I am writing to bring light upon the controversy behind Harford County Public School’s dress code. Many students believe the dress code restricts females in making decisions about their image. Instead of teaching boys to not be distracted by a girl’s body, this code seems to suggest that girls instead should cover up. At Bel Air, girls and boys alike had planned to break the dress code Friday, November 21st to seek reform in the policy. This protest will no longer be taking place, for some understandable reasons regarding discipline. Despite this, I do not want the important message behind this protest to disappear. This is the idea that the dress code condones the sexualization of young girls and rape culture.
The ideas behind our school dress code will carry on into our adult lives. Even in modern day, women are fired from their jobs because they are deemed too “tempting” to their male contemporaries. Situations like this, and rape culture, all starts at a young age. There have been too many instances where a woman is blamed for being raped because of what she was wearing. Because “Sally” was wearing a short, tight dress, she deserves to suffer from sexual assault. This directly reflects the attitude of “you’re going to cover your body because men can’t control themselves.”
I am a senior at Bel Air, and have sought change through multiple means. I first wrote an article for my school newspaper, the Bellarion, analyzing how the dress code impacts young women. Next, I met with a member of the Board of Education, but then discovered the Board does not actually have power in the matter, it is the Superintendent that decides the dress code. So, I contacted the Superintendent, and then the Executive Director for Middle and High School Performance. I was told by the Executive Director that the dress code is made to “create and preserve a positive climate for teaching and learning,” so no reform would pursued. I replied to this email by pointing out faults in the current code and that it is a pressing issue in Harford County, and got no response.
I do not think the dress code in HCPS creates a “positive climate” for girls at all. In fact, just the opposite. Many girls are taken out of their classes to change their clothes. This leaves them distracted, and sobbing, in many cases.
A close friend of mine, model student, member of student government, and captain of both soccer and lacrosse teams, has unfortunately been a victim of this. She was wearing a slightly sheer secretary blouse, with a bandeau under. She was pulled out of her AP Psychology class. While being told to change, a variety of comments was said that made this young girl cry, like many others like her, instead of letting them focus on their studies. She came to my class after the incident, and I had to console her. Instead of boys being distracted by girls’ “inappropriate” clothing, this policy results in girls being distracted by being pulled out of their classes to change. This student also got a call to home saying she would be suspended for any more offenses. Just for a dress code violation.
I do not think any comments stated about girl’s clothing choice is intentionally said to destroy her, it is just a misunderstanding. Teachers and administration sometimes think what they’re saying is positive and realistic constructive criticism to help girls succeed. Fortunately, times have changed, and young women no longer need these constraints and guidance. We are capable of making our own decisions, and not being told to change because of what others, male or female, think of us. Slut shaming, or abasing girls solely on their image, is never appropriate.
I understand the dress code is in place for sanitary reasons as well, but I do not think a bandeau has an effect on anyone’s health.
I am not necessarily advocating the abolishment of the dress code. I think we need reform. Many girls get punished for showing minimal amounts of skin of their midriff and shoulders. Nothing about a girl’s midriff or shoulders is inappropriate.
Despite the fact my article previously mentioned was reviewed before it was posted last spring, it was recently altered. My article’s title, “the Dress Code Dilemma” and photograph I took was still on the Bellarion’s website. The content of my article, although, was replaced. When I informed the newspaper’s advisor that my article was altered, and my work plagiarized, they told me the article was taken down for not being “factual.” Although, my article was published in the opinion section, and was previously approved. It was not factual, to my understanding, because I mentioned too much about other schools, and didn’t focus on Bel Air High specifically enough. The purpose of including other similar stories across the country was to point out that this is a movement that has credibility, not a fabricated issue created at one lone high school. Also, another article was written supporting the dress code, with equal “factual” content. Their article still remains. I attached that link to my article in my college applications. I had to inform the colleges I applied to that the story published was not actually mine. [Note: Brett’s original article appears below.]
The protest that has been sparked at Bel Air now has the entire school talking about women’s rights, rape culture, and the role young people play in it. I have been called a “slut”, and many other things, as a result of my activism on my school. When deep rooted prejudices are shaken, there is bound to be backlash. I never expected such nasty things to be said to my face. I have been told by multiple young men that the dress code should remain the same because “you can’t teach not to rape,” so therefore, “covering girls up will reduce the temptation.” I will never cover up my body because a man is tempted to rape. They should not rape me because rape is wrong, end of story. The dress code upholds these dangerous ideas many young people have, changing the code will change minds.
