Hot topic alert!
I read an article this morning on school dress code regulations from Everyday Feminism and it made me think.
My husband grew up in the Catholic school system in Ontario, Canada. I grew up in the public school system (albeit I attended a very good school in a nice part of town) in Arizona. He wore a school uniform, I had a dress code.
*In my experience, our dress code was not strictly enforced. This means that I was never given warnings about what I wore, nor were the majority of the kids I hung out with. This could be skewed, because we were the good students, athletes, and involved in clubs – maybe that gave us an invisible armor that protected us from criticism. Maybe not. I can’t say, because I was not a teacher. I was a student. I was a student that pushed the limit minimally – a sliver of stomach showed, my shorts were short (but I am short in stature, so that may have camouflaged the length a bit), and I wore tight clothing. I never bared cleavage because I didn’t have any and it wasn’t a body part I wanted to show. However, outside of school, I was slightly more daring – a little more stomach, a little shorter shorts/skirts, skin tight everything.
In a perfect world, dress codes and uniforms would be solely intended to benefit the students and their families, and there would be no hidden agendas of trying to make every child who is different in anyway (socio-economic status, gender identity, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation specifically) look exactly the same.
If we lived in a perfect world, or at least attended a perfect school, let me argue that a school uniform/dress code is a good thing. I lean more toward the school uniform because there is less room for individual judgement and gray area. I believe that everything outside of the uniform, I’m talking hair, makeup, nails, jewelry, should not be given a code. I believe that a uniform, with kind intentions by those who require it, is a way to show respect for the learning environment and it teaches boundaries.
I want school to be a place for free expression through thoughts and voices. I want every person to be able to develop arguments and opinions on everything they believe in and be known for their mind and spirit. I see how it could be construed that not allowing for free dress could hinder a youth’s expression, but I feel that not having the outside speak for them, kids must speak for themselves. I think this develops good social skills and conversational skills.
I feel that the school environment needs boundaries. Everyone should be allowed to think for themselves and have the freedom to express their free thought in school. I do not think that kids need unlimited freedom in dress. I think too much emphasis is put on how shocking one can be through dress or how much attention one can get from the outside – I want kids to develop their minds and learn to shock with their voices! It’s too easy to put on an “Anarchy” shirt – tell me why you believe in anarchy! Develop thought and express it.
Now, for the topic of revealing clothing and respect. This is tough because there are some people who choose to wear minimal clothing because they like it – they do it for reasons for themselves, not other people. However, the damaging part is there are women and girls who do not have a strong sense of self, who are struggling with self-esteem and self-worth, who don’t believe they are worthy of attention for just being themselves, and so they try out revealing dress as a means to attention. I was more on this side of the spectrum for a very long time. For the young women out there who are like I was, a uniform would be beneficial because it takes away the opportunity to give themselves less than they deserve. It gives them the opportunity to see that they can get attention for their minds and kindness and humor, etc.
I know my opinion is not going to be the popular one, and I also give myself the freedom for my opinions to change over time and with new education and experiences. Where I am now, with the work that I do with youth, with my current life experiences, I am on the side of school uniforms as long as there are not oppressive underlying intentions. Like I said, in a perfect world.
This is me, dressed for 80’s theme day at school in 11th grade. I had probably just turned 17. My shirt says, “Sizzle Grip: Maximum Heat”. What does that even mean? This is the skirt that I would use scissors to cut shorter every time I wore it.
Does this outfit say, I am ready to learn and develop my own thoughts and express them to you with confidence? No, it doesn’t. It distracted me from the real reason I was at school and allowed me to focus on outside attention – attention I was getting only because of the way I was dressed.