And no wonder. Stuyvesant is one of the best public high schools in New York City; it’s very competitive to get in, and its graduates go on to excellent colleges. And apparently the kids at Stuy were dressing “inappropriately,” and a new code had to be issued and enforced. Here’s the code:
• Sayings and illustrations on clothing should be in good taste.
• Shoulders, undergarments, midriffs and lower backs should
not be exposed.
• The length of shorts, dresses and skirts should extend below
the fingertips with the arms straight at your side.
How many of these apply to male students at Stuyvesant, do you think? (And also, you can’t show your shoulders? Even at a law firm I wore sleeveless dresses that revealed my shoulders).
Students at Stuy are pointing out that while the dress code is ridiculous, the enforcement is even moreso — because it’s inconsistent, and seems to be based more on a particular student’s body type than on what they’re actually wearing. Oh and the enforcement also comes with a healthy dose of “You’re gonna get raped wearing that” and “You’ll never find a husband in that”:
I have been stopped to justify my clothing many, many times since the beginning of this school year, and nine out of 10 times, I wasn’t breaking the dress code. I’ve been told that even though my skirts were technically acceptable, they were still too short for me to wear, and once it was suggested that I should follow a separate dress code, wherein my skirts should end at least four inches past my fingertips, and preferably at my knees. Even though hearing that I needed an individual dress code was hurtful, it wasn’t even the worst thing that’s happened to me regarding the dress code. That would be the time that I walked in wearing a dress that did in fact follow the rules, only to be stopped by one of the women sitting by the scanners. She told me that my dress was too short, and that I would have plenty of time to “show off my curves” when I wasn’t in school (I found this to be ridiculous because the dress I was wearing was shapeless). She then went on to say that the dress code was only instituted for my protection, because there are a lot of bad men outside school, and if I was raped nobody would be able to take that away from me. Then, she said, “and you want a husband, don’t you?”
I can understand some dress regulations at school (like not allowing a kid to wear a “God Hates Fags” t-shirt), although I actually favor letting kids wear pretty much whatever they want, no matter how offensive or “distracting.” Part of being an adult is moving through a diverse world where distracting and offensive things happen (and hello, you are in New York City, which is basically the universe-wide locus of distracting, offensive and bizarre things), and part of becoming an adult is figuring out how to do that. Yes, a young woman in a short skirt and a tube top might be “distracting” for a fifteen-year-old straight male, but that straight male is going to have to learn how to move through a world in which women will wear clothing in public that he finds attractive or arousing. When I was a fifteen-year-old straight female, I was on the school swim team, and let me tell you how distracting boys in drag-shorts can be for a hormone-addled girl. But you know, I dealt with it, and didn’t demand that all of the male swim team members put on sweatsuits. And as an adult, I do not kick over hot dude cyclists because they’re riding with their shirts off, or mean-mug beautiful men at the gym for being beautiful and sweaty and in the same room as me. Adulthood! Learning that your sexual desires are yours and kinda fun and not the “fault” of the person you find desirable! Realizing that the world is full of attractive people and you need to figure out a way to recognize that and still get things done! ADULTHOOD!
Beyond the treatment of young men as uncontrollable animals and the treatment of young women as rape-bait, the Stuy dress code enforcers also appear to fall into a common problem with dress codes generally — defining an “appropriate” body. As the students quoted in the Times article implied, some of them technically met the dress code but were still told they were “inappropriate,” not because of what they were wearing, but because of how it looked on them. I don’t know what those students look like, but I’m going to guess it comes down to boobs and butts. Flesh is what’s often considered “inappropriate” — B-cup boobs in a turtleneck are fine, but double-Ds are not; straight hips in a pencil skirt are fine, but curvy ones are not. It’s the body that’s being policed, not the clothes.
I understand that high schools need to be learning environments without unnecessary distractions. But students also need to feel safe at school. And while a short skirt might “distract” a hetero male student, having adults shame you for clothes that are perceived to be too slutty or a body that is labeled too sexual is an awfully big distraction. And that gets in the way of female students’ ability to learn in a safe environment. Because if girls are coming to school preoccupied with their clothes and are then subjected to “you’re going to get raped” taunts from authority figures, they are not going to feel safe. They are not going to be able to focus on what they’re in school for: To learn, not to be the subject of modesty testing.