She purposely broke dress code to create change
Not all protest is loud. Defiance knows no decibels. Sparking change comes through courage and confidence. A tall order for some of us, but not for a badass sixth-grader in Portland who used her voice to stand up against sexism at school.
Molly Neuner, a King Middle School student, purposely broke her school’s sexist dress code to send a strong message to the administrators, the district, and now, the world.
The message: #IAmNotADistraction. She wrote it on her arm with Sharpie markers while also donning a “spaghetti strap” tank top in protest.
She decided to do it after she was shamed in front of other classmates for wearing an athletic, racer back tank top the week before. A tank top that she had worn at least 20 times before that.
“I was really embarrassed, I kind of just wanted to get out of the classroom as soon as I could because it was really uncomfortable to be in an environment like that at the time,” Molly tells Scary Mommy. “I had never been called out like that in front of everyone before.”
Molly says the teacher approached her and another girl during snack time and instructed them to “measure themselves” in front of other students. Molly’s classmate was told to stand up and put her arms at her side to see if her shorts reached the length of her fingertips. Molly was asked to put her two fingers to her straps to see if they measured in the proper width. Let me repeat, in front of an entire class.
The two were found in violation of the King Middle School’s dress code, which according to the Portland Press Herald, does not permit “short or tight-fitting skirts or shorts (no shorter than finger-tip length), thin-strapped, revealing tops (like tube tops, halter tops, or low-cut tops) on girls and tank tops on boys.” Molly says the other kids stared at them the whole time while doing what kids do when someone gets in trouble. “A bunch of boys are like Oooooooo.”
The girls were threatened with after school in-office detention if they wore something like that again. As if the whole experience wasn’t mortifying enough, the exact same teacher approached Molly again at lunch (in front of friends) and requested that she put a sweatshirt on. Molly called her mom right after school to tell her what happened.
“She called me really upset,” Christina tells Scary Mommy. She adds, “It was around 70-degrees that day, and the school has no air-conditioning and some of the classes have no windows.”
“I talked to the Vice Principal, but didn’t get a lot out of it,” Christina says. “I got – OK, we’ll talk to you.”
The two googled dress codes and found that many young women have experienced the exact same thing. Beyond that, they discovered a global movement that uses the hashtag #IAmNotADistraction, which aims to confront tolerance of institutionalized male sexual entitlement.
“I saw it and looked through Instagram page and was really inspired, so I texted some of my friends and said, ‘We’ve got to do this tomorrow.'”
About 20 girls wrote the hashtag on their arms. Some protested the dress code as well, like Molly, wearing “spaghetti strap” tank tops. None of the girls were reprimanded this time.
“I was so happy, everyone was jumping up and down. It was so cool,” Molly says.
The disciplinary actions against these antiquated dress code violations are carried out by teachers and administrators who publicly humiliate the girls and shame them. They’re often pulled out of class (causing them to miss precious study time) and given detention.
“The width of their strap has nothing to do with their education,” Christina says, who supported her daughter’s dress code protest. As a mom, she brings up a good point about her daughter’s protest having such an impact and going viral on the internet.
“Other girls are seeing themselves in Molly, which breaks my heart on the one hand, but on the other hand, it lights a fire in me like no other.” She adds, getting choked up, “These girls are finally seeing that their voices count.” I found myself nodding and tearing up as she said this on the phone – I could relate. As a young girl I was subtly and overtly told my voice didn’t matter. Years and years of this kills your spirit, but only for so long. Until you find your voice. Now I’m raising two daughters who I try to empower and remind them that their voices matter. Take up space. Stand tall.
Like me and many mothers, Christina didn’t grow up with too many women around her standing up for what was right. There weren’t many examples for her to see of women speaking out. She recognizes that her daughter is doing something momentous.
“My kid chose to be this brave, because I wouldn’t have been at this age.”
Molly’s parents are super proud of her and the attention she’s getting for defying the old dress code. Her efforts will also be amplified as she’s been ask to be on a dress code review panel in the district. According to the Herald, no changes will be made this year, but there’s a hint that things could change next year.
Molly’s message for other girls going through something similar is to speak out, “The next time someone does something you don’t agree with, stand up for yourself.”
And as for mamas trying to guide their daughters, Christina says, “You hope that you instill in them these beliefs, but you don’t know until they act on them.” She added, “Stay strong mamas, the world needs us, and they need our girls.”