How School Dress Codes Shame Girls And Perpetuate Rape Culture

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Some of our most powerful and lasting ideas about the world around us are learned at school. Hard work pays off. Success comes from working together. Girls’ bodies are dangerous and harassment is inevitable.

This might sound inflammatory, but it is not an exaggeration. It is the overriding message being sent to thousands of students around the world by sexist school dress codes and the way in which they are enforced.

In the past month alone a Canadian teen says she was given detention for wearing a full length maxi dress because it violated her school dress code by showing her shoulders and back and a UK school announced plans to ban skirts altogether.

These are just the most recent cases in an ever-growing list that has seen shoulders and knees become a battleground, leggings and yoga pants banned and girls in some cases reportedly told to flap their arms up and down while their attire was inspected, or asked to leave their proms because chaperones considered their dresses too ‘sexual’ or ‘provocative’.

Many schools respond to criticism of dress codes by citing the importance of maintaining a ‘distraction free’ learning environment, or of teaching young people about the importance of dressing appropriately for different occasions.

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Yuri Kozyrev—Noor for TIME <strong>Tawakul Karman, Yemen
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But at the Everyday Sexism Project, where people from around the world share their experiences of gender inequality, we have received over a hundred testimonies from girls and young women who are affected by the dress codes and feel a strong sense of injustice.

One such project entry read:

“I got dress coded at my school for wearing shorts. After I left the principal’s office with a detention I walked past another student wearing a shirt depicting two stick figures: the male holding down the females head in his crotch and saying ‘good girls swallow’. Teachers walked right past him and didn’t say a thing.”

Girls are repeatedly told the reason they have to cover up to avoid ‘distracting’ their male peers, or making male teachers ‘uncomfortable’…

“At my school our dress code dictates everything about a girls outfit: knee length shorts or skirts only, no cleavage, no bra straps, no tank tops. We can’t even wear flip flops, and girls will be given detentions and sent home for breaking any one of these rules. There’s no dress code for men, and the reasoning? Girls can’t dress “provacatively” [sic] because it could distract and excite the boys.”

I can’t help feeling there is a powerful irony in accusing a girl of being ‘provocative’ – in projecting that societal assumption onto her adolescent body – before she is even old enough to have learned how to correctly spell the word.

One student says she was given three specific reasons for the school dress code:

“1) There are male teachers and male sixth formers [high school seniors]

2) Teachers feel uncomfortable around bras etc.

3) Don’t want the boys to target you or intimidate you”.

This sends an incredibly powerful message. It teaches our children that girls’ bodies are dangerous, powerful and sexualised, and that boys are biologically programmed to objectify and harass them. It prepares them for college life, where as many as one in five women is sexually assaulted but society will blame and question and silence them, while perpetrators are rarely disciplined.

The problem is often compounded by a lack of any attempt to discipline boys for harassing behavior, which drives home the message that it is the victim’s responsibility to prevent. We have received thousands of testimonies from girls who have complained about being verbally harassed, touched, groped, chased, followed, licked, and assaulted at school, only to be told: “he just likes you”, or: “boys will be boys”. The hypocrisy is breath taking.

Meanwhile, the very act of teachers calling young girls out for their attire projects an adult sexual perception onto an outfit or body part that may not have been intended or perceived as such by the student herself. It can be disturbing and distressing for students to be perceived in this way and there is often a strong element of shame involved.

“I’ve been told by a teacher that the way I was wearing my socks made me look like a prostitute in my first year of school, making me 13, and I’ve been asked whether I’m ashamed of myself because I rolled my skirt up,” wrote one young woman.

The codes aren’t just problematic for sexist reasons. One project entry reads:

“At age 10 I was pulled out of my fifth grade class for a few minutes for a ‘special health lesson’. As an early bloomer, I already had obvious breasts and was the tallest in my class. I thought they were giving me a paper about reproductive health that’s normally given to the 12 year old girls. Instead I was told to cover my body more because I was different.”

