This is part of a weekly series I’m writing in 2016 to focus on one of my three words for the year: beauty. At the start of nearly every week a post will explore some aspect of beauty that I’ve been considering. Read more about my focus words of the year.
It’s that time of year again, the media and talk shows and inundated with stories about girls who are told to change their clothing because of what they are wearing to school. Yoga pants, leggings as pants, back-less dresses, spaghetti strap tank tops, etc… Schools are enforcing dress codes and some students and parents are up in arms.
As I drove to work this week, I listened to yet another story about the injustice of requesting a girl change because her attire is a distraction to boys. The usual line of commentary from the lose in disagreement with these policies is ‘girls shouldn’t have to cover up because boys can’t control themselves.’
Agreed! This shouldn’t be a thing. It shouldn’t be that girls are objectified by the boys in their classes or the guys in their workspace. It shouldn’t be that extra skin shown causes a distraction or a break down in the learning of that day. But it is a thing and therefore dress codes are a really good and even beautiful thing.
Let’s be honest with the over-sexualized culture we live in both men and women have become objects to be ogled. It’s part of human nature but that isn’t a free for all to act and wear whatever. I’m sure the people of Flint, MI would say the water system shouldn’t be that way. It should be clean and our for their children to drink. But while they are saying that, they are not also saying go ahead, drink the polluted water. The same goes for our attire. It shouldn’t be a thing, but it is and therefore we need to adjust our a behavior accordingly.
Hence, a dress code.
Leaving the educational environment aside for a minute… What the purpose of a work place dress code? It is for a person to appear professional in all that he or she does. It’s to create an image of the company. It’s to cut down on distractions at work to focus on the job at hand. These standards are pretty universal in the professional world.
Okay, so what about the teachers? We have a dress code too. While it may vary according to the school, the general purpose is the same. We are to dress in a manner worthy of our position of power. We are to dress in a way that is conducive to teaching and to our students learning. We are to dress so that our clothes are not an undue distraction to our students so that they can focus on the lesson and not on the attire. (if we dress well and care a lot, all the better! Yup, I wrote a post on that too.)
So, how about the students? Again, while each school is different the same general principles apply – the students are asked to dress in a way that is conducive to creating a learning environment. When a girl’s outfit makes learning difficult for those around her, that’s a problem; hence the need for a dress code. It isn’t supposed to be limiting and infringing on our freedoms. Rather it is meant to be freeing. Freeing so that a girl doesn’t need to worry about being objectified while she tries to learn calculus. Freeing so that a guy doesn’t become distracted while learning about the Vietnam War. Freeing so that the teachers can focus on teaching and not on corralling students’ attentions constantly back to the lesson at hand. Guidelines and restrictions aren’t always anti-freedom. Take a fence around a soccer field at the top of a hill. Yes, that fence is a barrier, it is a limit, but it also allows you to play a better game of soccer so that you aren’t forced to chase the ball after every wild kick.
This is not to place all the responsibility on the girls. Yes. The guys have a HUGE role to play in this too. They need to be trained to not objectify girls and to not be distracted by the flesh or tight-fitting outfit in front of them. They need to fight against the environmental pressures that tell them a girl and her body are for personal pleasure. But these same boys are inundated day in and day out with images of half-clothed women in order to sell them everything from a plane ticket to an energy drink. It’s become such a part of our culture that we don’t even realize it is happening half the time. Is it any wonder they have a hard time concentrating?
Dress codes and guidelines that students are required to follow don’t have to be a slap in the face of women’s rights or our freedoms. Rather, they can be a beautiful and liberating thing, especially in the school and workplace settings. They can allow us to focus on what really matters in that moment and not on fighting the objectification that surrounds us daily.