Fighting misogyny, one article of clothing at a time

September 16, 2015 by Bill Ivey

So it only took one Kentucky school district two days to send the first student home for a dress code violation. Surprise of surprises, it was a girl. Her violation was wearing a tank top with a cardigan (which would be within the Stoneleigh-Burnham dress code), which meant her collarbone was not covered up, which meant she was potentially distracting boys. (Kim) To principal Rob Akers’s credit, he agreed to meet with a group of students, and they’ve come up with proposed changes to the dress code that went before the school board two days ago (Ilyashov & Woodford County High School). Reportedly, a committee is seeking additional input, and will bring the proposal back before the Board next Monday.

Not long after the Kentucky incident, my friend @sisyphus38 posted, “Our school has a ‘no exposed shoulders’ rule for girls. #school” I wrote back, “Do you want to scream as long and loud as I do whenever I hear of these kinds of rules? #MyGuessIsYes” and he responded, “Yes. My daughter said ‘why must they sexualize my shoulders? They're just shoulders.’” I get so uncomfortable and angry when a 16-year-old must stand up against being objectified by the very institution that is supposed to be empowering her and preparing her for adult life. To my thinking, schools need to be challenging the kinds of narrow gender expectations and norms that inevitably lead to kids being stereotyped, belittled, and/or objectified, rather than reinforcing them.

At times, though, it seems like a revolution is brewing. More and more frequently, I see girls, teenagers of other genders, and their parents all standing up for less objectifying dress codes, and moments like Mr. Akers agreeing to formally submit a revision to the dress code at Woodford County High School give me hope that adults in power are willing to genuinely listen to them.

Furthermore, it’s now been a number of years since Toward the Stars established a web-based marketplace for parents interested in fighting gender stereotypes in both clothing and toys for children of all ages, and I’m seeing more and more similar sites springing up. Meanwhile, my friend Christina Torres retweeted a comment that “The H&M's men section is way cuter than the women's section right now” and so the commenter was going to aggressively challenge gender roles and shop wherever she darn well pleased. Christina seconded the emotion, “Me most days.” I wrote back, “Me too. If I have to go to the ‘women's’ section to get a lightweight t-shirt with extra short sleeves, well…” and she responded, “Yes! I've heard other dudes mention this. It's so silly tbh. Our bodies are all so wonderfully weird anyway.” And of course, if I’m to own a skirt, I have no choice but to go to the women’s section.

Audra Williams, in the article “Everybody in dresses: Why does gender-neutral clothing always mean ‘boy’ clothes for girls?“ recently wrote, “If gender neutral clothes are only made for and marketed to the parents of little girls, it is less a sign of gender equality and more an indication of the misogyny that is so ambient in our culture.” (thanks to Liz Feeley for sharing the article!) That misogyny, of course, also undergirds many disputes about dress codes that focus on making implicit or even explicit judgments about girls and the clothing choices they make. Thus, for me anyway, challenging dress codes and challenging the relentless gendering of clothing generally means challenging misogyny at the same time.

One of the seventh graders who is considering running for election as a MOCA (middle school government) representative to Student Council, was polling her classmates yesterday morning about the school’s dress code. I’m guessing her speech will almost certainly include some proposals for revision. In the process, she will be undermining misogyny simply by using her voice on an issue where our society does not always welcome girls' voices. And of course, whether or not she wins the election, the seventh graders are welcome (likely?!) to come up with a proposal for revising the dress code and start the process of attempting to get it approved by bringing it to Student Council, as another grade did last year. It will be interesting to see what they come up with!

As I shared with Sisyphus, I still hold fast to the hope that we as a society will somehow shift our focus to the notion of a feminist dress code, whatever that might look like. But meanwhile, towards that end and many others, I will continue to support the fight against misogyny.

One act, and one article of clothing at a time.

Written by Bill Ivey

A dedicated member of the faculty, Bill Ivey is the Middle School Dean at Stoneleigh-Burnham School. He teaches Humanities 7 and the Middle and Upper School Rock Bands. Bill is the advisor for MOCA, the middle school student government, and he coordinates and participates in the middle school service program. Among his many hats, Bill also coordinates social media for Stoneleigh-Burnham School.

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Filed Under: social justice, feminist dress code, Feminism, Education, feminist school