Student Bodies: Dress Codes and School Dances

I remember sitting in the middle of my computer art class, quietly working on the day’s “concept art” assignment, when my teacher approached me and asked if I had a jacket to wear. I was wearing a white tank top that covered my bra straps. After I answered “No”, he proceeded to shout “That’s against the dress code!” which startled the entire class and drew everyone’s attention to me. He even brought the student handbook over and showed me which page it was on. I had gone the entire morning and lunch period without an administrator commenting on the way I was dressed. Even the principal paid me no mind. My teacher then began to say that I shouldn’t dress so “suggestively”, and that my parents would be ashamed to see me dressed like this. I believe this incident goes to show how schools sexualize students(mainly girls) with the dress code. Although, it doesn’t entirely stop both boys and girls from dressing how they want to school. Also, as seen in Dude, You’re a Fag by C.J. Pascoe, school administrators and teachers are so quick to try to prevent sexual enticement and activity among students, but refuse to talk about it. Instead they make suggested comments and jokes with students to get the point across.In my opinion, I believe dress codes are necessary to prepare students to be mindful of how they dress in the workplace> However, I don’t agree with the way school administrators go about enforcing it by verbally demeaning female students. While my teacher’s choice of words were rather light, he was still suggesting that I, a maturing adolescent girl, would be distracting and sexually enticing to the boys in my class as well as the school for how I was dressed. I wasn’t showing cleavage or my bra straps, just my neck, arms and shoulders. I believe that this article provides an example of the attitudes school administrators and principles have towards the dress code specifically aimed at girls.

An event relevant to the school dress code is the school dance.Pascoe states, “These school rituals were a time of emphasized heterosexuality and also a time of increased school control of sexual activity. Dances were especially charged with sexual meanings. As bodily school rituals, they mobilized adult concern about controlling students’ desires and practices”(p. 42). This is definitely evident in River High, and I have no doubt it is present in other schools around the country as well.

During every dance I have been too starting in middle school, there were always school faculty members trying to stop the dirty dancing and sending students home for participating. What Pascoe is trying to convey in this section of the book is that the school doesn’t want the students to engage in sexual activity(whether it’s “bumping and grinding” at a dance or actually having sex) but they make suggestive comments like “You two going to a hotel or what?” to couples at the dances. Thus, while trying discourage the behavior, they are also encouraging it, along with heterosexual relationships which defeats the purpose of their efforts in the first place, Pascoe also discusses the sexually explicit lyrics in the songs played at the school dances, and the instance that only  one faculty member sent a student home for inappropriate dancing. I also noticed this during my high school dances. Very few students were sent home; instead, administrators would come over and scold the groups of students dancing inappropriately. I can remember one time the principle threatened to shut the entire homecoming dance down if the students continued dancing this way.

Overall, I think that while school faculty and administrators do want to keep the students from having sex, they should go about it without projecting their own opinions onto the students to be more effective. When I was in middle school and high school, the female administrators would ask some of the girls questions like  “Do you want to look like a prostitute?” or say “You’re just begging for it”. These phrases and many others like them greatly offended my friends as well as myself. I also remember being screamed at to adjust my shirt so that my bra strap wouldn’t show. Seriously, a bra strap showing is not that big of a deal. I think that the dress code will always be an issue in public schools, but the students shouldn’t be stigmatized or sexualized. Given that schools are dealing with adolescents, they can  expect to deal with the various behaviors and the way that they dress, but in a manner that isn’t so stigmatizing to the female students and that allows for gender equality.


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