Other incidents have also seen boys banned from school for having hair ‘too long’ or wearing traditionally ‘feminine’ fashion, from skinny jeans to skirts. A transgender student said he was threatened with having his photo barred from the school yearbook simply because he chose to wear a tuxedo to prom. Black girls are more likely to be targeted for ‘unacceptable’ hairstyles. The parents of a 12-year old African American student said she was threatened with expulsion for refusing to cut her naturally styled hair. Her mother was told she violated school dress codes for being “a distraction”.

At this point it starts to feel like such ‘codes’ are less about protecting children and more about protecting strict social norms and hierarchies that refuse to tolerate difference or diversity.

This is a critical moment. The school dress code debate will be dismissed by many for being minor or unimportant, but it is not.

When a girl is taken out of class on a hot day for wearing a strappy top, because she is ‘distracting’ her male classmates, his education is prioritized over hers. When a school takes the decision to police female students’ bodies while turning a blind eye to boys’ behavior, it sets up a lifelong assumption that sexual violence is inevitable and victims are partially responsible. Students are being groomed to perpetuate the rape culture narrative that sits at the very heart of our society’s sexual violence crisis. It matters very much indeed.

Here's What 20 Famous Women Think About Feminism
"People have sorely messed up the definition of feminism. It isn’t saying this is wrong and this is right," said Chrissy Teigen during a <i>Variety</i> event in 2014, adding that husband John Legend also identifies: "He’s a bigger feminist than I am! He actually teaches me a lot about the way women should be perceived." "People have sorely messed up the definition of feminism. It isn’t saying this is wrong and this is right," said Chrissy Teigen during a Variety event in 2014, adding that husband John Legend also identifies: "He’s a bigger feminist than I am! He actually teaches me a lot about the way women should be perceived." D Dipasupil—Getty Images for Extra The <i>Twilight</i> actress reacted to women rejecting feminism during a Daily Beast interview in October: "That’s such a strange thing to say, isn’t it? Like, what do you mean? Do you not believe in equality for men and women? I think it’s a response to overly-aggressive types." The Twilight actress reacted to women rejecting feminism during a Daily Beast interview in October: "That’s such a strange thing to say, isn’t it? Like, what do you mean? Do you not believe in equality for men and women? I think it’s a response to overly-aggressive types." Loic Venance—AFP/Getty Images "I decided I was a feminist and this seemed uncomplicated to me," said <strong>Emma Watson</strong> at a UN Women speech in September. "Men-- I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender Equality is your issue, too."
"I decided I was a feminist and this seemed uncomplicated to me," said

Emma Watson at a UN Women speech in September. "Men-- I would like to take this opportunity to extend your formal invitation. Gender Equality is your issue, too."

Anthony Harvey—Getty Images “I would say on some levels I am [a feminist]. Angela Davis is one of my heroes,” <strong>Halle Berry</strong> told Ebony in April. “And Gloria Steinem—these are people who, as I was growing, I was moved by and impacted by and thought very deeply about.”
“I would say on some levels I am [a feminist]. Angela Davis is one of my heroes,”

Halle Berry told Ebony in April. “And Gloria Steinem—these are people who, as I was growing, I was moved by and impacted by and thought very deeply about.”

Joe Scarnici—Getty Images Sinead O'Connor told The Guardian in July. “I wouldn’t label myself anything, certainly not something with an ‘ism’ or an ‘ist’ at the end of it. I’m not interested in anything that is in any way excluding of men.” " data-action="gallery-slide-image">
"I don’t think of myself as being a feminist,”

Sinead O'Connor told The Guardian in July. “I wouldn’t label myself anything, certainly not something with an ‘ism’ or an ‘ist’ at the end of it. I’m not interested in anything that is in any way excluding of men.”

