Editorial: From shameful to sexist: the stigma of dress codes

Videtteonline.com – April 6, 2017

Last week, the controversy surrounding United Airlines and its legging ban left the nation begging the question, “Does my butt really look that good in these yogas?”

For those who missed it, news broke bringing United’s employee and guest dress codes to light after two girls were barred from flight due to their leg apparel: leggings. The emphasis was on this apparent legging ban, leaving many customers worried about their wardrobe, rather than the fact that it applied to only a select number of passengers. Through it all, opinions on dress codes nationwide resurfaced.

Though female travelers should not fret about their wardrobe for flight, sexist dress codes can be found almost everywhere — most abundantly in our school system.

Young girls from birth to 18 are held to the following dress code standards: do not show shoulders, straps over shoulders must exceed at least two finger widths, midriff tops are forbidden, shorts, skirts and dresses must stretch past the student’s fingertips, cleavage should not be visible. The list goes on and on. Some schools are even as strict to say that young women cannot wear tight fitting pants — leggings or tights — or have hair ties on their wrists. All of these restrictions are typically reasoned by insisting they “distract” peers. At face value, it is easy to see the issue lies much deeper than through the simple distraction of their male peers.

For sake of argument, let’s look at some dress codes that apply to young men in the school system: no vulgar or inappropriate language can be displayed, no displays of gang affiliation, no images of weapons.

Clearly, the sexism that appears in the toy aisles of our department stores is also present when considering dress code violations. Not only are these young men not held to the same standards of distracting their female peers, but their restrictions are often not as heavily enforced. It is not uncommon for girls to be asked to change into their physical education uniforms or be sent home to swap outfits if they do not comply to the rules.

Though these rules only apply up until graduation from high school, the stigma remains in the college environment.

A woman on campus wearing short shorts is judged for “letting her ass hang out” and another who enjoys wearing crop tops is labeled as an attention seeker. These judgements have been drilled into our heads since birth, even after we have outgrown their need.

If a man is too distracted by his female peer’s outfit to pay attention in class, the problem does not lie with the woman. It lies in society’s ability to point the finger at the victim instead of taking responsibility for an archaic principle.

There are appropriate environments for dress codes, the school system being one that does need some level of restraint. But, it is the way we go about shaming young women for their wardrobes that then bleeds into other environments.

A college-aged woman should not second guess her yoga pants before walking into her lecture hall. Whatever that student feels comfortable wearing, however they want to express themselves, should be up to them. We cannot let these ideals that were constructed for young children frame our entire outlook on wardrobe choices. Maybe then, we can begin to tackle the sexist guidelines present in our school systems.


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