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Rape Culture: The Messages that Dress Codes Convey to Students

Via The Burlingame B


If a school does not require a uniform, students are theoretically given the freedom to dress as they please. However, there is a catch—a student’s outfit must fit within the margins of what a school has deemed appropriate attire, otherwise known as a dress code. At first glance, the concept of a dress code may seem harmless. There are some articles of clothing that generally should not be worn to school; yet, this is not the issue. Problems with dress codes arise when students are punished for simply having a body. 


When I was in grade school, I was penalized on multiple occasions for wearing a garment that exposed my shoulders, despite the fact that temperatures often reached beyond 100 degrees. I was not alone in this; unfortunately, this would happen to a great percentage of my peers as well. While it is a shame to be told to cover up in the harsh summer heat, dress codes normalize an even larger issue—rape culture. 

According to Marshall University:


Rape culture is an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture. Rape culture is perpetuated through the use of misogynistic language, the objectification of women’s bodies, and the glamorization of sexual violence, thereby creating a society that disregards women’s rights and safety.” 

Dress codes are often enforced by schools so that girls do not distract boys. While this “justification” is blatantly sexist, dress coding students for the clothing that they choose to wear also standardizes the notion that victims of sexual assaults are to be blamed for the crimes that are committed against them. Not to mention that dress codes are often extremely outdated. 

East Longmeadow High School—a high school in Massachusetts—has a dress code where six out of the nine regulations target female students. These particular requirements have not been updated since the 1990s. In the St. Johns County School District, from the beginning of the 2020 school year to February 2021, girls made up 83 percent of school dress code violations. We live in the 21st century; discrimination based on one’s gender should be a thing of the past.  

Additionally, it is extremely uncomfortable knowing that teachers are constantly looking out for students that are violating the dress code. In order to single out students that violate the dress code, adult staff members are viewing students through a lens that sexualizes them. Whether this is intentional or not, I think that we can all agree that nobody should be sexualizing students, especially the teachers that are supposed to be keeping the pupils safe.

Young individuals should not have to worry about whether their attire is acceptable in a learning environment or not; they should not have to worry about their peers being distracted by the image that they chose to portray. If a student is being pulled out of class because her outfit has been labeled as distracting, this paints the idea that the education of her male peers is more important than her own. On top of this, she is missing valuable learning time by having to change her clothing into what is regarded as appropriate by the school. 

Schools should be teaching their students about what constitutes harassment, instead of punishing innocent children and instilling the idea that it is the victim’s responsibility to prevent any sort of assault that takes place against them.


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