Op-Ed: Dress Codes are Sexist

Dress codes in schools make sense – they set out concrete guidelines to keep students decent and at least somewhat professionally dressed. In theory, they can help to set students on an equal footing and reduce the disparity in dress between the economically disadvantaged and the well-off. Some administrators also argue for dress codes as a means to keep gang colors – and gang violence – suppressed in schools. There is no significant empirical evidence that dress codes succeed in any of these areas, but then, there’s also no significant empirical evidence that they don’t.

So what could be the harm? Well, in a word: sexism.

An informal study conducted by NPR found that most dress codes share three features: the “fingertip rule” for short and skirt length, a prohibition of bare midriffs and shoulders, and a prohibition of violent or profane messages and symbols. Two of these three apply overwhelmingly to female students, who bear the brunt of enforcement.

As one teacher put it in a recent editorial on The Daily Dot,┬ádress codes “force teachers to police girls’ bodies.” The editorial, based on his own classroom experiences, is quite insightful and thought-provoking; you can read it here.

What do you think? Are dress codes sexist – or not? And if so, do the benefits of dress codes outweigh this detriment? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

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