I have been enrolled in private Catholic schools for most of my life. Because of this, I was required to wear a school uniform. My high school’s Dean never gave explicit reasoning for the rules in our handbook. The only answer I ever got when I asked “why?” was that girls had to “remain tasteful.”
My skirt was never to rise above my knee. If I wore makeup, it had to be “modest.” I wasn’t allowed to wear bright nail polish. Even though I was never given a real reason for following those rules, I still abided by them. However, I now realize that all of these enforced rules merely preserve and prioritize a learning environment for men.
A Tier Below
If my skirt was an inch “too short,” I was taken out of class and sent to the Dean’s office. There, the Dean of Women sat holding a ruler. She measured my skirt and gave me detention to repent. “School is not a place to flirt,” she hissed. I spent several Saturday mornings (when I could have studied or caught up on sleep) paying dues for my skirt.
When the Dean dubbed my skirt length as being flirtatious, I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself. I finally understood. The problem wasn’t my skirt, the problem was the impact my skirt had on the men around me. School officials removed me from class and punished me for supposedly giving men the opportunity to sexualize me. However, I wasn’t even purposely giving anyone an opportunity. I was just a six-foot junior with incredibly long legs whose skirt rode up a couple inches while sitting down.
It was clear to me then that my schooling and education were placed on a tier below the boys’.
The sexualization of my body throughout my education has shaped the way I now look at dress codes – and why I think they should be terminated. I have nothing against uniforms. My quarrel is the manner in which schools implement and enforce dress codes; the manner in which they propagate certain body image tropes for girls.
While conducting research about school uniforms, I simply Googled “school girl” and “school boy.” I wasn’t expecting a large difference, but what I discovered is a testament to society’s tendency to sexualize girls.
When I Googled “school boy”, a basic image came up. There are boys in school uniforms who look like they are going to school.
However, when I looked up “school girl,” the results were filled with sexy lingerie and costumes.
This search reflects the lens our society puts on girls and women. Sexualizing school girls occurs on a level higher than school administrations. It lies in everyday searches and conversations. In order to counteract this trend, it is vital that we acknowledge gendered double standards and end them.
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