The Dreaded Dress Code

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In the article “The sexism of school dress codes” Li Zhou discusses how there is a different standard between girls and boys when it comes to their attire. She states dress codes are criticized as sexist, and they target girls. This negatively affects girls self-esteem and confidence. Zhou mentions how girls’ dress is considered a distraction for boys. The dress code conveys the message that women are the ones who must protect themselves from unwanted sexual attention. She also points out how students are fed up and take action; some petition change while others participate in walk-outs.

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The author states how the dress codes also target and penalize transgender or non-gender conforming students. The rules of the dress code regulate the students identities, particularly for transgender students. Administrators and students are in agreement that students should be involved in creating the dress code to avoid conflicts. I agree with many of Li Zhou’s points about how dress codes target females and how biased educators can be.

I agree with Zhous that girls are held accountable for the boys’ reactions. Girls are sent to the office to change if their attire doesn’t meet the dress code requirements. Girls can’t wear a simple white t-shirt because it is considered a distraction for their male classmates. Zhou states “ [A] female student at the school was sent home after wearing a seemingly appropriate outfit that nonetheless showed collarbone…” Boys are being taught that if they can’t control their own urges girls are responsible not to provoke them.

Who is more important: the boy who got distracted by some girls leg or the girl that is going to miss some class to go change? This is only teaching the young girls that their education is not as important as the boys. Who should be punished? The girl who felt confident in her outfit or the boy who got “distracted” by her legs. The loss of class time for girls causes them to get behind in class work.

For instance, a girl could be in the office waiting for her parents to drop off a change of clothes and, as she waits for her change of clothing, she already missed math class. This causes her to miss the lesson of the day and fall behind on her class work. School dress codes are used to stop distractions and to keep a safe learning environment but are only holding one party accountable.

Besides the loss of class, the dress code can affect students self-esteem and confidence. It particularly affects more girls because it is sending a message to young girls to be ashamed of their bodies. Zhou expresses “ The dress code makes girls feel self-conscious, ashamed, and uncomfortable in their own bodies.” There are countless examples on social media and in the news of young girls being shamed for an outfit they wear to school. In middle school the dress codes can be a bit more discriminatory, for example at that age tight jeans, close-fitting tank tops are revealing for some girls but not so much for the late bloomers.

Girls that are well developed are put in a position of feeling ashamed of their body because they attract to much attention from boys. They get in trouble for it but it is something they can’t control. I have a daughter that is in sixth grade and she is aware of how some of her classmates are a little more developed than her and they have mentioned to her that they don’t like the attention they receive from the boys. We have all heard of girls being told to “cover up” but have you ever heard someone tell a boy to pull up his pants? This makes young girls feel bad about themselves and their bodies. This impacts females long term because this perpetuates in their minds that their bodies are primarily sexual.

Another element of this problem is the fashion industry. Teenage students are trying to dress to the latest fashion trends, but the latest trends conflict with the dress codes. Society tells them they need to look a certain way and then schools punish them for looking too indecent. Zhou writes “They [administrators] don’t know that it’s not even possible to buy a dress that goes to your knees.” The stores have started doing away with longer shorts and knee length skirts to meet the current trends. I have a daughter that is tall and thin and she wants to wear shorts at school during summer but she cant because the shorts available to her are too short. The dress code for her school is the shorts have to be longer than her fingertips. This only makes it more difficult for a parent to shop for their teen daughter to find clothes that will meet the dress code.

Finally teachers are biased when it comes to the dress code. Teachers and administrators pinpoint certain students more than others. For instance a teacher could see a tall and thin girl wear a tank top but she isn’t considered a problem; however, a short and little bigger girl with a similar tank top would get dress coded before she reaches her first class of the day. Zhou recites “Teachers and administrators don’t always realize that their policies are offensive…” One flaw in the dress code is the violations are left up to the individual teacher’s discretion. Say a teacher is in a bad mood and a female student passes by with some short shorts- she will get in trouble even though other teachers might have noticed her outfit but didn’t mind. I remember in middle school the cheerleaders would wear their uniform to school every friday and their skirts were particularly very short and no one said anything. Teachers and administrators focus too much on dress coding that it becomes an issue for students. Overall the dress code targets girls. It targets girls by getting them in trouble. They are sent to the office to change their shirt.

In addition the fashion industry causes a problem with the dress code. Certainly teachers are being biased and this can affect students self-esteem and confidence. Teachers and administrators need to hold boys accountable for their reaction. We need to teach boys how to respect women. Schools need to pay more attention to articles like Li Zhous’ to get a better perspective of how to deal with the issue. Women need to be respected no matter what they wear.

Works Cited

  1. Zhou, Li. “The Sexism of School Dress Codes.” The Atlantic. 20 Octorber 2015. (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.problematic/410962/
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The Dreaded Dress Code. (2021, Apr 03). Retrieved from