Dress code rules criticized for being unjust, outdated

Guidelines ridiculed for sexism and stifling self expression

May 16, 2021


Art by Rida Shaikh

While staff members claim the wearing of hoods is disrespectful, unsafe, and is a way to hide earbuds and not listen, students argue that earbuds help them be productive and that teachers are still able to identify those in hoods. Another rule that frustrates students — mainly the females — is the one requiring that shoulders be covered. Some girls claim this is sexist.

Dress code rule and enforcement have been under scrutiny for decades for being trivial and sexist.

Enforcement of the code within SHS has been lax this year, students have agreed, as teachers were more worried about the enforcement of mask wearing than anything else.

However, as Covid restrictions have eased and warmer weather has arrived, teachers are once again pouncing on exposed shoulders and the wearing of hoods. 

Staff has confirmed that next year the dress code will be better enforced; the question students are now asking is Why?

The first dress code law was established by the Supreme Court in 1969, in the case of Tinker vs. Des Moines, due to many students wearing black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War.

Since then, the dress code has adapted as styles have changed, and fluctuates depending on the school. 

SHS has banned the following: shirts without sleeves, pants longer/shorter than a specific length, body jewelry (other than earrings or a nose stud) and head coverings of any kind. See the school’s full dress code here.

No one gives a ‘shirt’ any more

Some rules in the dress code cover the basics, such as no buttocks or chest should show, and no nudity. Other rules are seen by students as far fetched or unnecessary, while there are even a few staff and students who just don’t care.

Rules such as “all tops require sleeves,” “no body jewelry,” or “no head coverings” are most controversial. Some think these rules critiquing student’s clothing are trivial and stifle students’ creativity. 

Junior Kristen Morgan said, “The dress code shouldn’t be needed because it takes away from some people’s self expression.”

Pullquote Photo

The times have changed, so should people. They just need to move on.”

— Junior Kristen Morgan

Jerry Judd, who teaches history, has a similar standpoint. He does not claim that the dress code is stifling creativity, but said he does feel the items banned by the dress code are not that big of a deal. 

“It doesn’t really bother me,” he said. “I know that a lot of these things are fashion.”

As a teacher, Judd said he is usually too caught up in the curriculum or thinking about lesson plans for the day to act on dress code violations. He added that he is “numb” and unphased by violations at this point in his career. 

Some teachers do not like taking time away from class to correct dress code infractions, and only see value in the dress code because they have to enforce it.

Math teacher Tim Foster is just one example. 

“I really don’t care about dress code…,” he said. “If administration would stop caring about dress code, then I’d be able to not say anything about dress code.” However, “It’s in the rules My job is to enforce the rules in the handbook.” 

While enforcing these rules, Foster has received some backlash from students, as he is one of the heavier dress code-ers within the school. 

“I told them [students], ‘if you truly believe in this, then get a petition… go about it the right way and get the rule changed,’” Foster said.

Judd also pointed out that over the years some items of clothing that were once banned are now allowed, such as yoga pants and shorts. 

“As times change, we become accustomed to the new changes and we deal with it,” he said. “We get used to it and we don’t pay attention to it any more.” 

Morgan agreed that times have changed and rules should be re-evaluated. “It doesn’t make sense to make rules like that, knowing it would eliminate a good majority of the student body’s wardrobe,” she said. “Also some of those rules are targeted at girls, which doesn’t make sense any more. The times have changed, so should people. They just need to move on.”

Focus on books, not on bodies

As young as third grade, young girls are told to cover up their shoulders. This is where some believe the system’s slippery slope of sexism starts.

Assistant principal Julie Taylor, a supporter of the dress code, said she will usually be the one to address violators to help avoid an uncomfortable situation, as she admits when the months get warmer “It’s usually the females.”

Examples of warmer-weather clothing items that pose a problem are midriff tops, halter-tops, tube tops, skin-tight or see-through shirts. All tops must have sleeves. 

This rule may not appear unreasonable, but when one realizes that mainly girls get dress-coded on these regulations, it raises some controversy.

