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.


  1. I am the mother of a Grade 8 boy, and I completely agree with everything you are saying here. I would also like to add some thoughts about what this policy teaches BOYS. This policy teaches boys that the girls they are spending their time with at the beach are not their equals. It teaches them that it is ok to shame girls for what they are wearing. (Last week my son told me he heard a Grade 8 boy yell at a girl across the playground to "Cover Up!") It teaches boys that girls are less capable in the water and by extension other physical activities. (By virtue of having to wear a t-shirt, these girls would not be able to play in the water with the same freedom and speed as a boy with no shirt. ) It teaches them that girls have "something" to hide How many men do us grown women know that talk about women as if they are some kind of unknowable creature with bizarre, irrational behaviours and thoughts. Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus! Yeah, because we were taught that the tiny biological differences we have somehow make us a different species?! Lastly, this teaches boys who are just beginning to explore their sexuality that there is a completely different set of rules based on what you have in your pants and on your chest. It contributes to a culture of boys growing up having to prove their manliness by exaggerating their aggression, often at the expense of women. It's digusting. And completely ridiculous.

    1. Absolutely. Thank you! I am also the mother of a grade 5 boy, and I completely agree with everything you just said.

    2. MEA, do you mind if I add some of this to my letter?

  2. I have to say that you are much more diplomatic than I would be able to be, Laurel! But, you do catch more flies with honey.

  3. Awesome job Laurel! Yourself and MEA'S Music have spoken very well. Thanks! Let us know when and if we can share

  4. Totally agree with you Laurel It needs to stop now!!

  5. Very well written! I would maybe be a little more specific on the details pertaining to the trip so they know what you're talking about. I would also include some of mea's comment about what this teaches boys. I think it's good enough to send now! The tone is just right :)

  6. Absolutely add what it teaches boys. I am mother to a 22 year old man and a 20 year old woman. Generally, I am pleased with how they turned out in this regard but it was a lot easier (for me) to bring up a self-confident woman ( note I said easier, not easy) than it was to bring up a man in a society that gives him horrible messages (in music, for one thing).

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