It’s that time of year again, when the temperatures throughout most of the country are on the rise and people start wearing a little less in order to beat the heat. However, if you’re a woman who likes wearing tank tops, short shorts, bathing suits, or anything that shows what seems to be any amount of skin, summer time isn’t always so fun. For some girls, it means getting in trouble at school or catcalled on the street. For others, it can lead to sexual assault or other more serious consequences. I find it so ridiculous that men aren’t held anywhere near the same standards as women are when it comes to what’s considered appropriate apparel. Also, in what world should it be acceptable for women’s clothing to put them at risk? It’s a problem, but it makes me happy to see so many young women stepping up and speaking out about the harm that’s being caused by the dress codes and standards that our society places on women.
In Ann Arbor, Michigan, middle school students are speaking out against what many of them find to be arbitrary and unfair dress code rules. A number of students arranged a protest during which they wore clothing that would be considered violating the rules. What really impressed me about this protest was that not only were women, those who are going to be most affected by such restrictions, but also young men, were involved. According to the M Live article on the event, these young men showed up to school wearing muscle shirts, something that would presumably be against the dress code for males. The attire is considered “distracting”, which is why the school says that students wearing certain pieces of clothing need to change. However, isn’t it funny how there don’t seem to be many rules that focus on how young men are distracting to young women? It’s all about how things like spaghetti straps and short shorts will distract young men. Sorry, but that just screams sexism. It’s also interesting to me how there are no dress codes in college class, yet male students don’t seem to distracted by certain female attire choices. Trust me, I’ve worn tank tops to college classes before and I’m pretty sure all the boys sitting near me were either paying attention to the lecture or their phones, a legitimate distraction. No one gave a crap about my shoulders.
Thankfully one teacher at the Ann Arbor school seems to understand, saying that women shouldn’t be responsible for curbing distractions. It’s men who need to take responsibility for controlling their impulses. It never occurred to me until doing research for this post, but it seems to me that these dress codes create more of a distraction for females than female bodies create for males. Girls need to worry about whether or not they’ll get in trouble, which can take away from their education. If they do get in trouble, they may deal with situations like needing to leave class until they’re in something more “appropriate”. Here’s a caption from one of Sarah Myers-Levitt’s Instagram posts. Myers-Levitt is a student at Forsythe Middle School in Ann Arbor:
“For the past three years of my life, dress code has distracted me more than anything else at school. Constantly making sure my shirt is pulled down in the hall, avoiding certain teachers, getting called down to the office to change and just sitting there in the morning, out of ideas for ‘appropriate’ things to wear. My mother would not let me go to school if I wasn’t dressed modestly, and she sees me every day before I walk out that door.”
The article also speaks to the fact that certain girls will be called out for their inappropriate dress more often, while other students can often get away with dress code violations. This is something to which I can very much relate; as this was something I struggled with in high school rather often. When I was in high school, we had dress code rule that stated the straps on our shirts had to measure three fingers across and our skirts or shorts had to be “fingertip length”, meaning that if you held your arms at your sides, the hem would be no shorter than wherever your fingertips lie. Most of the time, I had no trouble following the rules, but when it got warmer outside, I would definitely attempt to press my luck sometimes because my school was old, the AC was awful, and the heat could make it hard to focus. I got called out more than once for wearing spaghetti straps or wearing a skirt that didn’t come practically down to my knees. It was so annoying because honestly, no one else cared, but even more so because I know that other girls got away with wearing much less. I distinctly remember on one occasion that a teacher pulled me aside to tell me that my skirt was too short and while she would let it slide today, I shouldn’t wear it to school without something underneath in the future. I agreed and only moments later I saw a girl wearing a similar skirt and not a single teacher made a comment. Also, I’m a tall person and I just happen to like wearing skirts and dresses and shorts. Do you know how hard it was to find appropriate length attire in the late 2000s that didn’t look like it was made for your grandmother? It was a challenge. Even today, it’s still a challenge to find clothing that fit dress codes, especially if you’re on a budget and your only options are places like Target or fast-fashion stores like Forever 21. It’s annoying as hell, but I’m hoping that future generations of children won’t have to deal with these same problems because enough students realize how problematic these things are. A quick Google search of girls protesting the dress code will give you some inspiring results.
While that example is upsetting in that it demonstrates the sexism women experience, the consequences could be much worse. For instance, in Vietnam, a waterpark called Ho Tay decided to offer free admission earlier this year. As one might expect, major chaos ensued and part of that mess was a large group men that showed up at the park solely to molest women. They waited in the lazy river and attacked groups of females as they passed. According to the information I found, it’s estimated that at least 20 girls were assaulted. Unfortunately, finding more information beyond the Tumblr post I’ve linked to above and some Vietnamese news sources, there wasn’t much other information to be found. However, the exact details of the story may not be as troubling as psychology professor Pham Phuc Thinh’s reaction to the situation. In this article, he states that women should be protecting themselves from men since men can’t control their arousal. It almost seems as though he’s saying the girls shouldn’t be wearing bathing suits to the park because it exposes too much skin and it makes the men act in inappropriate ways. This says so much about what’s wrong with the world. What the heck are girls supposed to wear to the pool? They were simply dressing for the activity they’re participating in. As someone on Tumblr says, what are you supposed to do, wear armor? It’s so upsetting that people feel it’s acceptable to blame the victims of these horrible crimes. When are people going to realize that women’s attire is absolutely no excuse? It’s horrible, but the fact that victim blaming is now being recognized and we aren’t just accepting it and saying that “men will be men” will be is promising to me. As I tend to say at the end of these posts, we may not have eliminated sexism yet, but I think there’s a great amount of progress being made.