Sexes not treated equally with Utah school dress codes

Monday , June 30, 2014 - 8:06 AM

TX. Correspondent

Picture this: A junior couple walk down the main hallway at their high school, holding hands.

The girl is wearing a sheer, long-sleeved blouse over a tank top with some cuffed Bermuda shorts. The boy is wearing a T-shirt with the sleeves cut off and the armholes ripped almost to the hemline, and deeply sagging skinny jeans adorned with a belt emblazoned, “She wants the D.”

One of them is stopped by administration and told to go change into some more appropriate clothes. Guess which one.

If you guessed the girl, you are correct. If that enforcement of the dress code seems a bit off to you, then we are in agreement.

Although the dress code in the Weber School District bans almost all of the above items, I have seen one side of them far more heavily enforced. It doesn’t make sense to me that a girl’s shoulders would be more offensive than the rape-suggestive slogan on the belt, but maybe I’m just being too sensitive.

Here’s a less biased example. Last year, several of my friends were on the track and cross country teams. The boys would routinely run in tank tops or without shirts altogether. It’s understandable; Utah weather can be ridiculously hot. No one batted an eye, and their exposed midriffs caused no accidents on the roadways they ran along. The female portion of the team, however, was held to a much higher standard. They weren’t allowed to run in sports bras or tank tops. Obviously a girl’s shoulder is far more inappropriate than a boy’s entire upper body.

My other favorite is the cleavage policy. That shadowy line between two compressed lumps of flesh does something to people in the Western world. I have seen girls stopped on a near constant basis at my school and told to “cover up” and “put those away” when there are boys walking around in shirts printed with images of pinup girls or a near-naked female chest. My main qualm with this is that there is more respect being given to an object than to a person.

Though the policies vary from school to school, the general trend in school dress codes seems to be:

“You will wear cap sleeves with skirts or shorts to the knees,

Unless you’re a boy, then do whatever you please.

Whether you’re slender, round or shaped like a pear,

If you’re a girl, you’ll be wrong no matter what you wear.”

This is a subject I feel very strongly about, so allow me to counter some of the arguments put forth in favor of dress codes.

• A girl who wears “the wrong kind” of clothes won’t respect herself. Funny, but self-respect is determined on whether individuals respect themselves, not if other people deem them worthy of respect. I know firsthand you have to feel amazing about yourself before you step into a world where you will be judged on intelligence, wealth and sexual experience based on clothing. It is terrifying to get yourself into a place where you feel comfortable with your body, only to have people tell you that you are lacking in any of those areas. But it is outright infuriating to be told that you don’t respect yourself.

• Shoulders, legs, cleavage, etc. are too distracting. Yes, they may be distracting. But guess what else is distracting? Acne. Curly hair. Fandom-related merchandise. Attractive faces. Unattractive faces. Collarbones. Toenails. Tattoos. Shoes. Dresses with pockets. Nike socks with Adidas sandals. Friends. Enemies. Ex-boyfriends.

All these things could be considered “distracting from the educational process,” but none are banned by the dress code. Having the halls of your school turned into a battleground on your body, self-expression and current identity is a lot more distracting than shoulders or thighs.

• Boys will be boys. Yes, boys will be immature, sexist and misbehaved if that is what is expected of them. If they feel obligated to take responsibility for themselves, I believe they will rise to the occasion. Also, the boys I talked to said they spend just as much time looking at other boys’ bodies, if only to compare muscle mass.

• The girls are the problem. I see the point, and I see that it is misogynistic. People can’t control what their bodies inherently are, nor can they control what people think about them. Teenage girls have bodies, and most of us have body issues. Teenage boys have wandering eyes and a low sense of obligation to not act on them. Having a body is not a choice, but ogling someone’s body is.

• Hey, modest is hottest. This is an area where they almost got it right; in Utah weather, modesty is definitely hotter — and sweatier.

• Without a dress code, there’s no professional atmosphere. I don’t know about you, but I don’t find the halls of a high school particularly professional. High schools are full of drama, shouting, music, petty arguments and budding friendships. Students are there to learn, and to socialize. It is not our profession. But it is the profession of teachers, and I’ve seen some of them wear slippers in the classroom, necklines that expose cleavage and sleeveless tops.

Do I think dress codes are important? Yes. Do I think that they are enforced disproportionately? Absolutely. I’m not advocating that girls wear bikini tops to school, but if you think that a girl is any less intelligent, less of a person, or deserves any mistreatment based on her attire, she isn’t the problem, you are.

Bottom line: I’d much rather the dress codes leaned on the side of sexy rather than sexist.

Emily Brown will be a junior this fall at Bonneville High School. Contact her at

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