Sunday, September 28, 2014

A Teen's Thoughts on the Dress Code Scandal

I'm going to kick this off by saying I'm from Utah. Home of Wasatch High, whose yearbook photoshopping scandal set off a worldwide dress code crisis. It hit the local news first. The instant she saw the headline, Esme said, "You should blog about this!"
"No, I'm staying out of this one." That's my policy whenever teenagers makes headlines, like Malala Yousafazi or Michael Brown. If major news sources are covering it, what can I add? Besides, this was more of a sexism issue than ageism.
A summer passed. Two weeks ago, Bingham High, our ex-rivals, several girls away on homecoming night for wearing dresses like this:
Vetted: Taylor Gillespie had checked her dress against the guidelines before arriving but was turned away
They were told to go home and change. Yeah, good luck finding a second dress on homecoming night.
This is my home turf. I don't have to stay out of this fight. I've got words to add.
Back in seventh grade, our principal told us that "distracting" piercings and hair styles were banned from school. That's something I didn't understand. Sure, when my friend Maya walked into first period with pink hair freshman year, it was somewhat distracting. But we all got used to it in a good ten minutes. Is clothing any different?
I don't buy the distracting excuse. While we're at it, let's ban our distracting orange wall carpet from 1980. It's been two years since I set foot in that school and my eyeballs are still scarred.
My school's dress code isn't that strict. In one Florida school last month, sophomore Miranda Larkin was forced to wear this getup when she showed up in a short skirt:
The same slogan is written on her sweatpants.
In one Texas school, the students staged a protest  after 160 of them were suspended for breaking the dress code. Last March, Illinois middle schoolers picketed their school for the right to wear leggings and yoga pants.
I've only seen a girl punished once. She showed up to foods class in a tank top. Our teacher told her off in front of the class. grabbed a chef's jacket, and dropped it onto her table. "You can wear this."
We have a dress code, yes, but it's enforced arbitrarily. If the principal happens to see your cleavage hanging out, she'll tell you to pull up your shirt. But a hundred other girls like you won't be bothered.
Is there sexism in dress codes? Yes. But there's more than that. It's an issue of age.
Adults say, "Thi s move isn't appropriate for my kids" when they're squeamish about admitting to their own moral standards. I've always been taught that if I'm offered drugs or sex, I should say, "My parents would kill me." Not that I have my own moral standards.
Teachers and parents tell us, "That dress isn't age appropriate. You neckline isn't appropriate for a school environment."
Screw age. Screw school. I know where I'm drawing my line. If a length or cut is appropriate for a man but inappropriate for a woman, that's discrimination. If an outfit is appropriate for a woman but inappropriate for a girl, that's discrimination. Do we need to keep hiding behind this ageist excuse the way parents hide their standards behind toddlers?
I'd rather see all women dress the way schoolgirls are told to than schoolgirls allowed to dress like women.
These past months, women-and more importantly, girls-have flooded social media with outcries. I'm pleased. What can I say? I like having power. I like it when teenagers make headlines for something other than getting shot. I like seeing my peers unified. Bingham High organized a walkout and, more importantly, took to twitter.
The top complaint: By shaming girls for the way they dress instead of the boys who stare at them, we're promoting rape culture. Another argument I don't buy.
I have this pair of yellow shorts. Mid-thigh length. I wear them as a cover up for swimming but they could pass as real clothes. Three years ago, my family was headed down to the lake for a boating trip when we had to stop at a gas station. My mom went inside to buy ice. I hung back by the candy shelves.
My mom always changes in the lake bathrooms, so she was dressed in normal clothes. I had my short shorts and an old T-shirt. We didn't look like boaters. There was this twenty-something guy in front of us buying cigarettes. When we walked up to the counter, his gaze skimmed over her and went straight to me. They landed on my thighs. His eyes went down, up, and back down again. Then he paid for his cigarettes and left.
I wanted to holler after him, "We're going to the lake! I'd never wear these as a real outfit. Besides, I'm fourteen, what are your eyes doing on me anyways?"
Then I thought, Oh, so this is why I don't dress like this all the time. 
Boys, it does sting when you check a girl out. I'm sure that man forgot about me by the time he drove home. But here I am blogging about it three years later. It was the first time I'd felt the weight of a man's eyes on me. Even if you think a girl's asking for it, you don't need to be the answer.
The first time I saw a girl groped in the halls was eighth grade. She swatted his hands away and I could tell it was a move she'd practiced. She had a large chest but I don't recall any of it showing.
Is sexual assault an issue for teenage girls? Most definitely. According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network, 44% of sexual assault victims are under the age of 18. 15% of those are under twelve.
I don't think low cut shirts lower a boy's test score. In fact, I think learning to look away is a valuable life skill most boys should pick up in middle school. We're doing boys a disservice too when we say they can't control themselves around tank top clad girls.
That said, I don't have a problem with the dress code itself. Rape is an issue I'd like to see addressed more, but pointing a finger at dress codes isn't an effective way to do it. Yes, it's hard to find a modesty dance outfit. Even in conservative little Utah so many girls resort to shawls and wraps. I'd like to see some dress companies jump in and help us out. But the rules aren't so stringent as everyone makes them out to be.
Here's my take on it: I cover my body parts. Not to keep the boys around me clean and pure. That's their job. I dress modestly because choose not to view my body as a sexual object. Not because I'm worried about boys who will do the same. I don't want my self image to be wrapped up in what a boy things of my cleavage.
I'm fine with the rules. But the logic behind them is flawed.


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