Pullquote Photo

“Instead of teaching boys not to have this skewed image and overly-sexualized image of women in their head, it’s teaching women to cover up so the boys don’t have to deal with that..”

— Freshman Olivia Hall

Students have reported seeing boys wearing their “wife-beaters” (sleeveless shirts, usually white) to school, but have not seen staff members calling across the room that these shirts are “distracting” and that they need to cover up. 

Another rule specifically centered around girls that could be argued is the tights rule. According to the code, “Tights must be covered by shorts, skirt or dress of the appropriate length…a long shirt is not sufficient.” 

This rule can also be applied to leggings. 

“If you’re going to wear the leggings you’re going to wear things that will completely cover your rear end, so that we’re not just seeing it flat out open in certain areas,” Taylor said. 

While some feel these rules will keep things school-appropriate in the learning environment, others believe the rules make things worse.

“First of all, it’s misogynistic,” said freshman Olivia Hall. “Second of all, it’s implementing rape culture into our school and oversexualizing young women,” 

“Rape Culture” is an environment where prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and abuse, according to Oxford Languages. 

In simpler terms, it is a society so accustomed to oversexualizing women that it enforces the idea that a woman being victimized is her own fault.

It gives the idea that it is okay when things happen to her because she was “asking for it,” Hall said.

The system is, unknowingly, giving young women the impression that it is their fault they are being objectified. In reality, as Hall also pointed out, a girl could wear a long-sleeved, full-coverage shirt and long pants, yet still get stared at. 

The rules about leggings and shirt length are being implemented to try and preserve the learning environment, but instead of learning the curriculum, students may be learning the wrong ideas.

“Instead of teaching boys not to have this skewed image and overly-sexualized image of women in their head, it’s teaching women to cover up so the boys don’t have to deal with that,” Hall said.

Hotheaded on hoods

Aside from “revealing” clothing, the easiest way to get dress-coded is to wear a hood or hat.

Teachers can constantly be seen calling out to a student in the hall or stopping class to tell students to remove their hoods. 

One reason hoods are such an issue is because of the “no earbuds” rule. Many teachers are worried that students are able to hide that they are listening to music in the middle of class, underneath their hoods. 

Judd said hoods disrupt class more than anything because he has to constantly ensure that students are listening to him instead of their earbuds.

Sophomore Bobvi Thomas does not agree with the “no earbuds” rule. 

Pullquote Photo

I can understand the regulation of earphones in the classroom to an extent,” he said. “I do not agree with the total ban of earphones in class since some students, like myself, produce better work with music.”

— Sophomore Bobvi Thomas

Thomas continued, “If students were allowed to have earphones when work is assigned I believe there would be a significant increase of efficiency in the classroom setting.”

While Judd does not like to see earbuds/hoods while teaching, he again returns to his neutral stance on the code. “If it’s not disrupting class then I could care less, to be honest.”

Another reason hats and hoods are banned is because teachers see them as a safety issue. Many staff claim hoods will render students unrecognizable in case of emergency.

Students have said they do not understand that statement, as the teachers regularly use students’ names when telling them to take a hood down.

If anything were to happen in the school, the cameras cannot identify students wearing hoods. “If we ever have to look at anything, like on the cameras, you can’t always tell who it is,” Taylor said. “Especially with masks, this year is worse than any year because of masks.” 

History teacher Kris Gaug, acknowledged that hoods might be a safety issue in some schools, but said, “It could sometimes… hide who someone is, but I don’t really know that that’s an issue in a school this size.”

Gaug also said constantly having to tell students to pull hoods off their heads is “…more hassle than it’s worth to enforce that sometimes. I just don’t personally see the value in it, maybe others do.”

Hoods/hats can also be seen as a respect issue. 

“When you walk in places you’ll take your hat off, you’ll take your hood off,” Taylor said. “…It’s being professional. You walk in the building and be professional. You guys have to walk in and be students.”

Foster said this rule goes both ways. 

“You guys can’t wear hats in school, we [teachers] can’t wear hats in school, so I enforce it.”

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