Friday, June 17, 2016

Gendered dress codes - T-Shirts and bathing suits

Letter I am considering sending about my daughter's year end class trip. Input is appreciated!

Dear [school officials, principal, and teachers]

First I wanted to say that my daughter had a great time and I really appreciate the work that goes into these activities. However, there is something that she talked about that I want to bring to your attention. She told me that girls were required to wear T-shirts while participating in water activities. Boys, on the other hand, were able to participate wearing just their swimming trunks. If this is the case, it is clearly not sun protection, but because girls bodies are seen as inherently sexual and needing to be covered whereas boys bodies are allowed to exist publicly.

She was told that, as justification for this policy, they needed to "keep Victoria's secrets a secret"

As a women's studies professor, a woman, and the mother of a girl who is learning how to exist in her changing body, this really upsets me.

This teaches her that there is something wrong with her body.
This teaches her that her body is something to be ashamed of.
This teaches her that her body is innately sexual.
This teaches her that it is more important to hide her body from boys than to wear practical clothing for the activity and weather.
This teaches her that covering up is more important than her safety (my lifeguard training included the lesson that T-shirts can be hazardous in the water)
This teaches her that the rules are different for girls' bodies than for boys' bodies.
This teaches her to accept being treated differently because of her gender.

It contributes to the increased rate of eating disorders at earlier and earlier ages. It contributes to a culture where it is not only possible, but normal to sexualize and objectify the bodies of young girls. It contributes to a culture where girls are blamed for dressing provocatively or not being cautious enough if they are assaulted. 

As a 13 year old girl, she is already learning a lot of these lessons from television, books, the news, her friends, and even from older men that whistle at her while she is walking down the street (regardless of who she is with or how she is dressed). Can't school be a place where she is safe from this messaging?

The field trip was a great experience, overall, and I really hope it continues for students in future years, but I ask that you examine this policy and stop telling girls that their bodies are something to be ashamed of.