Jason Kempin—Getty Images Kelly Clarkson told TIME last year. “I love that I’m being taken care of, and I have a man that’s an actual leader. I’m not a feminist in that sense … but I’ve worked really hard since I was 19." " data-action="gallery-slide-image">
"I wouldn’t say [I'm a] feminist, that’s too strong. I think when people hear feminist it’s just like, ‘Get out of my way I don’t need anyone,’”

Kelly Clarkson told TIME last year. “I love that I’m being taken care of, and I have a man that’s an actual leader. I’m not a feminist in that sense … but I’ve worked really hard since I was 19."

Christopher Polk—Getty Images <strong>Leighton Meester</strong> told OOTD magazine in February about her biggest role model. "American writer Betty Friedan — she fought for gender equality and wrote the great book <i>The Feminine Mystique</i> which sparked the beginning of a second-wave feminism,” Meester said. “I believe in equal rights for men and women.”

Leighton Meester told OOTD magazine in February about her biggest role model. "American writer Betty Friedan — she fought for gender equality and wrote the great book The Feminine Mystique which sparked the beginning of a second-wave feminism,” Meester said. “I believe in equal rights for men and women.”

D Dipasupil—FilmMagic “I don’t know why people are so reluctant to say they’re feminists," <strong>Ellen Page</strong> told The Guardian in 2013. "Maybe some women just don’t care. But how could it be any more obvious that we still live in a patriarchal world when feminism is a bad word?”
“I don’t know why people are so reluctant to say they’re feminists,"

Ellen Page told The Guardian in 2013. "Maybe some women just don’t care. But how could it be any more obvious that we still live in a patriarchal world when feminism is a bad word?”

Dave Kotinsky—Getty Images "For me, the issue of feminism is just not an interesting concept,” <strong>Lana Del Rey</strong> told Fader magazine in their summer 2014 issue. “I’m more interested in, you know, SpaceX and Tesla, what’s going to happen with our intergalactic possibilities."
"For me, the issue of feminism is just not an interesting concept,”

Lana Del Rey told Fader magazine in their summer 2014 issue. “I’m more interested in, you know, SpaceX and Tesla, what’s going to happen with our intergalactic possibilities."

(Tabatha Fireman—Redferns/Getty Images) “I would [call myself a feminist], yes.” <strong>Rashida Jones</strong> said in 2013. “I believe in the unadulterated advancement of women. And we have so far to go still.”
“I would [call myself a feminist], yes.”

Rashida Jones said in 2013. “I believe in the unadulterated advancement of women. And we have so far to go still.”

Christopher Polk—NBC/Getty Images “Am I a feminist? F–k yeah, I’m a feminist,”  <strong>Jenny Slate</strong> told MTV News in June. “I think that unfortunately people who are maybe threatened by feminism think that it’s about setting your bra on fire and being aggressive, and I think that’s really wrong and really dangerous.”
“Am I a feminist? F–k yeah, I’m a feminist,”

Jenny Slate told MTV News in June. “I think that unfortunately people who are maybe threatened by feminism think that it’s about setting your bra on fire and being aggressive, and I think that’s really wrong and really dangerous.”

Jason Kempin—Getty Images "A feminist? Um, yeah, actually,” <strong>Katy Perry</strong> told an Australian radio host in March. “I used to not really understand what that word meant, and now that I do, it just means that I love myself as a female and I also love men.”
"A feminist? Um, yeah, actually,”

Katy Perry told an Australian radio host in March. “I used to not really understand what that word meant, and now that I do, it just means that I love myself as a female and I also love men.”

Mandel Ngan—AFP/Getty Images <strong>Amy Poehler</strong> says she's confused by how many women deny that they're feminists, “but then they go on to explain what they support and live by — it’s feminism exactly,” she told Elle magazine in January.

Amy Poehler says she's confused by how many women deny that they're feminists, “but then they go on to explain what they support and live by — it’s feminism exactly,” she told Elle magazine in January. "That’s like someone being like, ‘I don’t really believe in cars, but I drive one every day and I love that it gets me places and makes life so much easier and faster and I don’t know what I would do without it.’”

