Thursday, May 22, 2014

Guest Post by Ballard High Student on Dress Codes

Tian Qing Yen, a senior at Ballard High School, submitted an op-ed,  "My Clothing Does Not Define Me" to this blog:

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.


SaraW said...

This is my personal opinion. I have to say I completely disagree. I am a woman and a mom to a daughter and a son. I think choice of clothing does define people. Men and women alike. Remember the saying, Dress for the job you want, not the job you have? I personally think less of the girls I see dressed in revealing clothing. I think less of the boys with pants hanging around their knees. My kids are young, though, so this will probably change when I see kids dressed like this that I know and respect.

If I leave work early, I see the kids leaving Ballard High at the end of the day. It is usually the girls who have made very poor choices in clothing. I am not sure how the school can handle this without seeming "sexist" but some of the girls are dressed incredibly inappropriate for school and just in general.

I'd like to think if a boy was walking around with his pants hanging so low that you could see his underwear, he'd be asked to pull up his pants or be sent home. I'd also hope that if a boy was wearing a tank top cut so his arm pit hair and nipples were exposed, he'd be asked to cover-up or be sent home.

The reality is not very many boys are walking around in "crotch-dusting" mini skirts or shorts so small that pubic hair or butt cheeks are exposed. Nor, for the most part, do boys have cleavage exposed.

The rules of skirts/shorts being below the finger tips applies to boys and girls alike.

I also wonder why the girls have "Beavers" written across the butts of their (sports team?) sweatpants. It bugs the heck out of me when I see it (I know it started with "Pink" or whatever not Ballard HS). The boys don't have writing on the butts of their sweats. And, I know that it is the Ballard Beavers. I don't care what is written across the butt - nothing should be for kids under 18.

I say, keep fighting the good fight Ballard Admin!

Melissa Westbrook said...

The principal has this unfair statement which is, "“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].”

What? Boys have to learn to control their impulses. Maybe they can't help being distracted (and I had two teenage boys so I know) but acting on those impulses? Yes, they can control themselves.

On the other hand, the student said, "After all, my clothing does not define me." I take that to be a very young person statement.

Throughout history, clothing has had meaning and that's even beyond fashion. We all make choices about our clothing and a lot of it - along with hair, makeup, voice, etc. - all define us. (Not to mention race and culture.) So yes, I think clothing does define a person to some extent but she's right. A person is not their clothes.

One thing that truly gets lost in the high school debate is that we all dress differently for different occasions. When I was co-president of the Roosevelt PTA, I used to tell parents/teens on tours: you don't have to dress for church or going to see Grandma but you should not dress as if you are going to a party. There's a time and place for all manner of clothing.

Anonymous said...

The SSD has about 50,000 students and 6,800 of those have been identified with a learning disability.

Of those 6,800 around 2,600 have been identified with dyslexia.

Studies claim the rate of dyslexia in children is between 5-25%


If we use the number 10%
as the lower mean we would expect to find around 5,000 students in SSD receiving services for dyslexia, but it could be as high as 12,000.

Not only do these unidentified students struggle in the gen ed setting the identified students suffer for non existent teaching methodologies are often labeled as stupid and lazy.

This is the story that should be receiving daily coverage. Not dress codes!

Why does the media and anti-charter schools pro APP sites tend to ignore this issue?

I'm not attacking the editor personally but is this site only promoting saving the Seattle public schools for APP students?

Is seems in my opinion this site comes up with excuses for the district around special ed, but goes nuclear any time APP is threatened. Just my opinion.

I would like to see more coverage of the dyslexia challenge.


Anonymous said...

How about teachers and admins who show cleavage, wear short baby doll dresses, etc.? Do they also have a dress code?


Po3 said...

I believe that schools should enforce dress codes for both male and female students.

I think it is unfortunate that a BHS staff member made a poor choice in the verbiage they use when addressing attire. It simply fuels the students argument against having to adhere to dress codes.

Hard to believe that staff needs training around shaming statements, but apparently they do.

Anonymous said...

Good for this Ballard student.

