I received an email from my daughter's school over the weekend, reminding parents of the school's dress code. I won't share the image here, as I would like to protect my daughter's privacy.
Let me describe it for you: the PDF included three images: one illustrating the "proper" width of a tank top strap, another showing the "correct" length for shorts, and the third showing a pair of flip flops and crocs with an X marked through the picture. There is also some text describing which images are/are not acceptable on t-shirts.
Let's ignore the Crocs right now (a rule which is completely sensible - children need sturdier shoes to be climbing safely on the jungle gyms.)
What stuck in my craw, and led me to post the file on my Facebook wall, was the document's obvious target of girls and their nakedness (or lack of nakedness).
It has been one of the most engaging threads on my wall that I've ever read. Although I'd say the majority of my Facebook friends are self-proclaimed feminists and take issue with dress codes, I appreciated the lone comments from other friends who couldn't understand why the dress code was problematic.
Some of the arguments FOR dress codes
- All children need to learn to be "respectful" and "professional." They need to learn that, down the road, it will not be appropriate in the workplace to wear a shirt that shows their bra straps (for those wearing bras), or skirts/shorts short enough to reveal too much leg.
- These dress codes are not necessarily targeting girls - boys are also asked not to wear t-shirts with violent images or pants that hang down past their boxer shorts.
- At some point "girls" become "women." If we don't think it's right for a young woman to be dressed provocatively, then why would we allow our young daughters to do the same?
Arguments AGAINST dress codes
- Self-respect or being "respectful" has nothing to do with the clothing girls wear, or the amount of skin they're showing
- Dress codes sexualize young girls by assuming that their clothing is provocative - that boys will be distracted by their shoulders, legs, butt and breasts. Dress codes enforce the notion that girls need "protection" from boys.
- Dress codes are only enforced for some girls - the ones who develop early and have breasts are told to cover up, yet the petite breast-less girls are not asked to do the same.
- By enforcing dress codes, we can invariably make some girls (the ones who are either chubbier or developing more quickly) feel very uncomfortable about their bodies.
This is a touchy subject, and one that made my head hurt :) As a feminist, I lean towards the arguments against dress codes, given that they target girls more than boys. A gender-neutral dress code seems more appropriate to me, but I have yet to see one that isn't heavily focused on what girls wear.
I want to raise my daughters to be happy in their own skin, and I worry that someday they will be made to feel uncomfortable by a teacher or principal.
And as a breastfeeding advocate, I have serious issues with young girls' chest fat or developing breasts being sexualized (in fact, I don't think any breasts should be sexualized. They are there to feed babies, full stop, whether or not you are willing or able to breastfeed).
Being a girl is tough stuff, and is made tougher when our body parts are constantly being objectified.
And, personally, this dress code is a hard pill for me to swallow...
What do you think? Should short shorts and spaghetti straps for young girls be banned?