Dress Codes: When Are They An Issue?

There are a lot of articles on the Internet discussing the pros and cons of dress codes.

I don’t actually have an issue with school dress codes, as long as they:

  1. Treat males and females exactly alike.
  2. Don’t impose an undue financial burden on parents (because, like buying your own uniforms for work, this is clothing used only for a particular situation, and rarely will be worn outside of school). If the school insists on a uniform, it should be reasonably priced (or there should be some discount or assistance for financial need).

But, some schools have covered their asses when it comes to dress codes.  The terminology in the handbook (available to both students and parents) will often describe assorted limits on clothing in a gender-neutral fashion.  Then, they state that by discretion of the principle or some other designated person (usually meaning in actual practice that all teachers are a designated person) the issue of whether or not a particular piece of clothing (or entire outfit) violates the dress code standards.

At that point, it becomes the bias of the teacher that — in practice — is or is not applied consistently between males and females in the school.

And THAT is where my issue comes in.

It honestly doesn’t matter if the teacher is male or female, either.  In fact, in my own issues with dress codes (in school or in work), I have found it is far more often the women in power that tend to slant compliance issues with a dress code more against other women/girls rather than the equally across the board.

And that, my friends, is just as sexist as if the dress code ONLY discussed problems with female clothing.  Yes, other women CAN be sexist.

It is the women who will walk up to you and make a comment about your clothing, even absolute strangers.  I have been grocery shopping and had women come up to me to make a comment on my clothing, just like they do about whatever I might have in my cart.

Now, sometimes this is positive.  If a slip is showing, a rip in an embarrassing place or a bra strap is showing (when I don’t want it to be visible), I appreciate another woman discreetly letting me know about it.  It’s the judgmental attitude I am bothered by.

It’s the exact same issue if someone walks up to me and says something about a piece of clothing I’m wearing that a “fat woman” should somehow “never” wear.

I’ll wear anything I damned well please, thank you very much!  If that means I’m wearing a mini-skirt and gogo boots, then I damned well will wear them no matter what someone else says.  I’ll happily wear something that reveals my arm flab, because I feel good in whatever it is I’m wearing.  And like I’ve said before, if it wasn’t for the fact that I would be arrested for “indecent exposure” I would happily walk around outside (when it is warm) completely nude.

Just because someone else has issues with their body does not mean I have to have those same issues.

The problem comes down to the fact that in our society, we women are expected to limit ourselves to what is somehow “acceptable” to the people around us.  The fact that it changes depending on the situation tends to be completely ignored by those who have a hissy fit over some piece of clothing someone else is wearing.

Why should we be forced to attire ourselves by someone else’s limited version of what is acceptable?  And yes, I include the wearing of “modest” clothing required for women in differing religions (and not just Muslim, but Amish, Mennonite, other Christian sects and some variations of Judaism, as well as any other religion that defines modesty in a particular fashion) as covered by what right do others have to define what we can wear or not wear.

If some woman wants to wear a burqa, she should be able to do so unless it will involve an extreme danger in the environment she is in.  For example, if the woman is a factory worker, there are some machines which would endanger her.  Same with nudity (or having some part of the body uncovered).  For example, if you are in an environment where bare toes could be damaged, you would expect someone to wear things that protect their toes.

I don’t believe that feminists can define what is OK for women to wear any more than any other person can define what an individual can or should wear.


Categories: Feminism, Gender Inequities | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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