I live near Ballard High and see the students there all the time. I don't think they are dressed any more inappropriately than high school students anyplace else I have lived over the past 20 years. I have not seen the pubic hair or butt cheeks SaraW mentions. (I assume she is exaggerating.)

All of this seems like an overreaction to me. Should we really be this worked up about what high school kids are wearing?


Melissa Westbrook said...

Michael wrote "anti-charter schools pro APP sites"

Who would that be?

Excuses for Sped? You must not read this blog much because we have constantly criticized the district on this point. I myself have a special needs son.

I have no control over how many people react to any given topic. I wish more Sped parents would speak up or send in op-eds but they don't.

I know the dress code issue was raised recently but this student - based on that thread - asked if I would run her essay and I said yes.

Charlie and I welcome any threads you might like to write on most any education topic.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with Sara W. My 8th grader and I toured Ballard this year and we were both taken back by how the students were dressed. We also toured Ingraham, Hale, and Roosevelt and there was definitely more skin hanging out at Ballard. We especially didn't think an exposed midriff during a chemistry lab was a good idea. It made us both question whether my fairly conservative, academically-focused daughter would fit in there. It also gave me a new appreciation for Eckstein's dress code, which is enforced for girls and boys.

How you choose to dress sends a message of how you want the world to view you. Too many young girls are dressing like they're headed to a club, not to school.


Anonymous said...

Poorly worded and poorly discussed.

Professional attire is expected by ALL in professional settings. By High School you are entering the workforce for many and learning the appropriate language, behavior, attire and expectations are all part of it. That is how it should have been discussed.

The pants below the ass, the hats, the hoodies covering faces, the sloppy wear by men is equally "distracting" If young men knew that the pants below the ass was a prison inmate sign that the wearer was a "bottom" I would love to see how many would pull their pants up.

Once again this is a mountain meet the molehill. Frankly dress codes are another oldie but goodie that comes up with the whole "uniform" issue of yesteryear.

How about a professional dress code that is quite clear for Students, Teachers, etc whom are on all School property. Make that a "uniform" policy that exceptions will include any clothing for religious identification... as we may well have students of conservative Jewish faith and Muslim, or even Sikhs. But that would be the exception with notification filed in the Office.

I remember when Jeans were a no no but I do think many Teachers could use a fashion class but pay them more then perhaps the wardrobe consultant would swing by. But as for equivalent on inappropriateness I doubt it.

Moving on to the next faux crisis!

- Yves St. Laurent

Jamie said...

My daughter is a junior at Ballard. I feel fortunate that she has no interest in wearing revealing clothing. And I am fine with some of these dress codes, such as the fingertip rule. This has been the rule in many schools and makes sense to me.

However, I have to agree with this student (and Melissa) when she calls out Wynkoop for saying "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]." This is the age-old "boys will boys" trope that is wholly sexist and unfair.

Wynkoop tried to sidestep that in his email to parents but I'm not buying it. He is policing the girls but not the boys.

TechyMom said...

High school is not work. High School and college are the times in a young person's life when they can experiment with identity, including dressing how they want. Once you're working, you have less opportunity to do that. Why would we want to constrain them unnecessarily when there is no customer to please? Let them have fun. They have the rest of their lives to wear business casual.

Anonymous said...

the SPS dress code is hardly draconian, any student who flouts it enough for staff to be concerned, has some issues that need attention.
i wonder if many kids are really up in arms.
The sweats are a weird contrast- ugly baggy gray pants with a word on the butt that is a double entendre and the second entendre pops right into your head. these young women are frank about things anyways.


Lisa said...

FYI, the Ballard HS mascot is the Beaver. That explains the pants -- or at least why that particular word appears. I'm at a loss to explain the general phenomenon of words on the back of pants!

My BHS senior says the students are up in arms about this issue. They are very upset that girls' clothing and boys' ability to behave in a mature manner has been called into question. Most feel the existing dress code should be enforced without resorting to lame excuses like "the boys won't be able to concentrate."

Anonymous said...

