“Your body isn’t something to be ashamed of”: Washington students speak out about the dress code

Images provided by author. Top: Kaylee Williams.

In our community, some students argue the dress code makes them feel violated for simply wearing what they want. We are told that the way we dress affects our peers’ education, but according to these students, no one tells our peers to unambiguously lower their gaze. Especially for women, they have to deal with the extra stress of being considered “distractions” in the classroom. Socially, students who deal with this gender policing are called a variety of harmful words which can be very damaging to one’s mental health. This is important because many students feel that they should be able to wear what makes them feel comfortable at school, rather than what staff and administrators consider to be “appropriate” to other students. It’s confusing for girls because they are told it’s to protect them from the temptation of boys. Some girls beg to differ: no shoulder strap should make anyone uncomfortable, they argue.

To some degree, it’s understandable to see why the dress code would be appropriate- However, the school board’s dress code rule never mentions necks being an issue. This is one example of a reason a particular student at Washington got “dress coded.” Iris Shih, a senior at Washington High School, says, “I was not naked. I was wearing a cardigan (that was buttoned half way) and a tank top underneath, which did not violate any dress code. I’m not going to show up to school in a hoodie and sweats, it was hot and I just wanted to wear a cute tank top with jeans and a cardigan.” 

Shih continues: “it’s genuinely sexual harassment that I was pulled aside and publicly embarrased like that. The school figure told me, -”I don’t want other students seeing you like this,-”which is a horrifying thing to say to women in society. Schools should not be teaching young women that their developed bodies are something to be ashamed of. It makes school not a safe space and it’s genuinely embarrassing. The school and their administrators preach that school to be this incredible safe space especially with the -”emotional intelligence-” assembly, rather they have staff yelling at you to -”cover’- up their tank tops and some shoulders. This situation was handled very disrespectfully, even since what I was wearing did not violate dress code.”

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Washington student in a crop top.
Washington student Iris Shih

It’s become a complicated issue with the controversy of how women and men are treated differently regarding the dress code. Race inequalities and religious requirements play a huge factor in the way administrators and staff decide how to take action on dress code issues. Kaylee Williams, a senior and part of the golf team at Washington High School, says, “School dress codes are sexist because if you look at the boys list compared to the girls, there are many less things that the boys can’t wear. Girls can’t wear a [thin or low cut] tank top [that may expose the midriff] because our shoulders are distracting but sometimes it’s hot and wearing a jacket over it is uncomfortable.” Williams makes it clear that women have stricter dress code rules, causing girls to feel violated.

However, some students disagree and say dress codes are appropriate for school. They argue that dress codes promote a safe environment, where concentrating on academics is more important. Eva Wilson, a junior and tennis player says that, “I believe the way you dress portrays your professionalism and value. Personally, it feels really good dressing up where I don’t feel like I’m about to be shamed. It respects me and my body, rather than being revealing to my peers.” Wilson’s opinion is saying how revealing clothing can distract you from your education and make you focus more on your wardrobe. 

In conclusion, some may argue that it’s shameful to enforce sexist dress code, while others believe it enforces respect and professionalism. Some believe that boys’ education is being prioritized over girls’ because their “needs’ ‘ matter more. Others disagree, making the point that dressing does affect other students’ education. Lastly, we all are entitled to our own opinions which everyone should respect.

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