“Our shoulders are not the problem”: female students discuss the need for a dress code rewrite

Grace Cook ‘21, Sports and Entertainment Editor

The student dress code stands on a system of uneven building blocks, and it is about to come tumbling down. The female students at South Lyon High School have been discussing the need for a dress code change for years; however, the 2021-21 school year may serve as a tipping point. 

The unspoken idea that dress codes restrict womens’ clothing choices in order to prevent boys from “getting distracted” is absurd. This implies that teenage boys have never once seen a girl’s shoulders–not at home, in public, during health class, or at the pool–and cannot control himself in the presence of a girl’s uncovered skin. The absurdity of this idea is insulting to all boys and the parents that raised them. The dress code also seemingly suggests that a girl’s body will be immediately sexualized by her classmates, friends, and teachers. For her sake (to prevent herself from being sexualized) and for the sake of others (so they do not have to sexualize her and get distracted?), the dress code commands girls to unreasonably hide their bodies.

We must address this seemingly simple, but somehow misunderstood, concept: girls are not in control of those who choose to sexualize them. It is not women’s responsibility to make others respect us and view us as equals. Instead, boys (and all genders) must be taught from a young age to respect others, not just women, no matter what clothing they are wearing. When a boy grows up learning that women must cover themselves in order to be respected and that those who show too much skin are ‘whores’, ‘sluts’, or shameful distractions, then they begin to believe that it is okay to sexualize, judge, and disrespect women who wear more revealing clothing. These sexist beliefs can be flushed out of the patriarchal societal system if we change our messages from “get women to cover up” to “respect everyone, no matter the amount of skin they choose to show.”

I will repeat, again: women are not in control of those who sexualize them. If someone believes the way a girl dresses is distracting, perhaps we as a society need to think about what misogynistic or patriarchal systems we have ingrained in our gender constructs. A predator will sexualize people no matter what they are wearing, whether it be short skirts or leggings, turtle necks or halter tops. No girl at school is “asking for it” based on the clothes they are wearing, and if a man claims that allowing female freedom in the dress code will cause him to not be able to control himself at school, then he likely poses a danger to society.

Not only is the dress code misogynistic in philosophy, it is also sexist in application. The student code of conduct states that, “skirts and shorts should be at least mid-thigh in length, and torn clothing styles should not reveal skin above mid-thigh. Examples of inappropriate dress include but are not limited to: halter tops, bare midriff tops, muscle shirts, boxer shorts. Clothing that is considered by the administration to be disruptive to the educational process will not be allowed.” While this wording appears to constrict both traditional male and female clothing, the execution of the student dress code undeniably targets girls. 

In a small sample of South Lyon female students, four out of eight were dress-coded. Not one boy, however, reported that they were ever reprimanded for wearing “skimpy” clothing. Furthermore, many students have reported seeing boys walk around school in muscle tanks, boxer shorts, and sweatshirts with provocative language or images like Playboy, alcohol, and the middle finger.

Senior Rachael Molnar can personally attest to this injustice. She said that during sophomore year she was dress-coded for wearing shorts, “even though a handful of guys were wearing shorts shorter [than hers].” While these particular male dress code breaches have not been known to deter students from completing their schoolwork, it is important to note that boys have not been as heavily or consistently reprimanded as girls. 

The student dress code certainly contains plenty of unnecessary regulation, but there is one vital clothing item that appears to be missing from its contents: masks. During the COVID-19 pandemic, masks are paramount to the safety of students and staff. Junior Grace Accaicca said mask wearing should be enforced as part of the dress code because they are important for the safety of everyone, and “students who do not wear their masks correctly… are putting themselves and others at risk.” Mask wearing is supposed to be enforced by school staff members separately from the dress code, but Mrs. Emily Kane said the “many teachers see it as a battle they may not want to fight.” For this reason, students can easily get away with wearing their masks improperly during the school day. 

Masks do undeniably play a vital role in maintaining a safe, healthy environment for in-person school. Senior Chloe Bank said, “if girls can be sent home for not wearing the correct dress code because it is ‘distracting’ to others, then people who refuse to wear their masks as well should have similar punishments.” While shoulder-revealing shirts do not harm or threaten the lives of our classmates, the improper use of masks certainly does. South Lyon Schools has acknowledged that it is impossible to space students more than three feet apart in the majority of classrooms at 100 percent capacity, so a person not wearing their masks correctly throughout class has the power to spread COVID-19 to all classmates in a six-foot radius, effectively condemning them to quarantine for at least ten days and potentially putting the lives of their families at risk.

So, let us get this straight: the staff of South Lyon Community Schools can take female students out of class, disrupt their education, and even send them home for wearing a cold-shouldered t-shirt, but they will not tell a boy (or a person of any gender for that matter) to keep their mask on over their nose?  The writing and execution of South Lyon’s dress code is sexist, outdated, and disregards the safety of our students. Our teachers and administrators have the power to enforce mask wearing and should take effective action so that all students feel comfortable coming to school amidst the pandemic.

Students at the high school are calling for our dress code to be reviewed and altered so that it respects the individuality, wellbeing, and health of every student. We ask that females be able to wear tank-tops, halter-necks, crop-tops, skirts, and shorts without being publicly shamed and/or reprimanded. We also implore the staff to more strictly enforce mask-wearing, so we can have a truly safe and comfortable educational experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. Step it up, South Lyon.

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