This March, Haven Middle School in Evanston, Illinois enforced a dress code requiring that “if leggings are worn, a shirt, shorts, or skirt worn over them must be fingertip length.” This caused an uproar in both the parent and student communities, with moms and tweens alike wearing tight pants in protest. A petition was signed. Their main argument? Girls shouldn’t be responsible for helping boys stay focused; it’s not the girls’ fault that they are a distraction. These students and their parents seem to think that the school is infringing upon the girls’ rights by enforcing the dress code, but there are several reasons why they are wrong.
First of all, the right to wear yoga pants is in no way covered by any constitutional amendment, as some might foolishly claim. Clothing may fall under “freedom of expression,” but that is not one of the rights outlined in the Constitution.
Secondly, dress codes are nothing new. Schools have always been able to enforce rules about clothing as well as conduct, so why is it that people are suddenly offended by this longstanding (and generally publicly accepted) practice? Places of business also reserve the right to enforce employee dress codes, if not an actual uniform. Let’s also not forget about public indecency laws: you cannot run around naked, and most people don’t argue with that. Wouldn’t parents be upset if someone tried to wear lingerie to a Chuck E Cheese? Don’t many restaurants in coastal areas post signs requiring a shirt and shoes to be worn before a customer is given service? The world is full of dress codes, both explicit and implied, and it is preposterous for these tween girls to claim that they shouldn’t have to follow one at school.
Some have also claimed that this dress code promotes “rape culture.” Apparently, telling girls to cover up is the same as telling women that they are responsible for their own rape because of how they dress or act. Kristin Powers of USA Today seems to be one of the only media correspondents who sees the error in this logic. Her recent opinion column puts it best: “Rape is a physical attack and a crime. Pubescent boys noticing girls’ bottoms is neither.”
The irony of the whole situation is found in the feminist response. Feminists have lashed out against the school, latching onto the rape-culture argument and running with it. One writer tweeted: “#RapeCultureIsWhen we tell 13 year old girls they can’t wear leggings because it’s ‘distracting’ to the boys.” Another asks “why the solution is to make girls cover up instead of oh you know, teaching boys not to be gross sexist pigs.”
It all comes down to sexism. Boys are called sexist for noticing a girls’ butt in tight pants. Right, because that isn’t normal. But either way, aren’t feminists supposed to be fighting for men to see them as intellectual equals anyway? If that’s the case, shifting the focus away from their bodies should be a supported goal. I would think they would want to help boys focus on the brains of girls, but instead, they only want to play the blame game. “It’s not girls’ fault that boys are distracted. Instead of telling us to change, tell them to change.”
The biggest flaw in logic here, however, is the public’s strange faith that boys going through puberty can be taught not to be attracted to or distracted by girls’ bodies. Yes, boys should learn to discipline their minds, but can we expect them to get rid of their hormones altogether? I’ve studied enough biology and talked to enough men to know that this is impossible. (Read about puberty in more detail here.) So why wouldn’t we just make it easier on the ones who are actually trying to keep their minds off of sex? Instead of trying to help, many girls do the opposite! They flaunt.
At the root of all these symptoms is the real issue: the girls’ side of the argument is selfish. Instead of genuinely wanting to help create a less distracting environment for their male counterparts in schools, instead of giving up something they like for the sake of their male friends, girls and their parents focus only on what they want and what this change would require of them. Instead of buying a couple new pieces of clothing to stay within the dress code, they ask boys to do the impossible. The small sacrifice the girls would pay is still too much because they shouldn’t have to give up anything. These girls and their families are stuck in an entitlement mentality. It’s not their fault, and it’s not their problem, so they should be able to wear and do whatever they want.
Powers hits the nail on the head again when she claims in amazement and disdain, “This is what feminism has come to: fighting for the right to wear yoga pants and leggings to middle school.“