Yoga pants, leggings, and other form-fitting outer-wear for girls are causing controversies among students, parents and school administrators. Some of the controversies are, frankly, wrong-headed. Here is an excerpt from an indignant letter sent to an Evanston (Illinois) middle school that banned the fitted lower-wear as inappropriate:
“This kind of message lands itself squarely on a continuum that blames girls and women for assault by men. It also sends the message to boys that their behaviors are excusable, or understandable given what the girls are wearing. And if the sight of a girl’s leg is too much for boys at Haven to handle, then your school has a much bigger problem to deal with.”
Ugh. Once again, we confront the burgeoning attitude that “don’t be an idiot” translates into making excuses for jerks. School girls need to learn where and when it is appropriate to send sexual messages (and how such messages are sent), or else they will be getting notes like this one when they are theoretically adults. Telling school girls that certain kinds of garb and make-up are not for the classroom is both responsible and reasonable. That is the message, and “assault by men” is not the issue in middle school. The issue is distracting from learning. The letter concludes…
“Girls should be able to feel safe and unashamed about what they wear. And boys need to be corrected and taught when they harass girls.”
Well, let’s just let them come to school naked, then! School has a legitimate function of teaching students appropriate boundaries, both boys and girls. This is the “My Little Pony” issue, in a different form. There, the lesson is 1) don’t tolerate the bullies and 2) don’t gratuitously encourage and provoke them either. For “bullies,” substitute “middle school sexual harassers.”
The related controversy, and the topic of this weekend’s ethics quiz, is targeted “dress-coding,” in which some girls are told that their leggings are distracting and inappropriate, whereas other, less, uh, distracting teens are not. The same parents who wrote the letter above are complaining that only sexually-developed girls are being told not to wear the pants. From Chicago Now:
“Four Haven 7th graders were talking about the leggings ban with Juliet Bond [one half of the letter-writing parental unit, and a gender studies professor (Surprise!)] , who asked if any girls in particular are targeted by teachers for violating the dress code. “Yes,” the girls all responded, “The girls that are developed are the ones that get dress-coded. “Bond, a LCSW who teaches Gender Studies at Columbia College, tried to clarify, “Do you mean that the girls without boobs are not getting dress-coded?” The girls all replied. “Yes. That’s what is happening.” Just last week, a 7th grader with a curvy build came home upset about this. She had worn an outfit with a skirt and leggings, and in the morning, a teacher had said to her, “Cute outfit.” But then her homeroom teacher pulled her aside at the end of the day and said, “You know, another girl could get away with that outfit, but you should not be wearing that. I’m going to dress code you.” Juliet Bond and the child’s mom were discussing the incident, not certain if the message to the child was ‘you’re too sexy’ or ‘you’re too fat.’…The kids also report that the teachers have been discussing ‘appropriate body types for leggings and yoga pants and inappropriate body types for yoga pants and leggings.’
Bond says, “This is concerning because it is both slut shaming and fat shaming. If a girl is heavy or developed, the message is that she cannot wear certain clothes.” Neither is acceptable. We should not be sexualizing kids, nor should we be making them feel that they can wear leggings as long as they remain stick thin.
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz:
Is “targeted dress coding” ethical in schools?
I wouldn’t answer this one too fast, if I were you. Schools are supposed to teach life skills, and the world isn’t fair: the same outfit that will pass as appropriate workplace garb on the average woman will spark a meeting with HR when the wearer is built like Scarlet Johansson. If a school tells a well-endowed 13-year old that it’s time to buy a bra, must it make her prepubescent friend wear one too?
Of course, it would be a tougher quiz if any faith in the judgment of teachers and school administrators was justified; unfortunately, harsh reality and sad experience tells us such faith is delusional. Thus dress codes, themselves reasonable, are only ethical if universally enforced. “Targeted dress coding,” which theoretically has some merit, is too ripe for abuse. Juliet Bond, I think, is half-right.
Pointer: Advice Goddess