Dress Code Reinforces Bias

by Mariam Hamdeh
Class of 2015

“Wow that shoulder is very distracting,” says no student ever. We live in a nation where school systems care more about a student’s shoulder or knee showing than that student being able to learn in a comfortable environment. Yet is has become more noticeable that these dress codes are heavily targeted to girls rather than boys. In Staten Island High School, detention was given to 200 students and ninety percent of those students were females. It seems that since we live in a society where we teach girls that they have to dress to please their classmates and cover up parts like their shoulders, knees, and arms, we take away what the actual problem is.

We all know that when the month of June hits, and we are still stuck in humid classrooms it becomes difficult to learn. So why are female students being punished for dressing in tank tops, shorts, skirts and dresses when that is what they feel most comfortable wearing in hot weather? In Braintree High School, even during Spirit Week the halls are filled with males wearing muscle shirts and even no shirts under their flannels when dressing up as characters. I have yet to see any of them get in trouble for it. When we’re in a culture where women have to be frowned upon for wearing what makes them comfortable, doesn’t that just teach men to disrespect them even more when they aren’t clothed in a nun suit?

Schools should be sending the message to males to respect woman and their bodies rather than emphasize their every inch of skin that they are showing. It is embarrassing and shameful to have to take a girl out of class just to tell her she cannot wear a skirt or shirt to not distract her classmates. This is teaching them to feel even more self conscious about their appearance rather than to be dressed respectfully to school. I get that they want to teach us to respect ourselves and others, and that they want us to dress for success, but if you’re comfortable and relaxed in class — not sweltering or fearful you’re going to get pulled aside — you can pay attention better and learn,” one of the Staten Island students said.

For the mental health of these students, schools should not have to expose them to dealing with constant discomfort of going to school because they cannot dress up in what they usually do. “We know that one of the best predictors of mental health is self-esteem. Enduring public humiliation impacts self-esteem in a very dramatic way,” said Riddhi Sandil, a psychologist and lecturer at Teachers College at Columbia University who co-founded the Sexuality, Women and Gender Project. When girls get kicked out of a dance for a tight dress or if they are forced to change in the middle of the day, that only shows that we live in a society where the appearance of women is more cared about than the value of respect. Lets not shame these students rather meet halfway with them. Nobody wants to see a naked student come to school but we also don’t want to see them in a potato sack because they have to “cover up.”

Mariam Hamdeh is a student in Advanced Placement English Language and Composition