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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


Bodies of distraction: what school dress codes say about men and women

Recently, a high school in New Zealand asked its female students to lower the lengths of their skirts to avoid distracting male students. PHOTO CREDIT: KABOOMPICS / PIXABAY

How much skin is a woman allowed to show in the classroom? If you’re a woman or a regular person, the answer is pretty much anything within the laws of public nudity. If you’re a man, the answer, apparently, is “Not too much because I’m trying to concentrate, please.”

School dress codes are a frequent battleground for gender rights, and it’s the women usually getting the short end of the stick but the long end of the skirt.

Just this month, high school teens in New Zealand were told to lower their skirts so as to not “distract” their male counterparts. But beyond the distraction aspect, there is a level of claims we are making if we tell our women to watch what they wear in class. There are assumptions we make and blames we place that, upon even momentary contemplation, any reasonable human would disagree with.

Just days before the New Zealand episode, a high school girl from Texas was sent home for her shirt not reaching fingertip length. The shirt made the distance on the front and back, but the sides of her shirt were up high enough to expose some scandalous black yoga pants.

Her sister’s Facebook post was spot on: “Bottom line, girls cannot go to school in comfortable clothes THAT COVER EVERYTHING because school systems are afraid that hormonal boys won’t be able to control their eyes and minds. And that is such a bigger problem than worrying about clothing.”

As a guy, I am most concerned first with the assumptions that dress code zealots make about men.

I attended an all-male high school and the only skin I saw in that building for four years was the occasional passing penis after gym class. I had only one female teacher, and most of my days were hypermasculine sausage fests where each student would have to renew his alpha male membership daily or risk being discriminated against.

Ok, it wasn’t that bad, but if I can make it through a class with a tasty thigh in my peripherals, so can any guy.

Think about what society admits when school officials don’t want our young men to be distracted by a too-high skirt. Are all men hormonal time bombs? Either no, or I’m not a man. What if I’m distracted by an ear? Ears have holes, so why not mandatory earmuffs?

On the other end of the distracted-distracter system, we make bold prescriptions on the status of women when strict dress codes are enforced.

In 2014, a group of New Jersey girls started #IAmMoreThanaDistraction. As I’m sure you can tell, the campaign is fighting back against the claims made upon women by the orchestrators of strict dress codes.

In the distracted-distracter system, one party inevitably becomes reduced to a nuisance, an omnipresent seduction, as the other is set as the standard. Women, as the distraction, must submit their will to the men, as we have seen time and time again.

If we look outside of this system, as we should, we can build a new one where men and women are both the standard rather than the anomaly. The one-sided classroom regime that so many women are subjected to perpetuates a one-sided worldview from an early age. Therefore, it is not only crucial to show that these assumptions about men and women are dangerous, but it is also important to destroy these beliefs at the foundation so the myths cannot live on to the workplace, to just pick one out.

Famous political pundit Bill O’Reilly, the man who previously insisted that there must be some downside to a woman being president, attended my high school. That kind of intelligence is the product of the system we have in place. We’re going to get a lot more Bill O’Reillys if guys are told they can’t handle a flash of skin and women are told they have to cover up. One is barely enough.

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