I’ve been seeing lots of posts about female students taking a stand against dress codes, insisting that male students and teachers should stop sexualizing the female body instead of making female students “cover up”. My problem with this is that schools implement dress codes not only to keep students’ minds off of sexualizing each other (at an age when, according to research in adolescent psychology, adolescents have more trouble weighing the costs and benefits of risks, including or especially sexual risks, leading to a higher rate of sexual thoughts), but also to represent the school to everyone (within and without the school) as an establishment of professionalism. One post I saw responded to a similar point with, “I’ll dress professionally when I’m getting paid to do so.” The problem is, we as teachers are preparing you to be a professional. Why put off to tomorrow what you can do today? (That is, why should we wait until you’re in college/the work force to see you practice professional habits and attitudes? Because, they do require practice, believe me.) As one of my professors told me during my teacher education, “After I got over your distracting clothing, I realized that you have so many smart things to say. But when you’re teaching and presenting, I shouldn’t have to close my eyes to realize that. You need to present yourself visually the same way you want to be heard.” She was a female, heterosexual professor, remarking on my slobby clothes (not sexualizing revealing clothes), making a simple point about life and how we perceive each other.
I will say from my personal experiences switching from the uniforms I wore in high school to a complete lack of dress code in college (even in college, mind you), I was more concerned with my looks, and I was distracted more frequently by noisy jewelry and straight-up visually distracting outfits. And I have witnessed as a teacher how students can distract themselves and others with their clothing choices. In the end, it’s not only about sexual distraction (although I take issue with the argument that breasts as secondary sex characteristics should not be sexualized, since male students are not allowed to show off the secondary sex characteristic of the hair on their chests in school, either), but general, catch-all distraction.
The issue of feminism in dress codes in schools and workplaces should be against other workers commenting on how women should be forced to wear pumps even if it’s not in the dress code of the organization, or commenting on the neckline of a work-appropriate blouse. It should not be against teaching students simple examples of what constitutes as “business casual” attire in attempts to represent their students and school well.