I updated “Sex Ed: Toxic Masculinity, Emotional Expression, Online Privacy, Identity Management, Dress Codes, Bodily Autonomy, and Purity Culture” with selections from “Sexualization, Sex Discrimination, and Public School Dress Codes”.
Students, parents, and others have a number of concerns about public school dress codes and their impact on female students. One concern is that many dress codes are explicitly gender-specific, targeting girls but not boys, or are at least selectively enforced such that they impact female students disproportionately. Student discipline includes removal from class, receiving detention, being sent home, or forced to wear a “shame suit” indicating she has violated the school dress code. Female students are powerfully affected by these policies and many express a profound sense of injustice.” The consequences of being “dress coded” have a negative impact on student learning and participation. Beyond the immediate disruption resulting from removal, detention, and the like, studies suggest that a preoccupation with physical appearance based on sexualized norms disrupts mental capacity and cognitive function.
Consistent with the research on sexualization of girls, many are concerned about the larger symbolic messages that dress codes and their enforcement send to students and society. A common thread among school justifications for sex-specific dress codes is that provocative clothing will distract their male classmates or make male teachers feel uncomfortable. A number of commentators thus maintain dress codes communicate that girls’ bodies are inherently sexual, provocative, dangerous, and that harassment is inevitable. Dress codes and their enforcement can impose sexuality on girls even when they do not perceive themselves in sexual terms. Gender study scholars report that dress codes generally have negative ramifications for women, sending a message that exposing the female body is bad. Laura Bates of The Everyday Sexism Project characterizes the dress code phenomenon as “teach[ing] our children that girls’ bodies are dangerous, powerful and sexualized, and that boys are biologically programmed to objectify and harass them.” Thus, dress codes can constitute a type of “everyday pedagogy,” reproducing normative gender and sexuality preferences.