By Katerina Neumannova, Writer, & Ana Orlowsky, Field Work
As an exchange student from the Czech Republic, I was surprised with the implementation of a dress code in schools. In Forest Grove, the dress code enforces the school’s standards of modesty, which are very subjective, and tend to target women.
Why does the dress code exist in American schools? When I talked to school staff about the dress code and its existence, their first response was what I expected, ”Because it can distract people in class.” Why are body parts a distraction? Everyone has shoulders, belly buttons, and knees but the school dress code policy leads to denormalizing these parts of the body. I do not know why I should be ashamed of my body or why anyone would be offended by it. Instead of teaching boys not to sexualize and objectify girls, they teach girls to cover themselves to not bother them. People should learn how to be comfortable with the female body. Half of the world’s population are women!
Part of the dress code is to not wear clothes that can offend someone. No one should wear a shirt with racist tones or symbols. People wearing these shirts should be convicted by their classmates. That happened in Czech. My friend wore a crop top in the winter, and I asked if she was cold because it was winter and it was weird to wear a crop top. She thought about it and since then she has never worn a crop top in winter- and the school didn’t have to send her home to enforce that. She chose to wear weather appropriate clothing on her own.
As an exchange student without a dress code, I asked a variety of girls on their opinion of the policy, and many were very upset with it. Most, when interviewed, expressed complaints along the lines of, “Why can’t we just wear what we want?” I explained that the school doesn’t want students to distract their peers during classes. After this response came the anger. Most girls that I asked said that school dress code is sexist.
This is my first year under an enforced dress code policy, and to be honest, I agree with the girls I interviewed. In my school in the Czech Republic, no one cares about what you are wearing. It doesn’t matter if we can see a bra strap or what is socially deemed as “too much” skin. Teachers want you to have good grades and to pass your classes, and know that learning has nothing to do with your clothing. I brought so many clothes that I would usually wear in the Czech Republic, but because of these restrictions, they sit in my closet unworn.
The largest argument for dress code centers on distraction, and in Czech, distraction from clothing is not an issue, and I don’t think that clothing and bodies should be distracting in America. We can blame the dress codes created by social pressures for sexualizing bodies, making it strange or unacceptable to show a shoulder or your back. Because of these rules, people in American schools are not comfortable with female skin. In Forest Grove, the men who do break the dress code are not as often caught. I believe that this is due to the fact that male body parts are more acceptable socially and are not expected to be hidden.
To test the unfair double standards of the Forest Grove High School dress code, one of our journalists, Ana Orlowsky, decided to do some recon. She got Jacob Wheeler (Senior) to wear clothing that would be deemed inappropriate by the school- shorts more than three inches above the knee. Jacob Wheeler had previously never been called out for his clothing choices. He duly complied with our project, and came out at the end of the day unscathed from the stares of the hall monitors- which is what we had expected. From past hot days we had noticed that he had worn shorts that were crouching in the gray area between school appropriate and inappropriate. In fact he mentioned that he had noticed how he was never called out, so he had started to wear the clothes as an act of calling out the injustice of the system. Certainly the girls or boys in the class were not distracted by his legs, yet the school still classifies a young lady’s legs as things that cannot be shown more than three inches above the knees, or else risk distracting the whole class. I even asked him if he would be distracted in class if a well shaped young woman was to wear clothes that showed too much of her shoulders or was a tad short. He responded with a firm no, pointing out that we are sitting for most of the class and that they should be able to focus on school, not on that fine shoulder. If they have their priorities straight. His response and service to our recon adds to the growing examples of injustices that happen on a daily basis at Forest Grove High School, where dress code is concerned.
An outfit that Jacob Wheeler commonly wears.
Instead of sending students home for their attire, they should be at school learning. The focus should not be on preventing male distraction, but teaching acceptance of people and their bodies. When I return to Czech, I will bring back many great experiences and lessons from the US school system, but I think that this is something American schools should work on. Perhaps they can learn from the policies of other cultures and countries concerning dress code, and consider a change.