October 2018 (Volume 69, Issue 1)
By Aisha Tipnis, Staff Writer
Though many students utilize their planners to remember assignments, not many turn enough pages to reach their personal Student Handbooks. Here lies many policies of NHS, among many of which includes a dress code. While the dress code has many reasonable requirements — “items of clothing with inappropriate graphics will not be permitted” — many other rules seem arbitrary and ambiguous, including that “shoulders should be covered by a minimum of a one-inch strap, unless the remainder of arms is covered”, “no undergarments should show at any time”, “the midriff should be covered at all times”, and “skirts and shorts should not go above fingertips”.
These guidelines prompt many questions: are bra straps acceptable? Are off-the-shoulder tops appropriate? How can there be consistency in a “fingertip” measurement? Even more pressing is the question of how these rules can be enforced. Violations are subject to the discretion of school administrators only, allowing for inconsistencies in policy to cause inconsistencies in enforcement. Principal Aaron Sicotte acknowledges this issue, noting that NHS’s School Council is set to reconsider the policy, adding that “some portions are targeted more heavily at clothing typically worn by our female students than our male students…it is time for us to review it and make the appropriate changes that will result in a policy that keeps NHS a safe place to learn and is consistently and evenly applied to all students.”
Principal Sicotte refers to the inherent sexism existing in most school dress codes. Social media and student activism have both led to a recent rise in high schools’ dress policies catching national attention, from their requirements of “knee length skirts” to their restrictions on “exposed collarbones.”
While dress codes aim to promote a culture of safety and education, they exist in a society of stringent beauty standards revolving around the sexualization of women. Society concurrently teaches young girls not just to disproportionately value their appearance, but also to tie clothing to their senses of identity and individuality. Women then internalize that adhering to this cultural norm will allow them to thrive socially and culturally, and essentially objectify themselves. So, when women have been brought up their entire lives to value themselves through their adherence to social norms and feel a sense of autonomy in self-objectification, dress codes hurt the women who embrace and reclaim their bodies by wearing the clothes marketed to them. Dress codes also sexualize women’s bodies by assuming that self-expression on a woman’s body is sexual, as opposed to dressing being an autonomous action that is merely perceived as sexual.
In the one place in which the male gaze upon female’s bodies is not necessary, the professional setting, society restricts women’s fashion choices, enforcing the idea that women do not have control over their bodies and that women’s bodies exist only for the male gaze; dress codes are potentially emotionally and developmentally damaging to women and promote a culture of sexual assault.
School is a place in which every student should be focused on education, and dress codes’ disproportionate effect on female students calls for a re-examination of dress codes nationally. Open dialogue and education about the nuances of female sexualization in America will lead to an environment in which female students can make informed decisions for themselves regarding the clothing they choose to put on their bodies.