece. They are vital to spreading equality and connecting people on an emotional level.

“I hope art, as with all other fields of study, will continue to progress and become more open to feminist artists,” wrote Jenkins in an email, prior to the event.

“We’re all connected and never have to feel alone,” said Williams. “Every person has something to say, we all have similar feelings, we all have similar goals. It’s to express ourselves and to empower others.”

 

Hate the feminist movement? No, you just hate extremists.

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Today in my contextual arts class we talked about feminist art and prominent women in the art world. When our guest lecturer asked everyone who considered themselves a feminist to raise their hand, only myself and two other women raised our hands. It kind of made me want to hurl.

 

Too many people think that the feminist movement is full of butch lesbians who are all for the murder of children, who hate all men and who hate women who appear feminine (all feminists are hairy and manly). This definition simply makes me sad for women who present themselves as masculine or don’t shave, and especially for lesbians. Not only is this definition putting feminists down, it’s extending judgment to masculine women and lesbian women–who may not even identify as feminists in the first place. Check out this inspirational quote from Rush Limbaugh (I know, the name incites enough rage):

Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream of society.

Do I even need to elaborate on that, because it brings tears to my eyes. Not laughter tears. I’m a proud feminist and I’M HOT. I’m totally hot. And I look way better than him bald.

 

Most of the arguments that anti-feminists use are incorrect about the feminist movement anyway. Some interesting examples from the Tumblr Women Against Feminism are written off almost too easily (again, I know that Tumblr is the best example of extremists… but bear with me).

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Yeah. I don’t want to be a man–but I don’t hate men. I actually love men. Men are wonderful. My dad is the bee’s knees, and is the reason I’m a journalism major. I adore my two fricken’ awesome brothers. My three male roommates are absolutely incredible. But I’m a woman. And I love being a woman. In response to feminists wanting to be badass or hairy, remind me again why that’s a bad thing? The point of feminism is to embrace who you are and allow that to empower you, whether you’re hairier than a lumberjack in a raccoon fur coat or whether the person who does your Brazilian waxing knows you so well that they could pick your mons pubis out of a Judy Chicago piece. It’s about making your choices based on what you want, not based on what society tells you–so if you want to be unmarried and childless forever, cool. If you want to get married at 20 and raise a family, that is just as cool with me. Feminism is allowing women and men and transgender and gender-variant people to be who they are. Can’t we just let everyone present themselves how they want?

 

We’re in a time of third world feminism and beyond, meaning that the movement doesn’t stop at white, upper class women. If you think that it doesn’t, you might want to remind yourself that this is 2014; we’ve moved past the Seneca Falls Convention. The current feminist movement supports people of color, it supports people of lower class, it supports people of any and all gender identities, it supports anyone who wants and needs it. It aims to bring equality and does not blame those who have access to more privilege.

 

Hating the feminist movement for the small number of man-and-feminine-women-hating extremists is like hating all white people for the KKK. It’s like hating the Civil Rights Movement because of the violence of the Black Panthers. It’s hating an entire group for the negative thoughts and actions of a small number of misled people… who honestly don’t really know what feminism means anyway.

 

For more, watch the following TED Talk by the incredibly inspiring Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie titled “We Should All Be Feminists.” Although the video is geared toward Nigerian women, it applies to all feminists. Bonus points if you can pick out the sections Beyoncé samples in her song ***Flawless (I woke up like dis, I woke up like dis).