Students Object To Dress Code At High School As Sexist

162px-boston_latin_school_logoA recent story involving Boston Latin School recently caught my attention. First, I attended Latin School in Chicago, which like its Boston cousin is an elite private school. Second, the story confirmed my rising concern over the trend in elementary and high schools to instill a hyper-sensitive culture. At issue is something that many of us experienced in our childhood: dress codes. The students of Latin Boston however, have risen up in disgust over such dress codes as sexist attacks on women and even a cause for a rape culture.

The school bans such things as gang-related colors and symbols, sexually explicit logos, hemlines higher than four inches above the knee, and shirt-shoulder straps narrower than the width of three fingers. It also prohibits leggings worn as pants (as opposed to under a skirt or dress). First, as a graduate of Latin Chicago, I cannot imagine an active gang at these expensive schools beyond an insider trading alliance. Second, I have no idea what a legging used as pants actually means or why shirt straps must be three fingers wide. However, dress codes are part of life in education, schools, and various social institutions. I do not always agree with them, particularly when they contravene free speech. These restrictions do not raise content-based concerns. Yet, the students denounced the standards as reaffirming that “we still live in a patriarchal society where men can decide whether a female’s clothing is appropriate or inappropriate.” They further argue that such dress codes create “a sense of shame towards girls bodies” and reinforces the notion that “yes, it is our fault when girls get raped because they should have covered up and avoided the situation by dressing in a way that does not attract another person.”

These minor limitations hardly seem burka-like rules for covering up girls. Boys appear restricted as well under the rules. What concerns me is not the details of the limitations. Indeed, the students may have perfectly good arguments to make on the silliness of some limitations that should be considered. However, it seems more and more common for such rules to be quickly elevated to some attack on a gender or race or cultural identity. These rules have fairly straight-forward purposes. First, many school impose actual uniforms to remove clothing controversies and embarrassments, particularly for students whose families cannot afford to keep up with new styles. Second, non-uniform rules like Latin’s are designed to avoid dress styles that are not conducive to learning. In co-ed learning environments, clothing can become a distraction for students. Finally, these codes teach students that in the real world you are expected to dress appropriately for given environments.

The Latin students may have a case for arguing that these rules are reflective of a stodgy environmental but a sexist environment demands a bit more than a simple dress code.

What do you think?

22 thoughts on “Students Object To Dress Code At High School As Sexist

  1. An elite school, which proudly and openly traces its roots back to the Puritans–a group which famously placed a premium on social and religious conformity–is now in the limelight for actually demanding that its pupils maintain a certain set of standards by dressing with a modicum of modesty? Wow. A shocker! A perfect solution for any and all students believing that the rules pertaining to the school’s dress code inhibit and/or place a damper on their freedom of expression–LEAVE! Go elsewhere–plenty of schools to attend, where gang wear is considered acceptable and skirts barely covering one’s crotch are merely ignored. It’s fascinating that many will not rest until every institution is lowered to the lowest common denominator.

  2. Some issues are best left ignored. If the school gives these individuals power by addressing fools such as this, it emboldens them to continue the fight.

  3. The United States is one of the few countries where students do not wear uniforms as a rule, some of the others not requiring uniforms are so poverty stricken that uniforms would be cost prohibitive. I think school dress codes make sense most are fairly reasonable . Lawyers have a pretty stringent dress code when appearing in court. Do any of the parties appearing before the Supreme Court wear gang colors or show underwear? Well, there was one Supreme Court Justice who dressed flamboyantly, capes as I remember.

  4. @Kurt

    re: “The United States is one of the few countries where students do not wear uniforms as a rule, some of the others not requiring uniforms are so poverty stricken that uniforms would be cost prohibitive.”

    What are you talking about? Western European countries (which certainly are not poverty-stricken) do not require uniforms unless they are private or parochial.

    I am for dress codes, but not uniforms in public schools. If one attends a private/parochial school that requires uniforms kids should certainly comply or go elsewhere.

  5. Four inches above the knee. In the sixties it was split the knee when kneeling.. thin straps are called spaghetti straps. A major reason for uniforms the poorer students are not singled out. In my school it was blue jeans with a belt and a white shirt no tie. Girls wore skirts. but the colors were optional. A few years earlier it was black or blue slacks with a shirt and a tie. But then some families couldn’t afford that kind of clothing expenses.

    Still without even thinkinb about setting the rules as pre-adults we managed to graduate 30 in our small school. One Doctor/surgeon actually, One Dentist, six or seven became teachers, Two became full Colonels and one a General in the military. Three gone forever in Vietnam. One mining engineer, one preacher. One Warden at a federal penitentiary, one country Sheriff, Six business owners. Not bad for a hick school in the tule weeds of the county. Three ranchers and one dairy farmer. just off the top of my head. .

    For became Mayor of our little town seen or eight served on the city council. Oh yes and one author who became a college professor.

    We learned grammar by 8th grade and were debating the Constitution by 11th grade. None that I know of quit to get married or just have a child and half the class of thirty did a full college prep series. Eight however took a GED and finished early – went in the Navy or Air Force and finished full college degrees afterwards.

    The worst thing we did (without telling tales out of school) was Senior Skip Day which really was an illegal absence. Now the kids expect and demand a trip to Disney Land some 500 miles away and call it a Skip Days.

