The Problem With Schools Policing Girls' Clothing Choices

by Toni Hammer

Once you have kids, your attention is pulled towards news headlines you never gave much attention before. Topics catch your eye and capture your interest in a way that didn’t happen when you were sans kids. Now that I have a 4-year-old daughter who will begin her educational journey next fall, I find myself being drawn to one particular type of story that I see far too often: young women being pulled out of their classes because what they’re wearing is distracting.

There isn’t one particular incident I want to discuss, but rather the all-too-familiar storyline in general. A teenage girl gets dressed and goes to school. The teenage girl is pulled from her class and sent to the principal’s office. The teenage girl is told her clothing choices are too distracting to the male population and she has to go home and change or have her parents bring her some new clothes — preferably a muumuu.

I understand that educational institutions have dress codes that must be followed, but all too often when I read these stories, the outfits being worn are not violating any specific rule. Rather, the outfit that the student has chosen to wear is making the male student body uncomfortable.

So my question is this: Why is the female student being held accountable for the wandering eyes and thoughts of the male student? Why is she being forced to miss her day’s education because a boy can’t keep his attention on the whiteboard?

Pulling young women from the classroom because of their wardrobe is teaching them several messages that are sad and degrading.

They are being told that they are a problem.

Only bad students get sent to the administrator’s office. We all know that. Now this young woman who may never have had an incident before in her life is labeled as a rule breaker or deviant — if not by administrators, likely by her peers.

They are being told that their self-expression through the clothes they wear is only allowed if men don’t have a problem with it.

I’m not talking about women walking around with their shorts showing off their lady bits. I’m talking about women in modest shirts and skirts, women whose bodies are fully covered, being told that they can’t dress like that. They have to dress in a way that isn’t a problem for men — because men rule the world, and you have to do what they say.

They are being told that the education of their male peers is more important than their own.

It’s never the male student who feels uncomfortable getting pulled out to take a cold shower or do a lap around the block or something to get his mind refocused. Nope, it’s the female — because it is more important for a man to get an education, even though he’s the one with the problem, than it is for the woman. I mean, after all, she is the one distracting him, right?

It is these messages that perpetuate victim blaming and shaming. These messages, in a nutshell, teach young girls that they, in essence, are less than men — as well as their thoughts, feelings, actions, and reactions. This is how it plays out: A high school sophomore is pulled from her English class and told that her shirt was making a male student (or teacher) uncomfortable. It is her fault that the man couldn’t concentrate. It is her fault that he was having inappropriate thoughts in the classroom. It is all her fault.

Fast-forward a few years and this same girl is in college. She’s on her way from a party and is sexually harassed or assaulted. She tries to speak up but is told that it is her fault because of how she was dressed. It is her fault for being out so late. It is her fault for drinking too much. It is all her fault. Or worse, she doesn’t even bother speaking up because in high school she was taught the lesson that the word of a man is worth more than that of a woman, so she hides her head in shame and despair.

We must begin treating women fairly in our society. We must teach them that their education is just as important as the education of their male peers. We must teach them to be empowered to express themselves, to stand up for themselves. We must teach them that their voices will be heard and listened to. We must teach them that they are respected and valued. We must start keeping them in the classroom and allowing them to learn, to think, and to change the world.