School Dress Codes Perpetuate Sexism, Racism, and Transphobia
By Haley Hartnett | Jan. 11, 2022, 10:01 p.m.
My teachers and peers should not be uncomfortable by my shoulders. My teacher and peers should not look at me as a sexual object. Within our education system dress codes teach and enforce sexism starting from a young age. Rather than teaching young girls to hide themselves and be ashamed, we should start teaching to treat women with respect and see them as equal participants in the educational system.
Dress codes also serve as a mechanism to impose gender norms that harm students, especially those that are non binary or transgender. Dress codes also are used to reinforce race discrimination as well, by implicitly stating that those from diverse backgrounds and cultures do not belong in school, and that they must assimilate to fit into a dominant “white” culture in order to be successful. These outdated dress codes teach that cisfemales are sexual objects that need to be covered up, while showing black, indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) that white education is more important because of the inequity between standards and enforcement rules. Students can miss out on days of school for being sent home just based on what they are wearing. This teaches kids that if you don’t fit into this box that has been created for only white people in a binary gendered system then something is wrong with you.
For example, a 17-year-old gay cismale student was suspended from a public high school in Texas for wearing fingernail polish. According to the school, nail polish would have been perfectly acceptable if the student were a cisfemale. No student should ever feel singled out for wanting to express themselves.
One report focused on Washington, D.C., found that schools suspend Black girls at nearly 21 times the rate of White girls. The dress code gives room to alienate and subject people for not fitting into a box. We are seeing short term harmful effects on people's self esteem. Teaching girls that their body parts are inherently bad or important to others implies that how her body looks should be of extreme importance to her. This unhealthy way of thinking is known to lead to mental health issues such as anxiety and eating disorders. School administrations are creating health issues based on this harmful dress code teaching people that their body is an object.
There have not been enough studies done to show how people are being affected in the long term. We need to see how our students will be affected going into their adult years based on the dress codes put into place.
A change needs to start now and the only way for that to happen is to acknowledge the effects it is causing. The dress code is harmful and outdated. We need to see an update that is no longer shaming people or singling them out. I urge students, parents, and community members to fight back against these antiquated standards and demand their school’s administration to ban outdated dress codes.