I’ve always studied in a Christian school where strict dress codes were always more important than the holistic growth of students. When I was in class 9th, I remember seeing a senior girl crying outside her classroom. When I witnessed tears in the eyes of more of her classmates, I couldn’t resist but ask what went wrong.
And then I got to know how they were being bullied by a female teacher-in-charge who put her hands in their skirts just to check if they had actually worn shorts under their skirts.
Slut shaming in schools is a common phenomenon that’s rarely discussed because it is a part of “discipline” that only exists for girls.
How do schools promote a sexist dress code policy for girls?
School dress codes are meant to improve the learning environment by providing uniformity. But I have always wondered if the dress policies have been made only for girls. Several times, I’ve witnessed how no one bothered when boys kept the buttons of their shirts open to show their bare chests. But girls were always told cover up the slightest show of skin.
The same dress code policy that allows more freedom to boys, makes girls feel uncomfortable. So, how is it not sexist?
In the same way, girls with a heavier body (or breasts) are more likely to be punished or called out for wearing tight shirts than leaner girls.
Apparently, girls’ shirts that are “too tight” and skirts that are “too short” are “distracting” for other students (boys), and keeping them from focusing on studies. While the reality is that by punishing girls for their clothing, the system might take away the attention from helping them in their academics to objectifying their physical appearance.
Such instances in schools break teen girls’ self-esteem at a young age when the emphasis should be on building it.
How do sexist dress codes lead to the objectification of the female body and slut-shaming?
Ironically, more than the dresses themselves, calling out girls for their dresses drives more attention towards the sexuality of the women. Consider the example I stated above. As a part of the punishment, when the female students were taken to another classroom to check if they were wearing shorts (by touching their thighs and making them cry), the male students would giggle about it.
There is no denying that humiliating or punishing adolescent girls over dress codes promotes the objectification of young women. Calling them out for wearing “revealing” clothes that distract boys suggests treating females as the subjects and males as the objects. Males have the “right” over the female body, and hence it is the female’s responsibility to ensure every inch of her body is covered.
Even this article on Successstory states that dress codes are important as “the revealing of too much of cleavage, back, chest, arms, and legs” is inappropriate and distracting. This clearly demonstrates that women are sexual objects and men have the freedom to dress and behave the way they want.
Notions like “boys will be boys” are often normalised by teachers. It makes women feel that men’s entitlement to women’s bodies in public space is socially acceptable.
Clearly, these uniforms feed into sexism by propagating the idea that women are not entitled to respect and acceptance if their skin is being exposed, which is slut-shaming them.
Introduction of gender-neutral uniforms in schools
The dress code for girls in itself is not so problematic. Instead, it is the thinking that goes behind the dress codes that is unfortunate. It is the concept of “covering up” so boys don’t get distracted. And it is the concept of “women with revealing outfits invite crimes against them” that is problematic.
To address this, some schools across the world have already adopted gender-neutral uniforms. This is done to ensure there’s no difference in the dress code of girls and boys and all the genders feel more convenient.
Gender-neutral uniforms like shirts and trousers would also encourage more and more young women to take part in extra-curricular activities comfortably and promote holistic growth. A significant part of making clothing comfortable for female students would be introduction of pockets and spacious ones. This would add the much-needed convenience to their lives, letting them feel almost as free as their male counterparts.
Related: Questioning Your Sexuality
Dress code, particularly a gender-neutral one can help creating an environment where everyone can feel equal part of the institute in spite of their gender, social or cultural differences. Yet, this alone won’t problem of how the society objectifies female body.
Schools should promote a culture that is equal and dignified for all, by paying more attention to changing the sexist mindset that ails not only students, but staff too. Providing counselling sessions or conducting seminars along with activities can help bring a change in the long run.
Have you ever been talked down because of your body?
Do you think dress-coding is necessary in schools and other educational institutions?
Comment below to join the conversation.
Also Read: A huge red spot on my white skirt