“Bam! Bam! Bam bam bam!” - Bamm-Bamm Rubble
That’s what I felt like late last night as I saw first one and then another and then yet another link to stories about people looking down their noses at girls, judging what they’re wearing, and then judging them. The extreme disparities in the three examples only added to the shock.
Let’s start with Jef Rouner’s daughter. He sent her off to school one morning in a new dress, only to learn that “school officials were bothered by her bare shoulders so they forced her to cover them up” (Foster) by wearing a t-shirt over it. In addition, she was also forced to wear jeans under the dress “because the little bit of ankle showing bothered them as well.” (Foster)
And, oh yeah, she’s five years old. Let that sink in for a moment.
So clearly, wearing longer dresses and skirts is at least part of the answer, right? Well, Sarah, a middle school girl in France, was expelled from her school for wearing a skirt that was… wait for it... too long. The rationale was that, as she is Muslim, it was an expression of religious beliefs, which is illegal in French schools (L'Obs article in French; New York Times article in English).
Let every layer of that sink in for a moment.
Finally, it’s prom season, and what’s prom season without some good old-fashioned slut shaming? In Muskegon, Michigan, school officials sent Mireya Briceno away for wearing a dress they deemed too revealing for its backless design (you can see pictures from different angles with this article). To their credit, they made sincere efforts to ensure that students understood the dress code in effect for the dance. To the credit of Ms. Briceno and her mother, they made sincere efforts to follow it. And yet, she was sent away.
So (why not?) let that sink in for moment, too.
So to review what came up last night in the space of about ten minutes, girls’ clothing can be neither too long nor too short, and must not overly reveal either shoulders, back, or ankles, according to the judgment of the adults in power. Got it?
It reminds me of when the seventh graders were discussing appropriate dress for the recent social at Cardigan Mountain School. We definitely live in a world where 12-year-old girls have already thoroughly internalized to what extent (a lot) and on what basis (their bodies) their clothing choices are being scrutinized and judged. But then, if that process starts at five (or, possibly, earlier), why would we ever think they wouldn’t internalize that so young?
I also need to point out that, stipulating a small sample size here, I can’t help but notice that two of these girls were people of colour, to whatever extent that may have affected the interactions, and that furthermore Muslims are decidedly in the minority in France. So while issues around dress codes, slut shaming, and gender norms and expectations affect all girls to some extent, they may affect different girls in different ways depending on where they fall on different axes of diversity. As just one more example, any number of lesbians have also been barred from proms for wearing tuxedos.
So what exactly are we to do about this? Well, Mr. Rouner for one is actively fighting back. Commenting “Essentially, a school dress code exists to prevent girls from displaying too much of their bodies because reasons,” (quoted in Foster), he said he was considering wearing a nice dress himself to drop-off every day, but in the meantime that “The next time the kid wants to wear her dress I’m going to let her, and I’m going to tell her that there’s nothing wrong with it or her because she is dressed in a perfectly normal manner and cute as a button to boot.” (quoted in Foster) He also told her that if anyone gave her trouble, she was simply to keep asking “Why?” - just like a normal five-year-old! Meanwhile, an online “tous en jupe” (everyone in skirts) campaign was organized to support Sarah (see?!) as well as a hashtag, “#JePorteMaJupeCommeJeVeux” (I wear my skirt how I want). Indeed, it seems that whenever girls in schools are shamed or otherwise punished for their clothing choices, some sort of support network almost always seems to be activated. I take hope in that fact.
And, perhaps, just about telling other people to stop.