Jason Kempin—NBC/Getty Images "We need to stop buying into the myth about gender equality. It isn’t a reality yet," <strong>Beyonce</strong> wrote in an essay titled "Gender Equality is a Myth" in January. She also famously included an excerpt from Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TEDx talk in her song, "Flawless."
"We need to stop buying into the myth about gender equality. It isn’t a reality yet,"

Beyonce wrote in an essay titled "Gender Equality is a Myth" in January. She also famously included an excerpt from Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TEDx talk in her song, "Flawless."

Myrna Suarez—WireImage “I feel like I’m one of the biggest feminists in the world because I tell women to not be scared of anything,” <strong>Miley Cyrus</strong> told the BBC last November.
“I feel like I’m one of the biggest feminists in the world because I tell women to not be scared of anything,”

Miley Cyrus told the BBC last November.

Julio Cesar Aguilar—AFP/Getty Images Taylor Swift said in reaction to Emma Watson's speech at the UN in September. "Because I would have understood it. And then earlier on in my life I would have proudly claimed I was a feminist because I would have understood what the word means."" data-action="gallery-slide-image">
"I wish when I was 12-years-old I had been able to watch a video of my favorite actress explaining in such an intellectual, beautiful, poignant way the definition of feminism."

Taylor Swift said in reaction to Emma Watson's speech at the UN in September. "Because I would have understood it. And then earlier on in my life I would have proudly claimed I was a feminist because I would have understood what the word means."

Isaac Brekken—Getty Images “Women saying ‘I’m not a feminist’ is my greatest pet peeve,” <strong>Lena Dunham</strong> told Metro in 2013. “Do you believe that women should be paid the same for doing the same jobs? Do you believe that women should be allowed to leave the house? Do you think that women and men both deserve equal rights? Great, then you’re a feminist.”
“Women saying ‘I’m not a feminist’ is my greatest pet peeve,”

Lena Dunham told Metro in 2013. “Do you believe that women should be paid the same for doing the same jobs? Do you believe that women should be allowed to leave the house? Do you think that women and men both deserve equal rights? Great, then you’re a feminist.”

Michael Buckner—Getty Images Shailene Woodley's response when TIME asked her whether she considered herself a feminist in May. "I think the idea of ‘raise women to power, take the men away from the power’ is never going to work out because you need balance…My biggest thing is really sisterhood more than feminism.” " data-action="gallery-slide-image">
"No, because I love men," was

Shailene Woodley's response when TIME asked her whether she considered herself a feminist in May. "I think the idea of ‘raise women to power, take the men away from the power’ is never going to work out because you need balance…My biggest thing is really sisterhood more than feminism.”

Dave J Hogan—Getty Images “I’m getting the sense that you’re a little bit of a feminist, like I am, which is good,” <strong>Lady Gaga</strong> told the LA Times in 2009. “I find that men get away with saying a lot in this business, and that women get away with saying very little . . . In my opinion, women need and want someone to look up to that they feel have the full sense of who they are, and says, ‘I’m great.’ “
“I’m getting the sense that you’re a little bit of a feminist, like I am, which is good,”

Lady Gaga told the LA Times in 2009. “I find that men get away with saying a lot in this business, and that women get away with saying very little . . . In my opinion, women need and want someone to look up to that they feel have the full sense of who they are, and says, ‘I’m great.’ “

Kevin Mazur—WireImage “[Feminism] means being proud of being a woman, and [having] love, respect and admiration and the belief in our strong capacities,” <strong>Salma Hayek</strong> told Stylist in 2012. “I don’t think we are the same, women and men. We’re different. But I don’t think we are less than men. There are more women than men in the world – ask any single woman! So it is shocking that men are in more positions of power.”
“[Feminism] means being proud of being a woman, and [having] love, respect and admiration and the belief in our strong capacities,”

Salma Hayek told Stylist in 2012. “I don’t think we are the same, women and men. We’re different. But I don’t think we are less than men. There are more women than men in the world – ask any single woman! So it is shocking that men are in more positions of power.”

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Source : http://time.com/3892965/everydaysexism-school-dress-codes-rape-culture/

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