Some may question my use of the term “feminist” to describe the actions of these middle school girls, and others who have been raising a hue and cry about this in schools across the U.S. and Canada. But it is apt, since questions of women’s rights to our own personhood, objectification of us as women, and “slut shaming” are clearly part of a long history of women’s battles to fight for our rights and are fundamental in feminist movements against patriarchy. I flashed back to Amelia Bloomer, whose bloomer costumes for women were mocked harshly. So much of what we, as older feminists have been fighting for, has become part and parcel of the way many young women and girls view the world, without having to adopt a specific label. They are using the language.
To put my response to what my students told me in context: I don’t have children. I don’t have to deal with school dress codes and administrators. I don’t have to go shopping with teens or approve/disapprove what they wear. I admit, I have been pretty clueless.
My students on campus wear whatever suits them. In my women’s studies and cultural anthropology classes I have often discussed gender-related clothing shifts in the last 50 years, since almost all of my students who are female wear pants to class. My memories, at the age of 69, are of attending the only public high school in New York City that allowed girls to wear pants—the High School of Music and Arts and its sister school, Performing Arts. Many of you who saw the movie Fame and the related TV series might remember scenes of exuberant students dancing in the lunchroom in leotards and leggings.
So when students spoke of being sent to detention for a spaghetti strap or because a shoulder was showing, I admit I just. Didn’t. Get. It. I’m a child of beatnik-to-hippie-Woodstock freedom. How did we go backward to forcing girls who live in places where the temperatures may be 90 to 100 degress to go to schools that are not air conditioned in long sleeves and pants? How dare girls be “blamed” and “shamed” for “distracting” boys and male teachers?
After I reported back to my students, one of the first things they asked me was if I had seen a documentary titled Shame.
I told them I had. Here it is:
Hi, I'm Maggie. I'm a seventeen year-old writer and filmmaker. I made this documentary for a filmmaking class project, but I also just really wanted to show the reality of the WCHS dress code and all other school dress codes. I think that there needs to be an open discussion when it comes to the issues presented in this film, and I think that by showing how the dress code affects real high schoolers, it could open the door for the amendment or abolition of the dress code.
After viewing Shame, it only took a short search on YouTube to find a slew of other videos, and links to articles where dress codes are discussed and girls and young women tell their stories.
In this video Laci Green discusses dress code controversies. She outlines the distinction between a dress code and a sexist dress code and offers 5 reasons why these are harmful. In part 2, she discusses concerns about hyper-sexualization. In part 3, she outlines the actions taken by viewers in the past and calls others to action.
Another related discussion is how these codes, including issues related to hair styles, affect young women of color.
This article, titled, “Kentucky High School’s Racist Hair Policy That Bans ‘Dreadlocks, Cornrolls, and Twists’ Sparks Controversy,” is one such illustration.
A Kentucky high school has banned natural Black hairstyles and one parent is leading a call to action to have the dress code reviewed. State House candidate Attica Scott revealed Butler Traditional High School’s hair policy in a tweet posted Wednesday evening. Her daughter had just arrived home from registration and was unhappy with the regulations.
I’ll add more of what I found in the comments section.
I want to thank my students again for opening my eyes to an issue that directly affects them, and the kind of society we are building. There are clear links between bullying, attacks on women’s reproductive choices, anti-women legislation, violence against women, pocs, and LBGTs, and what is taking place in grade schools, middle schools, and high schools across the nation..
Kudos to the young women who launched #iammorethanadistraction.
This older feminist agrees with the young ones who will take our place.
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