I work near BHS and have seen BHS girls at the bus stop with shorts so short that the rear end is showing below the bottom of the shorts. I think that is distracting to either gender, just like sagging pants is also distracting where you wonder if they are going to fall down. My personal opinion is that there should be dress codes. My daughter who is a 10th grader at Garfield thinks dress codes are gender discrimatory. Maybe I would think the same if I were in 10th grade. But as an adult, I think a 2 inch midriff rule is OK. etc. The sending home thing is maybe strange. When I was in junior high, girls were sent home for wearing pants....

Anonymous said...

I mean gender discriminatory...

Charlie Mas said...

There are a number of problems here.

One is the idea of dress codes in the first place. The school's only legitimate rule is that students may not wear anything that interferes with the work of the school: education. This is usually expressed by outlawing "distracting" clothing. But what is distracting? I don't see how skimpy outfits are distracting in a typical classroom setting. If the student is seated at a desk, then no amount of leg (or butt cheek) is showing. And if the students are facing front, then no amount of cleavage is showing either. The skin revealed by these choices is really only visible during passing periods, when no education is happening.

Another problem here is a dress code that constrains one gender but not the other. This is some pretty obvious slut shaming. It also expresses a very low opinion of the boys in the school. See how the patriarchy oppresses us all? Any protest of this dress code must include boys wearing shorts too short or cleavage revealing tops and demanding that they be disciplined as well.

There is also the mystery of the amazing flexible dress code that changes over the course of the school year. New rules are added? Not cool. Are these the same administrators who, when punishing students, ask them "Did you receive a copy of the student handbook and did you read it?"

Finally, I really wish the school would just forget about what's on the students' legs and focus on what's on the students' minds.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I agree with Charlie in principal but honestly, have you been in a classroom?

Students get up and move around. You can certainly see what they are wearing.

Also, ever sat behind a young girl/guy with low-cut/low-hanging jeans and had to look at a pink thong or underwear...for 50 minutes? Sorry, but I found that distracting. And, I don't think kids should be sitting and looking at someone's underwear. It's inappropriate.

There's a middle ground but frankly, I think it needs to come from home and not school.

Someone said this is a silly issue. It is on the surface but the issue of shaming young women for what they wear extends to women who get raped and one of the first questions is, "What was she wearing?" Women should not be shamed for clothing choices.

Anonymous said...

My Hale kid says that each high school is known for their style and is glad they are at Hale where sweatpants are acceptable attire. BHS is considered 'ratchet' which is not a complement. Roosevelt is preppy and snooty. I didn't get the lowdown on the others.

Printing on the backside of sweat pants has been a thing since the '80s. Our national was always sending out memos telling us that young ladies do not wear words on their butts. Our chapter did it anyway because every other sorority on campus had their Greeks on their butts. BHS happens to have an unfortunate mascot with a double meaning. Hale girls seem to go for NHHS rather than Raiders on the seat of their sweats.


Anonymous said...

I have to say I'm with Charlie on this one. Public schools shouldn't have dress codes at all. If what a student is wearing isn't illegal, they should be able to wear it. If it's good enough for the beach, it's good enough for school, I say. If girls want to wear bikinis, they should be able to. If boys want to walk around school without shirts, good for them.

I also agree with Charlie regarding passing periods - there's no education going on then. As long as what students are doing isn't illegal, they should be free to do as they please. I'll also take it a step further. Since there's no education going on in the hallways (i.e., the location of passing periods), the schools should allow businesses to sponsor the hallways, or even whole floors and wings of the school. There's no education going on there, so this would be a great way to raise revenue --- The Taco Del Mar 3A hallway or the Mars Hill Church science wing. There are so many possibilities.

--- swk

Anonymous said...

Wow, could this dress code be any more subjective? Shorts that come to "mid-thigh"? Chests that aren't "overly revealing"? And that finger-tip test has been worked around since the 1960s, according to my mother who was in high school then. Not to mention the fact that not all wingspans are created equal.

I particularly take umbrage at the "revealing chest" issue. Anyone who's been or known someone busty knows that the same simple v-neck t-shirt can look wildly different on different body types, not to mention the fact that cleavage starts at different points on different body types. Using such nebulous terms as "revealing" is just setting teachers, administrators and students up for awkward and uncomfortable moments. Pick a concrete measurement working from the collarbone (or the knee, for shorts) so that a student can easily prove they're in compliance.