    Some smoked and a few did beers there were zero drugs, zero racial friction, zero religious intolerance.

    In short I was ill prepared to face the world after four years in that backwoods environment. A public school in a district with one Superintendent, His Secretary, and one to handle maintenance plus one maybe two janitors and the bus drivers. total I remember for the district was less than ten employees.

    And choice of three languages Spanish, French, German with Russian added the last year.

    Somehow I managed to become educated enough to accomplish my first two years of college by taking tests at the Army Education Center.

    Compared to todays version in that same school? It’s a wonder they can tie their shoes.

  6. I’m in favor of uniforms, in order to stress that students are there for an education, not to compete or draw attention to themselves based on fashion. And it certainly relieves the burden on poorer students if everyone wears the same style of clothing. Something simple, such as a white polo shirt and khaki slacks or skirt would de-emphasize clothing as a means of displaying wealth or social identification. We don’t need a Balkanization of the student body by fashion: preppy, gang-banger, goth, nerd, etc.

    • TIN

      re: “We don’t need a Balkanization of the student body by fashion: preppy, gang-banger, goth, nerd, etc.”

      Balkanization will always exist – even if all students wore burlap bags – it’s part of the US high school experience unfortunately. The US system is modeled on the UK’s which early on divides students into identity groups. I have met many people who were traumatized during their high school experience. My mother being one of them – she grew up poor in Appalachia TN – literally had one pair of shoes and often walked barefoot to save the soles. Luckily she was bright and curious and the librarian became a mentor so she learned through books about all the marvels of the world outside her own. After graduation she put herself through secretarial school, moved to Atlanta, met my Dad and they moved overseas. She found a job and began college — I have many memories of waking up at 3 AM and seeing the light on as she did her school work. Long story short – Ma wound up getting her BA as well as two MAs – yet she has never been able to shake off the feeling that she is somehow inferior. The “townie” girls who shamed her so fiercely left a deep scar.

      I am glad I was able to escape all that – by being an outsider I was not put in a box – and oddly enough was quite popular with all the groups – wealthy, nerds, jocks, stoners, punks, poor, etc. I grew up seeing my mother’s pain and early decided early on”f$#ck” a system that judges others on external attributes.

  7. You don’t have to blame girls for distracting boys, or boys for distracting girls, or girls or boys for distracting each other.

    No blame is needed. But it’s not sexist to recognize that distraction does happen and hurts everyone.

    I see no need for kids to wear skin tight leggings, deep cleavage revealing anything, or a ton of the shit that kids wear.

    If you want to solve it with uniforms, I’m cool with that. If you want to solve it with dress codes that’s fine too.

    It’s silly to think that in the environment these kids are growing up in that how they dress doesn’t affect the behavior of others.

  8. I am a firm believer in uniforms for schools, but I think the boys and girls should dress alike. T-shirts (school logo) and jeans. The money the parents save is enormous.

  9. Indeed, the students may have perfectly good arguments to make on the silliness of some limitations that should be considered.

    Drawing lines means you make some Jesuitical distinctions. No, you don’t haggle with the young over them if you have any sense.

    They’re brats speaking in an idiom they learned from their foolish (but book-smart) elders. Tell them to buzz off, then institute uniforms next year.

  10. Tell the students that the subject is open for debate, a true debate and that the entire debate must be made in Latin. By the time they’re prepared to do that they may have matured enough to see the reason behind such a uniform policy.

  11. My parents sent me to an all men’s catholic high school where they had a loose dress code when I was there; dress shirt, slacks, dress shoes. They got rid of the ties the year before I started. The students were doing everything they could to push the rules with the ties, everything from fish ties to super wide ties. Rather than update the tie rule, they just got rid of it. I don’t think it changed the learning environment as far as I could see; it still managed to turn me into an atheist.

    Uniforms don’t have to be fancy. Like Paul said above, t-shits with the school logo, plain blue jeans, plain socks, and plain shoes. I’m okay with letting them wear whatever underwear they want, or no underwear at all, as long as the underwear or what it is designed to contain is not showing. Even at that, the kids will find ways to make statements about who they affiliate with and such, but at least it minimizes the distractions.

  12. The world has gone crazy! If young people these days learned what we learned in the ’50s. It’s an archaic thing called “tolerance”. Does anyone remember it? My children learned it from me because I didn’t try to make them my “friends”. My job was mom! I’m proud that they are teaching it to their children and now that they are grown, we can be friends.

  13. Well let’s see now.

    In 1962, the principal of Mento-Atherton H.S. (Menlo Park California) decreed the following:
    Girls may not wear all black or all red dresses as the colors suggest loose morals and entice boys as well.
    Girls may not wear black patten leather shoes as boys may be able to look up skirts..
    Hemlines could be no higher than the crease at the back of the knee.

    Can’t remember any regulations for boys…maybe no shorts?

  14. My youngest 4 did a year of their schooling in Edinburgh. My, they learned a lot! All schools required standard dress, called uniforms. For the youngest, still in elementary school, there was a required, unisex, jacket. I rented it from the school district for 5 pounds and after a dry cleaning returned it at the end of the school year for a full refund.

    Yes, I strongly favor uniforms.

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