Short and Sweet: A Piece About Skirts

WORDS BY CHRISTEL LANGUÉ / @CHRISTELMICHELLE

(Photo Courtesy of Rosea Lake)
Dress codes plague us. They exist at work, school, social clubs, and at plenty of other social settings, such as parties. Though they were created to protect and preserve certain environments, over time the implementation of dress codes has done more harm than good for young women in particular. What started out as a way for people to dress appropriately (a word which comes up often in this debate) has now become an easy way to punish young women and girls, while justifying dangerous male behaviors.
  It almost goes without saying that the enforcement of dress codes in everyday life is important. A learning environment, such as school, should stay a healthy and educational place for all people, free of distraction, and full of opportunities to… well, learn. While some say it is true that "every experience is a learning experience," the primary focus should not always be whether or not a person is learning, but what it is that they are being taught. In regards to dress code, the conversation has quickly changed from, "your skirt is too short, and therefore inappropriate because the underside of your rear end is showing" to, "you're distracting the boys." In 2016 alone there have been thousands of dress code violations that target young women and girls specifically. The message? You are what you wear.
  To clarify, the problem here is not the fact that girls should not be allowed to wear revealing clothing. The problems here are the motives behind that thought, the way that these ideas are being expressed, and the justification of predatory behavior by males. Not all men are predators, yes, but the fact that girls are still being taught to accept the fact that how we dress or present ourselves is a major factor in the way that we are unjustly approached, is wrong. This ties into rape culture and this is what we need to realize. I try and teach this to my younger sister, who is fourteen and might I mention, attends an all girls school. Yes, you should carry yourself with respect and decency — but aren't those mere attitudes? Furthermore, if you choose, for whatever reason that you want to show a little more leg one day, that in no way should be any justification for harassment or the taking advantage of your body by another human being. That is the point. Teach girls to respect themselves without inflicting shame, blame, or justifying the disrespect of our bodies by others.
 
Rape is a striking word that is too often associated with matters of dress in accordance to the victim. The idea that a young woman or girl can prevent sexual assault if she were to dress in a more conservative fashion is instilled at a very early age to people who belong to all genders. The fact that we are still being asked, “what were you wearing?” in times of abuse is completely perplexing. This directly contributes to the total fetishization and objectification of the female body. If our anatomy was looked at in less of a sexualized manner, and in more of an anatomical sense like a male’s body, I’m sure the perspective of this discussion would change. Nothing a person wears invites predators to take advantage of them. It is worth saying that rape is just as likely to happen to a girl in a maxi skirt as it is to a girl in a mini; to woman in a v-neck as it is to a woman in a crewneck. Nobody is asking for or inviting abuse with the way they dress. Therefore, dress codes should not focus on levels of male distraction based on female comfort or expression. 
   One thing that these dress codes fail to do is instill accountability into our young men and boys. The same way that a victim should not be at fault for causing their attacker to harm them, a young person should not be blamed for the way their peers treat them because of how they dress. It is almost expected of young men and boys to lack any type of self control around young women and girls, which is terribly sad. Instead of teaching this crucial skill though, boys are let off the hook. It is the girls who are instead sent home for wearing things like spaghetti strap tank tops, baring their shoulders, and wearing leggings instead of pants. Small offenses like these should be looked at as opportunities to teach the importance of dressing appropriately and why the previously listed clothing items are forbidden.
  Dress codes however, do still serve an important purpose in everyday life after school. In work environments for example, it is important to have dress codes in order to represent companies and brands in their desired light. Following dress codes and uniforms is necessary in the way that the level of appropriateness that an employee shows directly reflects on the company that they work for. In this situation, the implementation of dress codes and uniforms makes sense. However, in a school setting students are representing none other than themselves with the way that they dress. Some educators, such as my middle school and high school principals, would probably beg to differ but children do not represent a company; and should not be convinced that the caliber of their education has to do with the length of their gym shorts.
 
In a recent series of unprovoked tweets, activist and singer Erykah Badu actually took the opposing view in this argument, stating "There was an article ruling that high school girls lower their skirts so male teachers are not distracted. I agree because I am aware that we live in a sex [driven] society. It is everyone's, male's and female's, responsibility to protect young ladies. One way to protect young youth is to remind them we are all sexual in nature and as they grow and develop it [is] natural to attract men. It is not them who is doing anything wrong by being beautiful and attractive, but with such imbalance in our society it is smart to be aware and awake. Men and women both go through cycles of arousal. Men automatically are attracted to women of child bearing age. I want my daughters to understand this. I want them to be themselves and wear what they like, yet be aware and not ignore our differences. Males should be taught to be responsible for their actions from childhood. It's not ok to 'prey' on young women. But do I think it's unnatural for a heterosexual male to be attracted to a young woman in a revealing skirt? No. I think it is his nature. Consequently, we must all be aware and responsible. We must protect our young women. We must teach our young men. If I had a school I would make sure that the uniform skirt was a nice knee length... it is fair to everyone. Young women you are beautiful. Young men you are beautiful. Protect one another."
   Like many thoughts that are expressed via means of faceless communication such as the Internet, I believe that Badu was misunderstood in some ways. This series of tweets caused many followers and fans to declare that this is a perfect example of the condoning of rape culture; of the objectification of young girls. While there are many errors in this dialogue, Erykah Badu is right to say that "Males should be taught to be responsible for their actions from childhood. It's not ok to 'prey' on young women." Like I've stated before, though not all males are predators, predatory actions by men are not uncommon and should not by any means, be ordinary parts of life. What Badu got wrong and the reason why it is important to include her voice in this debate is the fact that she gives off the illusion that all of this is inevitable for young women and girls. We cannot overcome so we must be protected and with the help of boys, we have to protect each other. Apparently, by living in a sex driven society, we are already at a disadvantage. However, what I would like to know is why are we accepting that fact? Why is it that we all just stop to accept the fate of predation as if we live in a barbaric society of animals and neanderthals? Surely, we must be going to school for something. 

This topic is a tricky one. Not many people know where to begin and where to end; where to jump in and when or if they should speak at all. This is a problem that belongs to all of us and it extends far beyond our knee caps. Skirts, spaghetti straps, leggings et al are accessories to the body. We shall not let ourselves be defined with how we choose to decorate our beings, like we are not condemned for how we choose to decorate our homes. Dressing is an art, an indulgence, and if what I wear affects my peers so intensely that I must be sent home for what I wore, at least let both parties learn something from the situation. After all, like a reversible coat — there are multiple sides to this argument.

2 comments:

  1. I really like short skirts. Thank you

    ReplyDelete
  2. Amazing as always, Christel!
    xx Alyssa
    visionsofnyc.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete