In high school, I was just like everyone else in the sense that I hate school dress codes. My rebellious teenage ways left me feeling like I was being held down from self expression because some old person didn't like it when teens dressed in a way that showed any skin. More than anything, the feminist in me hated the idea that girls had to conform to dressing in a certain way so that they couldn't distract the boys from learning as if the boys' education was more important.
I do still look at dress codes this way when we send girls home to change, pull them out of class and make their parents bring them clothes, or make them wear their stinky gym clothes around all day. It is not at all fair to the female portion of the school. Favoring boys' attention spans over girls' education has always been what so many people saw as the biggest flaw with school dress codes. That, and how bigger girls with curves are even more discriminated against because if the dress, shorts, or shirt hug them too closely, but actually do follow the rules, they may still be sent home.
In no way is the school dress code system fair or just, but my view on having it has greatly changed since I have begun my activism work. As a survivor of sexual assault myself, rape is something that I don't take lightly. It's a topic I feel should be talked about more. There needs to be more of a dialogue about how to prevent assaults if there is a way, what we can do to help survivors, and most importantly, how we can fight against rape culture in order to have more support for victims and less victim blaming. The more I learn just how seeded into our world rape culture is, the more I think of teens — and what can be done to possibly help protect them, since they are the people most often targeted — and the more I begin to look at preventive measures as important, even if they are unfair to women.
According to RAINN, 44% of rape victims are under the age of 18, and four out of five assaults are committed by someone that the survivor (I hate the word victim, it makes me feel powerless) knew. Get ready for another big percentage because 47% of assaults are committed by a friend or acquaintance. These are our kids, our teens, and they are being attacked by people they know.
Growing up, I could not stand the idea of telling men that it was OK for them to act a certain way, and it was a girl's fault if a boy or man did act that way. How dare you blame a girl for how a man acted? He should be taught from the very start to be responsible for his actions. To this day, I still believe that.
I will stand beside anyone who is being blamed for being a survivor, and I will fight with them against that nonsense. We are embedding it in the minds of our young girls that they have to dress a certain way in order to be safe because their actions and how they dress make a man do things, instead of teaching boys that they are responsible for their actions and how important consent is. That is not something I, or anyone else, should take lightly.
But I will also stand beside any school fighting with students and claiming that a dress code is necessary, at least with the world we currently live in, which is one I do not see changing anytime soon. Because while I hate those statistics, while I hate the idea that a female (or non-binary) student can be blamed for how a male student acts, while I hate that the dress code reinforces all of that; I know that change isn't going to happen over night. I know that rape culture won't simply be erased from our lives when it has been so deeply embedded in them. Not when songs like Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" and so many others, get sung over and over, teaching our children consent is nothing. And I know that the dress code may be one extra little piece of safety for our teens.
No, it is not fair. Yes, it is teaching our boys not to be responsible for their actions. Yes, I realize that dress codes have been in place and rapes still occur. Yes, I also realize that dress codes only reinforce rape culture, but I also see that our students are in danger. I know that taking away the dress code will not fix our rape culture problems. Until rape culture is somehow erased from our society, until people wake up and realize rape is never OK and never the victim's fault; I will be standing here supporting our schools for trying to protect our students.
Are dress codes overrated and unjust? Yes, by far. But are they unnecessary? No. They are not. Because with the way our society is right now, with the way rape culture is embedded into our world, they are a way of possibly protecting our teens. One day I hope we live in a world where I don't have to look at girls a few years younger than me and tell them that the school is only trying to protect me from the sick boys who will take advantage of them. One day, I hope that I will be able to walk into a school and see girls able to express themselves, and show a little shoulder when it's 100 degrees outside and they are simply wearing a tank top, without getting sent home.
School dress codes definitely need work, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't exist at all.