So no, the dress code does not “create and preserve a positive climate for teaching and learning.” It does exist for reasonable purposes, like preventing sanitary issues and obscenity. More often, though, the dress code is a vehicle to impress societal norms and prejudices upon young girls. I urge anyone who has concerns, to voice them. Please send your thoughts on how the dress code can be reformed to create a more positive environment for young girls in Harford County to the Superintendent.
Editor’s Note: Harford County Public Schools spokeswoman Jillian Lader said Tuesday afternoon that the school system was aware of the planned protest.
“Bel Air High school administrators follow and enforce school rules, including that of the dress code, every day,” Lader said in an e-mail. “They will follow and enforce school rules on Friday as they do every other day.”
“Stories written for the Bellarion are regularly rotated, as on any news site,” she added. “The decision may be made by Bellarion staff, advisors or school administrators.”
Brett’s original Bellarion article follows:
At Bel Air High School, we have a dress code, but not many have actually questioned the motives behind it. This dress code is designed to mold the choices girls make about their image.
Now, many may disagree. Surely, boys too can wear inappropriate clothing! Girls are just more likely to wear suggestive garments! The second bullet in the Bel Air High School Student Planner states: “Shirts that expose or reveal skin or undergarments such as all tank tops, tube tops, halter tops, mesh tops, bare midriff tops and spaghetti straps” are not acceptable.
Last time I checked, I have never seen any male at this school wear a tube, halter, mesh, bare midriff, or spaghetti strap top. If that’s still not convincing, notice the word undergarments in this statement. Only girls wear undergarments on the top half of their body.
The third bullet in the planner reads: “Clothing worn in such a manner so as to reveal undergarments or bare skin between the upper chest and mid-thigh is not permitted.”
It is highly uncommon to see a male that wears clothing revealing a region between their upper chest and mid-thigh. Only for a girl is it socially acceptable to wear a shirt that shows their midriff.
The third bullet in the planner reads: “Skirts, dresses, and shorts must be no shorter than the student’s longest fingertip when the students’ hands are held at his/her side.”
Already, we can see that skirts and dresses target females. In addition, it’s only socially acceptable for girls to wear shorts above the knee.
These rules can be found in page 22 of the Bel Air High School Student planner under “Personal Responsibilities” and “Dress”, so let’s cut to the chase. Why do we need such dress code regulations? Maybe it’s because we want our students to project an image of respectfulness and excellence. In that case, sweatpants and pajamas are just as detrimental to this image. Why don’t we create rules against informal clothing?
Obviously, wearing respectful clothing isn’t the issue. If it was, we wouldn’t be allowed to wear “lazy” articles of clothing like sweatshirts and t-shirts. The reason girls don’t have the freedom to wear what they want, is due to their male peers. A female student In Harford County Public Schools cannot wear shorts above their fingertips, simply because it is a distraction to boys.
Let’s say the tables are turned. Suddenly, all females in the school become infatuated with male ankles. We constantly stare at them in class, harass, and objectify the boys for it. In efforts to stop this conflict, the school denies boys the right to expose their ankles. Is this morally right? Absolutely not. Instead of teaching girls to control themselves and respect their peers, they tell the boys to cover themselves up. These same issues are unfolding across the country.
Recently at New Haven Middle School in Indiana, female students have protested against their school’s sexist dress code. One sign in the school reads, “Are my pants lowering your test scores?”
The ideas behind our school dress code will carry on into our adult lives. Even in modern day, women are fired from their jobs because they are deemed too “tempting” to their male contemporaries. Situations like this, and rape culture, all starts at a young age. There have been too many instances where a woman is blamed for being raped because of what she was wearing. Because Sally was wearing a short, tight dress, she deserves to suffer from sexual assault. This directly reflects the attitude of “you’re going to cover your body because men can’t control themselves.”
No longer should girls live circumspectly because of what boys expect from them. It is the school’s job to protect the rights of young women, so they can grow to live freely and unbound by society’s expectations.