Cover up: An Inside Look on the Toxic Objectification of Girls in School Environments

By Maggie Apperson

In today’s modern classroom, seemingly antiquated issues have stayed at the forefront of debated topics: women’s shoulders. High schools, middle schools, and elementary schools alike have implemented policies that have different target audiences. From the looks of it, females have stayed in the hot seat and been at the receiving end of strict and confining dress code policies that beg the question: what are we covering up, and for who?      

Worldwide there are many shared issues; The list goes on and on, many things that people will say we need to fix. Some of these are from years of oppression And an issue we face today regards years of enforced patriarchal standards and unseen laws; the over sexualization of women and girls everywhere- our own country, our own city, our own schools. Everywhere.

“Is that skirt two inches above the knee?” “does that tank top fit the width of your school ID?” “leggings are unacceptable.” “call your parents for a change of clothes.” “if you don’t cover your chest we’ll have to send you to the office.” If you ask any girl (or person) at almost any age if they have ever been put in an awkward situation by another student or staff, they will most likely have some stories to tell. ironically- also taking place with school uniform and “appropriate” clothing.

One largely debated topic today is whether or not we should have uniforms. On one hand, you have school representation, order, unity and a sense of connection to your peers wearing the same embroidered logo. On the other hand, you have free will over what you want to do with yourself, more options of how you express your tr, comfort, and a sense of security with things that are familiar to you. 

Wearing what you choose for yourself is a basic right. When that basic right gets taken away, the person accused is distracted from their work environment by needing to change to avoid “attire which does not attract undue attention to the wearers nor disrupt the educational learning process.” -(direct quote from BISD student code of conduct pg.5 of student handbook) When a student is stopped in the hallway, forced to call home and possibly disrupt parents from working and a student attend their class, (or in some cases even suspended) due to leggings or tanktops in the summertime in the south- who is really being distracted from their educational learning process?

When middle school girls of the ages of 12 and 13- are told to cover themselves up for a more ‘professional educational school environment’, it does something to their head. Your entire mindset is altered as your body being a distraction- that it’s compared to something distracting like a phone and nothing more. It isn’t just the way you are or who you are- it’s a liability that must be contained and controlled for someone else’s education possibly being disrupted. It’s that you are at fault for existing and showing any part of your body not permitted. That mindset can begin the process of blaming people for what clothing they were wearing in certain situations.

The big question that is a widely debated topic- are clothes the problem? In order to get a deeper understanding of what can be considered distracting- 25 boys and two Non-Binary people were asked questions regarding if they have ever been distracted by extremely revealing clothing such as bathing suits, tube tops, short skirts, and any other clothing that could be deemed inappropriate in or outside of a school or work environment.

 

2 out of these 27 people said yes, The rest said no. 

10 of these male students were then asked if they knew of how strict dress codes could be for their female peers, and asked if they had ever paid more attention to a student wearing leggings rather than one with baggy pants, or one with a smaller item of clothing over a larger modest one- and their reaction to this question was almost all the same. A look of dismay as a question they didn’t think would ever need to be asked. Some even in disbelief that it is implemented as strongly as it is for female students as it is, and has been since the early ages of middle school, when girls are just 12 and 13.

Interviewees across the board insisted that their educational environment is not affected by their female peers’ outfits, regardless of what material, tightness or shortness they embodied.

On the other hand, the policy surrounding the male dress code appears much less strict. They have few restrictions and seemed unaware of the full extent that females were constrained via clothing.There was no need, their skin showing was never considered as much of a distraction- and since female “exposure” in clothes not school appropriate didn’t matter to them in the first place, they may have never realized what was happening on the other side. (which they are not to blame for that)

For a deeper perspective on this issue, 15 girls were interviewed from the highschool. They were asked questions about if they had ever been in trouble for dress code violation, made uncomfortable by other students, or even not feeling safe in school by fear of being sexualized or distracted by the clothes they were wearing.

12 out of these 15 had been dress coded pre-COVID in the past two years, 7 out of 15 made uncomfortable in a school environment with appropriate clothing, and 3 reporting feeling unsafe or at risk of harassment on school grounds.

The last area covered, was a one-on-one interview with a female student asked about her experiences with harassment at school. The most notable thing mentioned by her, was that pre-COVID a male student who had multiple sexual assault allegations she shared a class with. All of these happened when dress codes were still implemented before the economic crisis, following COVID-19. 

“Even though nothing ever happened to me, I knew people who had experiences with him. Mostly girl students and a couple of boys. But just the thought of being in a class, talking to and working beside someone who really did that- just is wrong.”

In some extreme cases of dress codes, religious practices are affected. As we know, most schools will not allow head coverings such as hoodies, hats, beanies, or any other head coverings with the exception of religious practices. But even the first amendment isn’t safe upon the mancing hand of our education system. Some schools do not carry this exception. Belton Independent School District (BISD) student handbook states “No hats, bandanas, hair picks, combs, or sunglasses” with no exception for religious practices. (Luckily Morris Jeff does have that exception.)

The hyper-sexualization of girls has made its way into the modern classroom. School policies have remained strict and constraining for females, even though most males reported being unaware of the guidelines in the first place. Which most students did not want to be in, possibly making it even more distracting with the constant fear of being reprimanded for their clothing. 

This doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface on teachers or staff who have harassed students in the past- the cases of arrest or why they did it. It’s safe to say that adults should be the ones we trust, not the ones we fear; the final question needed to be asked about this situation is, is it really necessary for us to cover up?

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