In the past few weeks, the Ballard administration has sent more girls home because of the way they dress than ever before. During class elections, the administration went around to all the students and explained that in order to avoid harassment students must pay attention to the way they dress.
This commentary by the administration, along with the recent and seemingly arbitrary enforcement of an undefined dress code, angered many students at Ballard, boys and girls alike. In response, Ballard students decided to organize a protest to raise awareness about the inappropriate way in which our administration was discussing issues of dress code.
Word got out about plans for the protest, and our principal sent out an email to all parents in order to bring attention to the importance of maintaining a dress code during the approach of summer. The email included the addition of three new rules not mentioned in the student handbook, which are as follows:
Shorts/Skirts must reach the mid-thigh/be finger tip length,
Up to 2" of midriff is allowed and
The chest cannot be overly revealing.
This list is not exhaustive, but it includes the majority of the issues that we face when the sun comes out.
The issue here is not that a dress code exists, but about how it has become an unfair expression of power and gender discrimination in schools. All three of the aforementioned rules, though written to encompass the entire student body, are actually targeted at girls. Furthermore, many girls reported feeling uncomfortable by comments made by the administration about their choice in clothes; many others have been sent home in the past few weeks, or forced to wear baggy gym shorts over their short skirts/shorts. Despite the fact that many boys have walked the halls with shorts that are too short (i.e. track shorts), none of them have been harassed in the same way.
A senior girl at Ballard recalled her experience with slut shaming in an interview*:
“I was walking back from lunch with a few of my friends,” she says, “and was approaching [an administrator], who turned to me and said ‘I think you should get your money back.’ And I asked why, and he said ‘They only sold you half a shirt.’ I told him that made me feel uncomfortable, and I swear to god, word for word, he said ‘It’s just my job, trying to shame people into dressing more conservatively.’”
These examples highlight a bigger problem that exists within society: victim blaming. A dress code, though necessary, establishes “inappropriate” clothing as the problem. Allowing clothing to define the wearer places responsibility for any related injustices on the individual wearing the clothes. In the email, our principal explained how “Being distracted from learning is an involuntary process that students cannot fully stop on their own, where as students are FULLY responsible for [the way they dress].” Again, this statement emphasizes the inability for students (namely, boys) to control their distraction due to the way students (which really means girls) dress. No one should feel inferior or degraded because of what they wear; and no one should feel as though they must cover up in order to go through their daily lives. After all, my clothing does not define me.
*Interview conducted by Annie Vizenor via. Facebook on April 8, 2014.