Schools have notoriously enforced dress codes for years and have defended it with the belief that they prevent the sexualization of women. However, in reality, dress codes promote the endless cycle of men perceiving women as sexual objects. The criticism dress codes place on women are learned by boys and girls and turn into negative dynamics between men and women in adulthood. To stop this vicious cycle, schools must abolish dress codes and re-educate young boys in order to stop the sexual objectification of women once and for all.
Dress codes were invented in 1969 to prevent students’ expression, and schools have since used them as permission to pass judgment off women. While schools claim that dress codes are for both boys and girls, girls are most often the ones that are punished for so-called violations. This is because dress codes have been designed to continue misogyny by forcing girls to dress in a more conservative style and judge girls who don’t. Furthermore, they determine whether a girl is seen as promiscuous or not. And if a girl was to be classified as such, it welcomes unwarranted criticism from school teachers and administrators. Consequently, this criticism wrongly teaches girls that they should always cover-up to be treated with respect or to be taken seriously.
It is unbelievable that young women should have to bear the burden of covering up throughout their youth, but this is sadly the reality if no change is made. The morals dress codes teach are taken in by male students whose actions thereon are motivated by it. Young boys witness the judgments passed on the attire of female students, erroneously coming to understand that if a girl dresses “provocatively,” then she is willing to be a sexual object for their pleasure and that all women should be judged based upon this assumption. Consequently, women struggle to be seen apart from this perception because the “provocative look” is subjective to the male gaze.
Women also absorb the toxic standards of dress codes and feed into the belief men have. This can be seen when women judge other women on the basis of their attire, assuming that these women want men to notice them. This popularly occurs on social media but has also occurred on college campuses. In one incident at the University of Notre Dame, a mother of a student publicly criticized a group of female students for wearing leggings during an on-campus Mass. The woman claimed that looking at the women sexually was “unavoidable” and would likely cause a man to lose control. Her solution to this was to cover up the women to protect the men around. The type of behavior this mother expressed heightens the issue women face as they are seen as sexual objects not only by men but by other women too.
To stop the objectification of women and to prevent it from continuing in future generations, schools must abolish dress codes altogether. This would also stop the absorption of the toxic standards dress codes push onto young students. If this were done, future adult women will no longer have the burden of being seen as sexual objects on the basis of their clothes.
Schools should also have students and educators learn about gender equality to teach them that objectifying women is not acceptable in any circumstance. Lectures like this must start at a young age because children are very impressionable and are at risk of picking up behaviors that develop disastrously. Such lessons will re-educate young boys and teach them not to view women as sexual objects. Children will be able to learn self-control and respect for others from a young age. This will lead both men and women to champion feminism, helping develop equality. It will also prevent the re-creation of dress codes in the future and would also hopefully prevent the creation of any sexist rules in the future.
Erasing dress codes would begin to improve the misogynistic rules society has. Furthermore, the erasure of dress codes will also eventually push for change in other areas because men and women would have been taught that passing judgment of women based on sexist ideas is problematic from a young age. However, none of this can occur until schools stop using dress codes and begin to change the perception they have promoted for women.