-Pastor Melissa Fain-
My daughter is in third grade. She is a social butterfly. She desires connection in all ways. She wants to connect with friends. She wants to connect with text as she devours literature. She connects with history, math and science with a childlike zeal.
She would also break the middle school dress code if she was more than a third grade child.
I’m probably hyper aware of all this because I sub middle school, while my husband teaches elementary. I see the world through bifocals. If I look up, I’m a caring mommy that just wants to do what is best for her baby. If I angle down, I see the inner workings of the education machine. Neither one is absolutely true, but neither side wants to engage the other in real talk. And no side wants to see beyond the education system.
Education is the system used for last stands
I truly believe, Covid is what really clarified all this for me. This year I watched as kids were being used like pawns in a game of Chess. No, scratch that! Kids were being used as a defensive measure for personal belief systems. “Think of the kids,” became the rallying cry. In my county, it became the reason why we should let our kids go back to school full time without any face coverings or social distancing. I mean there were family members of these kids that died, but the kids made it through A O Kay.
Did that come off as a little snarky? Yeah, it was a little snarky.
History has shown that we throw our kids up like shields when major change is on the horizon.
Even when some of those changes lead to healthy moves forward, like Brown vs. the Board of Education. The children were used as the final standard to end segregation. Putting the children up front means they become the ones taking the real damage.
Yet sometimes, this last stand is less a shield, and more a statement against media and pop-culture.
Which brings me back around to the dress code.
Rev. Evan M. Dolive (who recently became Rev. DR. Dolive, congrats btw), has girls of his own. Back in the long-long-ago of March 2013, he composed an open letter to Victoria Secret regarding how sexualized their ad campaigns were towards children. This letter went viral, and led to a deeper look at body image, marketing, and God. It led him to publish the book- Seeking Imperfection. In the book, his focus was mostly on media and marketing as it related faith. I submit, it is media and marketing that has a much more lasting social impact on children than school.
To put it another way, what companies sell to kids, and what social media puts in front of their faces do more socially than what happens 9am-4pm inside a school. The media and market can only be felt in the education system. It cannot be altered or changed.
Which, for the third time, brings me back to the dress code.
It doesn’t take much digging to see parents and students have felt school dress codes are overly focused on the female half of the student population. The pushback is plain stupid. While parents and their daughters are upset, the school system passes the throwaway comment that these same rules are also true for the boys. If a boy came to school in a spaghetti strap top and booty shorts, he would be dress coded. For years, we’ve seen how those items have been stereotypically seen as female clothing, and therefore, girls have been unfairly signaled out for dressing inappropriately. Meanwhile, this has become the last stand for “decency.” We can’t talk about sexism in the market or the media anymore. That battle appears lost. Even when one clothing manufacturer comes up with modest clothes, the fashion icons and photographers push the boobs and butts to the forefront. Kids see it, and want to do what is socially popular. So, we take it to the schools.
Then there’s my elementary school daughter. Right now she’s fine. No one is sending her to the office in May because her shorts are too short. No one is worried because her shoulders are too exposed in her sleeveless top. Meanwhile, it’s becoming harder and harder to find dress code approved pants and shorts. Social media, marketing and those getting the money from these clothes are sexualizing these girls. Boys have clothes that are mostly made to be comfortable. Girls have clothes that are mostly made to be looked at. Think about that for a minute. You, an adult reader, are trained to form your first opinion on a girl of 12 based on how her butt and boobs fill out her outfit.
This means we are teaching these girls a terrible lesson that does carry into adulthood. Women must always consider their gender when doing pretty much anything. They will always walk that line between whether something looks professional or slutty. A line boys don't even need to consider. We've sexualized girls while boys don’t have to ask the same questions. School dress code doesn’t make this better. It’s actually the first step in drawing more attention to a girl’s sexuality than her personhood.
The problem isn’t the dress code, the problem is systemic and far reaching. It’s time to stop putting the focus on the dress code, and start focusing on the real problem: societies desire to sexualize girls. Dolive brought this problem to our attention in 2013. Now, in 2021, I’d say the problem is worse. It’s time to take arms ourselves, instead of forcing our daughters as a front line last defense.