Dress codes are an attack on girls

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Opinion Columnist Dani Goedken recounts her own experience with school uniforms and how they suppress young girls.

DANI GOEDKEN, Opinion Columnist

At my Catholic high school, the dress code was very different for girls and for boys. I, a cis-gendered female, was not allowed to wear shorts, but the boys were. We had the exception of skirts but never shorts. Boys could wear swimsuits on beach day, but the girls couldn’t wear shorts on beach day. 

  Every day I put on my uniform I was reminded of the fact that my body wasn’t in my control. Every day my school dictated what I wore and how I wore it. I couldn’t decide to be comfortable because comfortable broke the rules. Not only did wearing a uniform restrict me, the restrictions on my uniform were worse. Boys could get away with a lot, but the girls never could. 

This isn’t just one story. The same story is told by girls all over the country. And it’s not only Catholic schools. Public schools have similar rules and don’t allow girls to truly express themselves.

  We talk about empowering women and we talk about women being in control of their bodies. No one ever talks about dress codes. Dress codes teach girls to cover themselves up. They teach girls that their bodies are something to be ashamed of and that it needs to stay hidden. It is not OK to force that on a child. Children need room to grow and to explore themselves.

Girls are told that their bodies are distracting to men, but men are never told to stop looking at girls. My teachers should not be uncomfortable by my shoulders. My teacher should not look at me as a sex object. Rather than teaching girls to hide themselves and be ashamed, maybe we should start teaching men to treat women with respect and not see them as sex objects.

People would rather have girls taken out of class than have them wearing a skirt that’s too short. They are prioritizing men’s education to women’s education. In this case a man’s comfort is more important than a woman’s education. It is time we start teaching girls that their education is just as important as their male counterparts.

This goes beyond binary terms of men and women. We know that not everyone fits perfectly into those two categories. Students who don’t dress like their assigned sex is supposed to dress are also at risk for being dress coded. They are told that they can’t be themselves. How someone chooses to express themselves should not be up for debate or punishment.

My uniform was made to restrict me. My uniform told me that I need to be ashamed of my body I need to hide my body. It taught me that men’s education and men’s comfort is more important than my education and my comfort.

   So, what are you going to do? Are you going to stand by and let young girls and boys be forced into these boxes, or are you going to stand up against dress codes and start the conversation to end them?