Each month we round up dress code (and dress code-adjacent) stories that we’ve encountered, or that we’ve been thinking about. (Revisit back issues from May and April.) Please send us suggestions!
Just in case you haven’t heard: the TDSB’s Appropriate Dress policy is currently being revised, and we have high expectations!
The student activist group Not Just Rumours is working to change how incidents of teacher sexual misconduct are dealt with by the TDSB and by the province. We wrote about them in our last Monthly, and we presented delegations alongside them at May’s Governance and Policy Committee meeting. Since then, the Canadian Centre for Child Protection released the first ever national inventory of sexual assaults perpetrated by school employees in Canada. (The report is available on the CCCP website, and includes the voices of survivors.) And the Chicago Tribune published a detailed investigation into teacher sexual assaults in Chicago Public Schools. Both projects underscore how important the work of Not Just Rumours is — follow them on Twitter, like them on FB, sign their petition, please.
Congratulations to the Class of 2018! In Petaluma, California, Lulabel Seitz’s valedictory address was cut off when she referred to sexual assault on campus. In Covington, Kentucky, Christian Bales’ valedictory speech was rejected — even after his parents assured the principal that their son would follow the dress code for boys: slacks, dress shoes, dress shirt, no jewelry, no makeup. So Bales gave his speech after the ceremony, through a megaphone: “There will be more students like me… There will be more gender nonconforming students, queer students, trans students. That’s not going to stop.” (Unfortunately, his tribute to student activism included a shoutout to March for Lifers. I guess no one is perfect…)
Kevin Kodra’s grad photo is perfect:
But Victoria DiPaolo’s yearbook quote is still the GOAT:
Edmonton’s public school board voted unanimously to encourage school administrators to revise their dress codes “to remove references to girls’ or boys’ clothing and nix rules that could single out races, religions, or body shapes.”
Current dress codes vary. Harry Ainlay High School’s code says clothing should be “suitable for modesty”…
Speaking of modesty, Dr. Fern Riddell’s reaction to the Globe & Mail‘s decision to reserve the title “Dr.” for medical doctors prompted a fascinating post on the concept from Debbie Cameron.
Historically modesty has been seen, along with chastity, piety and obedience, as a quintessentially female virtue, a quality women should cultivate not only as evidence of their goodness, but also as a mark of their femininity. Today the concept of modesty is most strongly associated with religious dress-codes, but in the past it regulated every aspect of a woman’s conduct: its demands dictated not only what she wore, where she went and how she spent her time, but also – and for my purposes most significantly – how she spoke.
Though as Harry Ainlay High School demonstrates, today it isn’t only religious dress codes that attempt to enforce female modesty…
A couple days ago, the Alice Munro bench was installed in Clinton, Ontario.
Of course, before she became their “gem,” before they gave her a garish bench, Munro’s community attempted to make her modest — not for nothing was her fourth book called Who Do You Think You Are?
Anyway, all of this is just an excuse to reproduce a longish excerpt from Munro’s “Red Dress — 1946,” first published fifty years ago. “A school is a workplace,” or some variation thereof, is a common pro-dress code refrain; Alice Munro is an unflinching observer, and she knows that the idea that a school has one unambiguous meaning is an adult delusion:
At high school I was never comfortable for a minute… When I was asked a question in class, any simple little question at all, my voice was apt to come out squeaky, or else hoarse and trembling. When I had to go to the blackboard I was sure — even at a time of the month when this could not be true — that I had blood on my skirt. My hands became slippery with sweat when they were required to work the blackboard compass. I could not hit the ball in volleyball; being called upon to perform an action in front of others made all my reflexes come undone. I hated Business Practice because you had to rule pages for an account book, using a straight pen, and when the teacher looked over my shoulder all the delicate lines wobbled and ran together. I hated Science; we perched on stools under harsh lights behind tables of unfamiliar, fragile equipment, and were taught by the principal of the school, a man with a cold, self-relishing voice — he read the Scriptures every morning — and a great talent for inflicting humiliation. I hated English because the boys played bingo at the back of the room while the teacher, a stout, gentle girl, slightly crosseyed, read Wordsworth at the front. She threatened them, she begged them, her face red and her voice as unreliable as mine. They offered burlesqued apologies and when she started to read again they took up rapt postures, made swooning faces, crossed their eyes, flung their hands over their hearts. Sometimes she would burst into tears, there was no help for it, she had to run out into the hall. Then the boys made loud mooing noises; our hungry laughter — oh, mine too — pursued her. There was a carnival atmosphere of brutality in the room at such times, scaring weak and suspect people like me.
But what was really going on in the school was not Business Practice and Science and English, there was something else that gave life its urgency and brightness. That old building, with its rock-walled clammy basements and black cloakrooms and pictures of dead royalties and lost explorers, was full of the tension and excitement of sexual competition…