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Dress codes are established in most schools in order to maintain a “professional” learning environment. These codes are meant to be guidelines on how students should dress, but in certain instances, they turn into restrictive rules that disrupt learning, promote body shaming and support outdated gender roles. Central is not immune to these negative feelings and female students say it’s time to change these restrictive codes.

Ana Turner, Business Manager, Opinions Editor

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The dress code at Evanston Township High School in Evanston, Ill., states that, “to ensure effective and equitable enforcement of this dress code, school staff shall enforce the dress code consistently and in a manner that does not
reinforce or increase marginalization or oppression of any group based on race, sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, cultural observance, household income or body type/size.”

Naperville Central’s dress code policy as printed on page 134 of the student handbook does not contain this kind of qualifying language with its dress code policy.

Perhaps it should.

For many years, public schools’ dress codes have been accused of supporting stereotypes or sexism toward women and have been a sensitive subject in schools across the country. Since girls typically face the most violations with the dress code, many people believe that such rules unfairly target female students. Instances like a school in Murrieta, Calif., sending home dozens of girls because their dress straps weren’t two inches wide or a girl from Fort Myers, Fla., losing her National Honors Society title because her shoulders were exposed during a speech only prove that dress code plays a significant role in female students’ lives. 

Dress codes are typically established in schools to create a professional environment, but some people believe the consequences resulting from the inability to comply with a dress code not only disrupt education, but also body shame girls as well.

Many girls become frustrated with the dress code not only because they are told their outfits are “too distracting” to boys, but also because many are embarrassed when confronted by teachers in front of their peers.

Central is not excluded from these negative confrontations.

Junior Kayla Kim has experienced the frustration of being dress coded. She feels it’s based on her gender.

“I was dress coded once for my bra straps being visible,” she said. “I was sent to my dean just so he could tell me to change my shirt, which I did, but after I was embarrassed and upset because I am a girl so I obviously wear a bra, and I can’t help it if sometimes my bra straps are showing.”

Central’s dress code is similar to other schools in the area. It simply states that no profanity will be allowed on t-shirts, no hats allowed inside the building and no clothing considered to be revealing will be allowed on males or females. This would included but is not limited to, shirts which reveal bare midriffs, shirts with bare backs, shirts with spaghetti straps or shirts without two straps. In addition, certain holes in clothing are forbidden, as are low-cut tops (no cleavage showing) and short shorts (shorts and skirts must be mid-thigh or longer).

Teachers and deans at Central are tasked with recognizing dress code violations and the repercussions of such offences,
but some reprimand more than others. 

“I don’t feel we are consistent with how we discipline [dress code],” math teacher Tina Dohm said. “There is a big burden that is put on teachers to police things, but I don’t necessarily know if our administration is out there policing it with us.”

Several Central girls have taken to social media to express their thoughts on those select few teachers who regularly enforce the dress code.

Junior Amanda Deneve, for example, recently tweeted: “like this if you’ve ever gotten dress coded by iPad guy or have not worn something for the sole purpose of him dress coding girls.”

The tweet received 78 likes and seven retweets. The “iPad guy” referred to in Deneve’s tweet is a male teacher at Central
who is known for regularly dress coding students during lunch. 

“It’s mortifying,” Deneve said in response to iPad guy’s dress coding. “I think there is an easier way.”

Adding a layer of complexity to the concerns that dress coding supports gender roles and body shaming is the question of whether or not it is alright for a male staff member to dress code a female student or a female staff member to cite a male student.

David Ashton, an economics teacher, believes it is OK for male teachers to confront female students about dress code violations.

“I think when people are embarrassed, they choose to go the route of ‘alright, you were looking at me, and you are looking at me in a way you shouldn’t and that’s why you noticed me.’” Ashton said. “Which is ridiculous. We [teachers] are here to protect kids and the innocence of kids, and when people get defensive because they don’t agree with the rules that have been set in place by the school board they use that as kind of a cop out.” 

Concerns with the dress code are not limited to the gender of teachers, but also what the dress code itself stands for.

Female students at Central stand behind these concerns. 

“I think the only reason there is a taboo around showing your shoulders or your midriff is because we say there is a taboo,” senior Maria Rottersman said. “I think that public school of all places should not be promoting this shame of girls showing something as innocent as a shoulder.”

The idea of a dress code sexualizing certain body parts has been prevalent with the recent increase in sexual harassment accusations. Many believe that a dress code places the blame of a boy’s actions on the
girl because of what she chooses to wear.

For instance, one girl in Lawton, Okla., was sent home because her tank top “did not cover her crotch” and told her it would “distract the boys.” Many identical incidents have occurred across the country, which prompted Evanston Township to take a step to prevent such sexualization.

The first line of the dress code states, “Evanston Township High School’s student dress code supports equitable educational access and is written in a manner that does not reinforce stereotypes.”

This is one of few schools that have adapted their dress code to the modern abolishment of gender roles. Other schools have faced problems with their dress codes’ wording supporting gender roles and change has not been made.

In February of 2016, students in Fresno, Calif., protested their school’s dress code after trustees voted against allowing boys to have long hair and earrings as well as removing language that implies dresses and skirts are for girls.

In order to protest, boys wore dresses to school and one girl wore a shirt, within the school’s dress code, that spelled out “dress code sucks” on the back in rainbow letters.

Many students at Central have voiced similar frustrations, but the code has not been significantly updated in years and is arbitrarily enforced.

“There’s a certain male teacher that is known among female students as the teacher who dress codes girls for ‘inappropriate’ clothes, which clearly aren’t inappropriate. I think it’s disgusting what he does,” junior Angelena Sichelski said. “I think it sets a sexist precedent and has a psychologically damaging effect on young women. Men sexualizing women at a young age is a problem that sticks and needs to be changed.”

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