Kingsley Junior High parents were recently reminded by principal Shelly Erickson that with the onset of warm spring weather, “students” have been coming to school “inappropriately dressed.” This is according to an audio message recorded by Erickson on behalf of McLean County Unit School District 5 and delivered April 26th. Her message goes onto define acceptable clothing as that which does not reveal students’ “bare shoulders,” “bra straps,” or “midriffs.” She adds that “shirts that show excessive cleavage are also not appropriate for school.” Students deemed to be in violation of the dress code “will be given the choice to wear P.E. clothes or to call home.”
To start off, we all know that tank tops, crop tops, and shirts with plunging necklines are not marketed to the male gender. By “students,” the school means female students. This part of the dress code (found here) is actively punishing girls.
The dress code defines inappropriate clothing as “apparel that causes a substantial disruption in the school environment.” It’s difficult to imagine bra straps causing a substantial disruption, which means just one thing: female students at Kingsley are being held responsible–as they are in so many other school districts across the United States–for male students’ sexual arousal. The argument goes that sexually aroused male students will not be able to focus on their schoolwork, hence “disruption” to their learning.
There is a parallel here with victim blaming survivors of sexual assault. Survivors–most often women–are blamed for bringing assaults upon themselves because of their clothing choices and sexual history. Women are held accountable for the behavior of their assailant(s) because it is still widely believed that men do not have the ability to control themselves. Similarly, in this case male students’ hypothetical failure to concentrate on their schoolwork is not seen as their fault. The blame is instead goes to the female students.
You may be preparing to argue that female students should know better than to come to school wearing clothing that violates the dress code. Well, your preemptive argument is fucking wrong. First off, it assumes that more “modest” clothing is available to female adolescents and teenagers, but skim through a rack of spaghetti-strap shirts and short-shorts at your local Target and you might find that it isn’t all that easy. Your argument also assumes that female students are financially able to alter their wardrobe on short notice. Not every female student or her family can afford new clothing, however. Furthermore, the dress code punishes large-breasted students. Shirts do not fit large-breasted women like they do small-breasted women, and it can be nearly impossible to conceal cleavage. You’re also potentially minimizing female students’ comfort. On a hot spring or summer day, female students cannot find shorts down to their knees like male students can. Above all else, female students’ fashion choices are not the business of staff or male students. Again, we’re not discussing a see-thru shirt that exposes a female student’s nipples, we’re talking about bra straps and bare shoulders.
In the end, what is more disruptive to learning? Male students interacting with female peers dressed in seasonally appropriate, modern clothing? Or female students being forced to endure the embarrassment of wearing smelly gym clothing or calling home for a set of clothing to be brought to them?
If you’re as pissed off as we are about this issue, if you do not want your daughter to be held to responsible for the sexual thoughts of her male peers, make a complaint. Shelly Erickson can be contacted via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone (309 557-4407).