High school is a time in life where students want to express themselves freely, whether that be through their social media presence, who they socialize with, the activities they participate in, or, most commonly, through the way they dress. When high school administrations implement dress codes, they are stifling the possibility of expression and individuality. Additionally, these dress codes are almost always sexist and more lenient for male students than their female counterparts. This reinforces the double standard for how men and women are supposed to dress and objectifies women by assuming they are dressing for the sole purpose of getting a man’s attention.
Dress codes are an attempt to limit a student’s personality, which is something that should be inalienable. So much of our identity is conveyed through what we wear each and every day. It seems trivial for schools, who must have more meaningful and urgent things to do, to repress personalities. Expression of one’s personality should not even be a point of interest to schools – unless it is harmful or blatantly offensive in some way, who cares what a student is wearing? That is their choice, and interfering with it is an abuse of power. Schools claim that they ban items of clothing that could potentially be disruptions. But that begs the question of what constitutes a “disruption.”
Maddie Mueller, a teen attending a California high school, was punished for wearing a “Make America Great Again (MAGA)” hat in 2019. The school claimed that the hat would disrupt the other students, so Mueller sued the school district on the grounds of violating her First Amendment rights. While the case has not been settled yet, it illustrates the grey areas that dress codes often fail to clarify, which can cause students to be unjustly punished.
Dress codes are also problematic in the way that they support the double standard in rules for male and female students. Restrictions on clothing in schools are just another example of the sexism that has been a constant in the lives of young girls. Schools place bans on harmless pieces of clothing like shorts, skirts and spaghetti strap tank tops. Meanwhile, boys face more lenient limitations on what they cannot wear.
One school in Florida applied this principle to yearbook photos. Without permission from students, the yearbook coordinator edited pictures of about 80 girls whose attire was deemed “inappropriate” because the neckline was too revealing. The same yearbook staff, however, decided to include pictures of the boys swim team in which they were shirtless, wearing only bathing suits. If this isn’t a clear example of the double standard that female students have to endure, then I don’t know what is.
The logic behind some of these restrictions is that clothing which “shows too much skin” can be distracting to other students. This is a disgusting example of the male perspective on a woman’s body. After all, 67.3 percent of high school principals are men, so what else should we expect? This is a blatant disregard to the fact that women don’t wear things for the sole purpose of impressing men, or trying to “distract” them – we wear things that make us happy and express our personalities. Furthermore, it supports the objectification of women and girls. Our bodies are not things that are on display for others to stare at, so schools should stop implementing dress codes that treat them as such.
By forcing a girl to “cover up,” we are publicly shaming her and instilling in her the idea that she cannot express herself through her clothing. This is not the lesson we want to teach our young girls. Instead of humiliating her in front of her peers for wearing clothing that is an alleged violation of an unfair dress code, schools should instead support her decision to express herself through her clothing (because that is what they do for young men). Either support all students – regardless of if they are male or female – uniformly or punish them uniformly, but the policies must uphold equal treatment.
Dress codes either need to be drastically reformed or completely abolished. Unless schools can implement them in ways that allow for the expression of one’s beliefs and personal style, while also supporting female students as equitably as male students, then they should be a thing of the past.