BY OLIVE FORGASH
In May of 7th grade I was 12 years old. The air was humid and thick, and my classrooms didn’t have air conditioners...
As I approached my school, security guards ushered me towards the side entrance. Boys went through the front. Waiting for me and all the other young girls were three rows of teachers holding yard sticks. My friend Sydney and I walked through the door nervous, even though we had both made sure that morning that our skirts were less than 3 inches above my knee.
A week before she had been told by our principal when wearing a tank top and jeans that “boys didn’t like slutty girls,” as if she was dressing herself for them. I had been asked a month before “why I had come to school without pants” in front of my entire gym class of 75 people, because I was wearing a long sweater and leggings. We were asked “how do you expect to become a doctor dressed like that.” We were told that we “would never be taken seriously in the world, dressed like hookers,” and told that we were going to distract the boys in our class with our shoulders and knees.
One thing that I remember upsetting me the most was the shame that followed this dress code. Our teachers calling us sluts and telling us that we would never succeed in life at the age of 12 in front of our whole classes, and the size XL rainbow tiedyed shirt they would make us change into if our shirts didn’t fit the code so that the whole school knew that we had broken it.
However, thinking back on this dress code, I realize an even bigger problem. I now realize the direct, and also somewhat subconscious, impact that it had on everyone in the school. The dress code was never enforced in an attempt to “keep a professional environment”. People came to school in pajamas and boys sagged their pants. What was really being enforced was that “girls needed to cover up in order to not distract boys from doing their work.” This not only teaches students that a male education is more important, but it teaches boys from a young age that they can’t control themselves.
This attitude towards excusing male behavior is a major component in modern day rape culture. If boys weren’t taught that they wouldn’t be able to focus on their work, if a girl was wearing shorts, but instead, that they might be distracted briefly, but would have to realize that they needed to do their work, and focus, it would help them later on in life. Girls bodies should not be used as excuses for male behavior. Men are not animals who can’t control themselves, so they shouldn’t be taught that they are. This dress code also teaches girls a sense of blame, that it is our responsibility to keep men from doing bad things, or that they should put male success at a higher priority than their own. Girls outfits are often blamed for things like catcalling and rape, but at the end of the day the rapists rape, catcallers cat call, and even if an outfit may seem triggering, people have full control over the choices that they make, and an exposed shoulder is not an excuse.