dress code

Students Challenge Sexist Dress Code with Alternate Proposal

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Amber Hathaway

I am a physics graduate student, campus organizer, aspiring horror writer, crafter, and amateur genealogist from Maine

A group of students at Bangor High School (BHS) in Bangor, Maine is working to change the school’s discriminatory dress code. Two years ago, then BHS sophomore Cat Just garnered national media attention when she started a “crop top movement” to challenge sexism inherent in the school’s dress code. Now members of the BHS Women’s Interest Group (WIG’s) are tackling the issue from a new angle. With the help of faculty and members of a local community organization, they have proposed a gender neutral dress code.

The current BHS dress code includes the following passage: “Dressing for success has multiple effects for students: maintaining respect, establishing credibility, ensuring safety, providing a positive learning environment, and limiting distractions. Dress must reflect neatness, cleanliness, modesty, and good taste and must not be suggestive, threatening, or intimidating . . . Clothing should not be too short, too long, too low, or worn too tightly. (Skirts and shorts must extend to fingertips). Clothing that exposes the midriff, undergarments or that is otherwise immodest or provocative is prohibited.”

While the “dress for success” language may at first seem gender neutral, as there are no explicit references to gender, in practice it is often applied to garments worn primarily by girls. like crop tops. Boys’ clothing is rarely considered too short, too low, too tight, or provocative. Girls are viewed as “distractions” to the men at their school, which sexualizes girls and treats their education as less valuable than that of their male peers. By promoting modesty and suggesting that following the dress code ensures that students are respected and safe, the converse is also implied, namely that students who dress “immodestly” cannot expect respect or safety.

There are other issues with the dress code as well. Leaving it to individual faculty members and administrators to determine whether an article of clothing violates the dress code ensures inconsistent application. Furthermore, such an ambiguous policy allows for size discrimination. The same garment may appear tighter or lower cut on one girl than on a smaller peer.

WIG’s was founded at BHS about five years ago to provide students with a safe space to discuss feminism and social justice issues. The group’s mission has since expanded to include community activism. According to WIG’s President Olivia Baldacci, the group decided to tackle the dress code issue because they were hearing complaints from students who were being sent home for dress code violations like wearing ripped jeans or crop tops. The group feels that changing the dress code will help to make the school “more equitable and comfortable for everyone.”

The group decided to draft a dress code proposal rather than a list of suggestions so that the administration could see exactly what the students were asking for. By handling the minutia of the wording, the students could ensure that their requests were not misconstrued. WIG’s teamed up with teachers and two women from Partners for Peace, a community organization working to end violence and domestic abuse, to draft a gender neutral dress code. The proposed dress code eliminates the ambiguity and subjectivity of the current dress code: “Students have to wear the equivalent of a shirt, pants, and shoes. Students are allowed to wear clothing that expresses their self-identified gender. Students are allowed to wear religious attire without fear of discipline or discrimination. Clothing that is allowed also includes ripped jeans, tank tops, halter tops, and athletic clothing. Straps that are visible on undergarments worn under other clothing are allowed . . . Articles of clothing with displays that are sexual, vulgar, indecent, or include insulting words or gestures are not permissible. Articles of clothing with displays that are racially inflammatory, include hate speech, and/or violate the school committee’s discrimination or harassment policies are not permissible.”

Members of WIG’s delivered the petition, including over 100 student signatures, to BHS Principal Paul Butler in November. In the proposal, WIG’s requested a meeting with him and the administration to discuss the issue further, but so far the administration has not responded. If you support the propsed dress code changes, especially if you are connected to BHS, you can contact Principal Butler at [email protected] to voice your support. WIG’s plans on going to the school board if they do not receive a response from the administration within the next few weeks. The group can be contacted through their Facebook page or at [email protected]

 

 

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