On sexualizing girls

Hey Dad,

Oh boy. Are we really going to disagree on this one.

Because you know what I think is messed up? Dress codes. Treating girls’ bodies like something obscene or titillating. The constant pressure on young women to be modest, to cover up, to hide themselves because boys and men for some reason can’t control themselves.

Girls are being sent home from school in tears, or kicked out of their own prom. The argument is that “inappropriate” attire is distracting to male students, and disruptive.

But I have three problems with how dress code is handled:

First, it reinforces the idea that boys (and men) can’t control themselves. And this reinforces the idea that if a woman is assaulted and she was wearing a short skirt, she brought it upon herself. Which prevents rapists from getting prosecuted and convicted. And last I checked, guys think about sex all the time anyway, and can get erections from something as unsexy math. (Literally, math. Maybe they like the curves on number 8?) Shouldn’t the onus be on boys and men to control their impulses, Dad?

Second, it sexualizes children. Because that’s who we’re targeting with dress codes at schools. Some girls start developing in the fourth grade, long before they reach any sort of sexual maturity, and are shamed for having breasts, hips and thighs that look womanly. When we start singling girls out because their bodies are considered too sexual, we are reinforcing that women are bodies first, not people; that breasts are sexual organs, not food-producers; that butts are for ogling, not sitting. This is the same mentality that led to an adult catcalling me at age 15, and a man in his 40s propositioning me, even though he knew full well I was a child. I believed for years that I was at fault for both incidents. The problem here is NOT the girl. It is the society that sexualizes her.

A poster about dress code saying

Girls’ bodies are not to blame here.

The fabulous blogger at Controlled Chaos recently wrote about the first time she was called a slut, in the sixth grade, for being a cheerleader. She was shamed by her teacher for participating in sports, and told that she shouldn’t be “that girl.” The experience taught her that she is to blame for being sexualized:

That’s when I learned that it’s always going to be my fault. When a boy grabs my ass in between classes in eighth grade, it’s my fault for wearing tight pants. When a 40-year old man keeps circling my block on my walk home because he gets off on calling a fourteen year old sexy, it’s my fault for having boobs at a young age. When some dude shoves his hand up my dress in college, it’s my fault for not knowing that you shouldn’t wear dresses to a club. And when some douchebag asshole sexually assaults me, it’s my fault for being drunk.

Finally, which is more disruptive to an education, shorts or being dismissed from school for the day? On the one hand, a handful of boys who never learned to control themselves because they weren’t taught to have to deal with the arousal they feel dozens of times a day whether they’re looking at classmates or an art textbook. On the other hand, a girl is kicked out of school for the day and denied an education because she’s been objectified by her culture and school administrators. She can never get that day back.

Seems like the punishment is a little hypocritical.

As someone who has frequently been shamed for her body, regardless of my attire, I can get behind students protesting dress codes as misogynistic.

How about you?




5 thoughts on “On sexualizing girls

  1. The problem isn’t that society views girls as sexual, but girls presenting themselves as sexual. The dress codes are an attempt to teach girls how to present themselves as people, or at least limit the extent that the present themselves as sexual.

    Really dress codes should be radically more restrictive than they are with short “Do” lists not long “Do not” lists. Dress codes should be Khaki slacks and white collard shirts. For boys and girls Khaki slacks and white collard shirts. At this point then you have a point. If some one is propositioning a 15 year old wearing Khaki slacks and a white collard shirt, then it is because they are sick not because she was advertizing sex.

  2. Pingback: Dress codes redux | Feminism for my Father

  3. Agreed 100%. I still remember being shamed for wearing “short” shorts to school when I was 13. I was just trying to stay cool on a hot day, and wore one of the longest pairs I could find, but I was humiliated in front of my classmates and sent to in-school suspension instead of staying in class to continuing studying for finals. No one would have noticed if a bully hadn’t yelled out that my shorts were too short. I was an A+ student and wasn’t trying to attract attention (not that that’s inherently wrong), but just to fit in and be comfortable. I was made to feel dirty for having (skinny, pale) legs. I’m now more than twice that age and I wear shorter shorts all the time… screw that bullshit. Thanks for writing this and speaking up despite people who think that they have such a reasonable justifcation for this, and as if they’re helping women by making us “respect ourselves”…

    • You hit upon another good point: This attitude toward girls’ outfits creates an atmosphere of bullying. I read an article about a girl being forced to wear sweats and a bright green shirt that told everyone she’d broken the dress code, by her school. The goal is to humiliate girls, and it fosters an environment in which bullies thrive on making fun of girls for the clothes they wear.

  4. And propositioning anyone really isn’t okay, especially not a 15 year old. Who cares what she is wearing? Why does that justify it? And girls get harassed in school uniforms all day… I know… for some people, it’s even a fetish. I’ve been harassed in thick sweaters and loose jeans.

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