Anonymous said...

Note, I don't actually think dress codes should be severe - I attended college in a warm climate, where girls often would wear swimsuits under their clothes. Once the possibility of a dress code was raised, and female professors claimed that boys sitting down in thin basketball shorts didn't leave anything to the imagination either. Granted, college is slightly different than high school, but the fact remains that students at that age are hormonally charged and need to learn to rein in their thoughts and focus on what's appropriate. If that were impossible we'd see a dramatic dip in performance in states with an average temperature above 70 degrees.


David said...

swk - you're really not very funny.

Melissa Westbrook said...

SWK, I hope that was tongue in cheek because really?

dw said...

Come on folks, that was hysterical. The best sarcasm is written to draw you in, make your eyes slowly get wider and wider, until you finally realize you've been had and burst out loud laughing.

swk, that was awesome. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I utterly concur with swk school is an exploration so why teach any type of adult responsibilites..let them eat cake! This is a time to try many new adventures..why confine it to times after school or on weekends. This is why the college campuses are in arms over all this rape nonsense.. they are exploring booze, drugs and sex when you wake up and go WTF well that is not rape just bad decision making.

Here here.. I am for no codes, rules or restriction!

This is time for exploration and innovation.

-- DWP

Melissa Westbrook said...

"rape nonsense.. they are exploring booze, drugs and sex when you wake up and go WTF well that is not rape just bad decision making."

Rape nonsense? So girls, don't drink in college and then kiss a guy because apparently you just consented to sex?

Yes, WTF, indeed.

Lynn said...

So respecting young women's ownership of their own bodies will lead to rape?

Charlie Mas said...

We're quickly rolling off topic.

I'm now in Charlottesville, Virginia where it is HOT. I have a friend in middle school and I have gone there to give him a ride home on several occassions. Not one girl at that middle school was in compliance with the Washington Middle School dress code. Short shorts and tops with spaghetti straps were so common you would think they were the school uniform. Yet, somehow, miraculously, education moved forward.

The clothes don't matter all that much and we should just drop the whole idea of dress codes.

Students do not surrender their civil rights when they enter the school building. The school is a government institution and, therefore, may not unduly interfere with first amendment rights of self-expression.

Seriously, unless a kid is actually having trouble staying focused on the lesson due to the attire of another student, it should be allowed.

I don't remember EVER being distracted by what another student wore. The students who distracted me did so regardless of their attire.

Melissa Westbrook said...

1) I got sent home to change from the last day of 8th grade...for wearing shorts....in Arizona...in late May. Different times.

So I understand hot but there are shorts and there are short shorts. You can wear what is comfortable but again, there's a line.

The Roosevelt band marches past my house all the time (it's very fun to see) and I see girls who look like they are wearing volleyball shorts. Not appropriate. Doesn't matter if they are distracting, in some ways that's a red herring.

2) DWP's remark about "rape nonsense" is part of this discussion because of the original writer of this thread. Why are girls being shamed for what they wear?

Lynn said...

The schools are taking over parental rights and responsibilities here and I don't like it. There is a line between appropriate and inappropriate - but each family has the right to draw that line for themselves. The state is required by law to provide a basic education to our children. Principals who send students home to change are denying them access to this education.

I have many opinions about the things I see people of all ages wearing in public. I keep my opinions to myself though because it's none of my business.

Anonymous said...

Melissa, regarding the marching band - is it within school hours? Back in my day (strokes imaginary beard) our marching band practice was after school and we wore swimsuits under spaghetti strapped tank top and short shorts. Granted it was 90 degrees and the hottest part of the day, but school dress code didn't matter then.


Melissa Westbrook said...

NewB, this is just practice so they march in the clothes they come to school in. I love when they play EWF's "September."

formal dresses said...

It's not so fear to enforce dress codes on students. Everyone has his/her own opinion on the dress and they do know what kind of dress can fit them best. Clothing is just the outward appearance and it doesn't really indicates all the features of a person.