By TATUM MAPES
School dress codes. They have been fought and debated since they were first put into place. However, the debate is starting to become very one-sided, with supporters of the dress code staying silent out of fear of being ridiculed or called “misogynistic” and “sexist.” However, there is nothing wrong with having a school dress code; it is just justified with the wrong excuses. It is the calling of certain clothes “distracting” that gives the dress code a bad name. In reality, the fundamental purpose of a dress code is to respect the institution of the school and promote a professional environment, not limit freedom of expression.
As Elizabeth Pavlath, a California State University Long beach student, described it in her article “In Defense of Dress Codes,” “No one should justify a dress code violation with arguments about how women need to keep men’s urges in check. However, you do not get to wear what you want when you want.” Thus Pavlath addresses the frequently overlooked point that dress codes extend beyond just a school policy; they are an inextricable part of every working adult’s life. In almost every workplace in the world, dress codes are specifically put into place to create a certain work environment. A law firm would discourage wearing tight, revealing or casual clothing to promote the image of being staffed by respectful, trustworthy professionals. A medical office would require employees to wear scrubs to maintain a certain clean-cut, uniform appearance. Even those employed at fast food restaurants must comply with the company’s dress expectations. The common theme is that most working individuals must respect these standards or failure to do so will result in termination of employment. However, schools cannot “fire” a student for wearing a tube top. Instead they have to resort to disciplinary procedures that may be misconstrued as “pointless” or “sexist.” In reality, most school dress codes are extremely lax compared to those in the modern workplace.
Nonetheless, even if it goes unspoken, some individuals—boys and girls alike—are simply not comfortable with seeing a fully exposed shoulder or an openly revealed belly button due to either personal or religious reasons. It is human nature to stare at items of interest that are perceived as unsettling, unfamiliar, or otherwise deemed off-limits by their respective cultures. Comparably, internet clickbait is guilty of manipulating this same instinct through the use of shocking or potentially obscene images and headlines to draw in the viewer. Certain types of clothing or lack thereof can unintentionally produce the same results, except without the somewhat shielding digital boundary. The complaints most commonly muttered by frustrated highschool students as a result of an enforced dress code generally follow along the lines of:
If you don’t like it, you don’t have to look at it.
If you are looking in a sexual way, it is your problem.
Boys need to control their own thoughts.
With regard to the fact that minors should never be viewed as sexual objects, these statements do not consider the necessary basic respect for the institution of the school or the students who attend it. They imply that a student who walks into school, fully aware of the dress code policy, wearing nothing but a scarf around his or her waist holds no responsibility in the resulting disciplinary action. Moreover, should said student continue to flout policy on account of “freedom of expression,” the learning environment and the process of teaching students to respect authority will inevitably suffer.
Due to the nature of dress codes requiring that some parts of the body be covered, one might complain that it is a form of body shaming. However, this cannot be further from the truth. Body shaming is described as criticizing others and oneself through the comparison to an often difficult to attain ideal. Body shaming is telling an individual that they do not have worth because something is perceived to be wrong with their appearance. Dress codes, at their most fundamental level, are not put into place to tell students that their bodies are unflattering. When a student is “dress coded” the primary intended message is that the clothes they are wearing are not appropriate for an academic environment, not a deliberate attack on one’s body or self-expression. In actuality, dress codes and a student body can coexist when a common ground is reached. In 2015, Thailand’s Bangkok University changed its school uniform policy to allow transgender and gender-binary students to freely express themselves while still complying with the official dress code. The university acknowledged that students should dress in a way that represents who they are, while respecting the school’s administration.
Outside of school, students are free to dress in any imaginable fashion, but once they step foot onto campus, a line must be drawn. Education in the United States is a right compared to the countless other countries where it is a costly privilege. Public school is largely without expense and the government asks for nothing in return from students except for adherence to some basic rules—rules which they will inevitably encounter again in the workplace. Dress codes are not created with the single-minded purpose to antagonize students; they are ultimately meant to more good than harm.
For more information on the Redlands Unified School District’s high school dress codes, please visit the links below:
Redlands East Valley