The politics of tank tops

In our experience, if you tell someone you’re working to change school dress codes, they’re most likely to respond in one of two ways. They might share an experience of being shamed for their attire or their general appearance. Or they might ask “What if everyone comes to school naked?!”

This past weekend, a friend of the End Dress Codes collective mentioned our work at a party. In response, a fellow partygoer shared the following anecdote: as an adolescent, her body began to develop earlier than most of her peers’. During the summer before she began high school, she went on a whitewater rafting trip with other youth. In the middle of the trip, a male chaperone took her aside and told her that it was inappropriate for her to wear a tank top — she alone would have to wear a more substantial shirt. She spent the rest of the trip feeling singled-out and ashamed.

We wish we could track down that male chaperone and recite the title of this Jezebel post to him: “Large Busted Women in Tank Tops Are Only Too Revealing If You’re And A-Hole or a Pervert“!

From the comments:

This exact scenario has happened to me my whole life. I have a very distinct memory of wearing a tank top in high school gym and being told never to wear it again. I pointed out a girl in the class wearing the same exact shirt, and was told “it’s different on her”.

I also once got pulled into the vice principals office in middle school for a dress code violation because a sliver of skin on my side showed when I raised my hand in class. As I was being escorted there, we encountered another, much tinier girl in my class in the hall. She was wearing a full on belly shirt. Like, could see her belly button while she was standing there with her arms at her sides. My vice principal spoke to her, asked how her day was going, then continued to drag me to her office to change into the xxxl gym shirt that was given to dress code violators to wear for the rest of the day.

“There should be no dress codes”

The End Dress Codes collective likely wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the work of Project Slut. Long live Project Slut!

“Teachers shouldn’t be telling students ‘You should be embarrassed,’ and ‘What kind of attention are you trying to get?’” said Villanueva. “The worst part is teachers actually think they are protecting young girls by saying these things.”

One friend didn’t report a male student groping her, Villanueva said. “She said ‘I was breaking the dress code.’ She’d internalized the lesson that she was asking for it.”

#EndDressCodes Friday Jam: Solange

Our last two posts have been about schools that try to police black girls’ hair. So obviously this Friday’s jam is Solange’s “Don’t Touch My Hair.”

Don’t touch my hair
When it’s the feelings I wear
Don’t touch my soul
When it’s the rhythm I know
Don’t touch my crown

While you’re listening, check out Bobby Rogers’ Solange-inspired photo series “Don’t Touch My Crown.”

 

“Black hair is beautiful”

Boston-area charter schools are not the only schools that punish black girls for how they wear their hair. In 2015, Black Lives Matter Toronto brought a protest to Toronto District School Board HQ after a student was sent home from Amesbury Middle School because her hair was “too poofy and unprofessional.”

Protesters shared stories of how they and their peers had been targeted and affected by dress codes and hairstyle norms that exclude natural black hair.

One of them, Tania Turton, went to Amesbury Middle School — where the student was allegedly sent home for her crochet braids — and said she wasn’t surprised by the incident. It was, she said, “reflective of my experience there.”

Turton, a hairstylist, told the crowd that a client once tried to “fix” her hair herself after a co-worker commented on it before a big meeting.

“If professional means that being black is not professional, by your very existence, then that’s something we need to reconsider,” she told the Star after her speech.

“Braids are beautiful”

In May, a Boston-area charter school suspended a dress code policy that “punished black girls for wearing braided hair extensions.” We’re struck by how often the rationales that schools cite for codes diverge from the effects of those codes…

The school had said previously that its strict dress code, which also bans makeup, nail polish and dyed hair, is meant to reduce wealth disparity among students. But the letter from Healey’s office, written by Civil Rights Division Chief Genevieve C. Nadeau, says that portions of the dress code “are not reasonably tailored to those goals, if they bear any relation at all.”

“We just wanted to see if we could change the dress code a little bit”

In June, Joanne Bénard, education director of the Sudbury Catholic District School Board, committed to a review of St. Charles Catholic Elementary School’s dress code as a result of student activism. Bénard said the review would take place in fall 2017 — that’s now!

In addition to challenging the rules with her look, Tiffany said she put up posters on her locker that said: “We go to a school where the length of my shorts is more important than my education.”

Another one read: “My education is more important than what I wear.”

But the protest was short-lived.

Tiffany said she was sent to the school’s administrative office until her mom, Felicia Fahey, picked her up at noon.

“Since when is skin or the human body supposed to be a distraction? They’re [school] sexualizing the girls. Not the boys,” Fahey said.

“They’re making it an issue, and it’s just not right.”

“We’re getting less tolerant of being told what to wear”

A consideration of dress codes from a business perspective.

Forcing people to dress in a way that conflicts with their self image isn’t healthy, whether that self image is concerned with gender, competence or simply being treated as a grown adult

. . .

There are plenty of psychological downsides to workplace dress codes. So if the biggest organisations and institutions in the world can survive while their people dress how roughly they please, we’ve run out of arguments in favour of telling people what to wear.

“Dress codes can have a positive impact”

The news of Evanston Township’s code provided back to school inspiration this week:

The school . . . outlines how faculty will enforce the dress code to ensure it’s not done in an unfair or sexist way. “School staff shall enforce the dress code consistently and in a manner that does not reinforce or increase marginalization or oppression of any group based on race, sex, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, cultural observance, household income or body type/size,” the school’s website reads. “All students should be able to dress comfortably for school and engage in the educational environment without fear of or actual unnecessary discipline or body shaming.”