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.

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Allow me to explain: Stop telling women to smile

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Every woman, whether she’s having a bad day, whether she smelled something rank or just because she suffers from Bitchy Resting Face (which is my entire life summed up in three words), has been told some variation of “Smile a little bit!” or “Cheer up!” by a complete stranger.

I have two choice words for those strangers. You can probably guess which ones.

Of course, I’ve talked to many people who don’t think there’s anything wrong with telling a girl to smile. The intention might be pure–you’re trying to brighten her day. People frowning makes you sad. Well, first of all, she has every right to have a bad day. Second of all, that’s just too damn bad.

Women are thinking, feeling, emoting humans. Telling a woman that she needs to smile more implies that you want something pretty to look at. You’re uncomfortable with someone displaying her sadness. You’re not cool with objectifying someone when they seem like they’re actually human rather than an emotionless, expressionless blowup doll. Blowup dolls don’t have a bad day, but women do.

Another reason it pisses me off to no end when I’m told to “Smile,” is that it suggests that a woman’s judgment can’t be trusted. She can’t possibly be frowning for a good reason. If a man is frowning or visibly sad, something must be wrong. Let’s leave him alone. If a woman is frowning, she’s probably just on her period or being a bitch. It’s just another method of controlling and undermining women.

The subject of telling random women on the street to smile has sparked a lot of discussion from women and men alike. It inspired an art series titled “Stop Telling Women to Smile.”

Of course, not only men are telling women to smile. In high school, a teacher I didn’t even know would constantly stop me in the halls, asking me what was wrong. Nothing was ever wrong, and I was never upset. But her stopping me, unwarranted, without knowing me certainly did make me upset.

Of course, if a good friend of mine asks me if something is wrong and offers to talk to me about it, we have a different situation. But friends and strangers are two different relationships; a stranger has no interest in who I am or why I’m sad. They want me to smile because it’s making their day worse. “You’re pretty, I want to find pleasure in your appearance, I’m having trouble doing that when you’re frowning.” A friend, on the other hand, knows me and knows whether it’s just my BRF condition or if I’m actually sad… but then again, when is the last time someone close to you yelled out, “SMILE!” instead of approaching you with understanding and sympathy?

So don’t tell me to smile. I don’t know you. My feelings are legitimate and my face isn’t here for your viewing pleasure.