The Battle Against School Dress Codes

School dress codes have been debated for quite a while already. But some schools have been turning to be more gender-neutral (including MSA) policies. Many say that schools should just use uniforms, while many others say that students should be able to express themselves confidently while still appropriately.

I have interviewed Mrs. Anderson, who was on the task force of five people to help create the dress code, and have gotten her point of view.  

1.  How do you feel on the new-proposed dress code? Why?

Well, I was on a task force of five people who helped to create the proposed dress code, so of course I like it!  I think it’s important for all students to feel comfortable in their bodies, in the way they want to dress, and the way they want to present themselves to their peers and the school community.  We attempt to teach students to look beyond the way a person looks on the outside, whatever race, gender, hair color, if they are clean or smelly, have acne or not, and I would like to think that we can at least attempt to include the dress code as part of that goal.

2.  What do you think MSA hopes to accomplish by updating the dress code?

The current dress code is very ambiguous; ‘short shorts’ or ‘skimpy tank tops’ are not clearly defined.  Families should describe and define what is appropriate clothing for their own students to wear, and it is acceptable for different families to have different values regarding these issues. So, I hope that the proposed policy will help create a learning environment that is equitable, and a policy that is easy to follow for all students, families and staff.

3.  Do you think other schools should consider making their dress codes more gender-neutral? Why?

Yes, and many are doing it.  The policy that our proposed new dress code is based on came from the Oregon National Organization of Women, and their goal was to make a dress code that was free of any discrimination or ambiguity.  Schools in California, Oregon, Arizona, Canada and Illinois have adopted the policy, and as a result, have improved the climate between their students and staff.

4.  Do you or did you ever think that dress codes targeted females more than males?

Yes, most of the language of current dress codes unfairly targets females in two specific ways.  First of all, they unfairly limit mostly what girls can wear, even if they enforce the policy uniformly (which they usually don’t).  For example, the policy might say that students cannot wear short shorts, and that places an unfair burden on females, because most males do not wear short shorts.  Secondly, the enforcement of the policy is uneven, not only between different genders, but across the staff as well. Male students have intentionally tested the ambiguity of the code here at MSA, and they did not get in trouble for wearing the same clothes that females did get in trouble for wearing.  This may be against the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment. Furthermore, when students are dress-coded, they miss out on educational opportunities when they are pulled out of a class to go to the office, to change clothes, or go home. If a school does not enforce this policy equally, they are denying certain groups of students equal access to educational opportunities, which may go against Title IX.

5. Do you think that some dress codes send negative points to the student body; making students insecure about what they’re wearing? Why?

Yes, the dress code actually teaches females and males to believe exposing certain parts of the female body is bad, which at some schools might include shoulders, knees, thighs, belly-buttons, backs, arms or even collar bones.  All of us share these non-sexualized parts, so why is it inappropriate for only females to show them? Furthermore, when students are dress coded it makes the students feel embarrassed, it degrades the student-staff relationship, and, according to some studies, even lowers their self-esteem and academic achievement.

Those are only some crucial questions we have to ask ourselves, teachers, and other leaders to improve our school economy.  With the gender-neutral dress code, we hope to accept the creativity and fashion of students without limiting their confidence.  Students shouldn’t be shamed when showing shoulders or knees, specifically females. So, by making the dress code more gender-neutral, we are allowing student to embrace their individuality in ways that let their personality shine through.

*I would like to thank Mrs. Anderson, (a U.S. Studies teacher,  an Ancient World history and Geography teacher, and the Sociology teacher) for agreeing to do an interview for this article with me!*