This is a column I thought I would never have to write again.
Frankly, with my daughter now being off to college, and my son being, well, a boy, I thought that my days of writing about school dress codes were over. And technically, they should be: the chances of my daughter getting dress-coded at an all girls school, or my son getting dress-coded anywhere are practically nil. However, one of the first things I realized when I had children was that somehow, once you have that baby in your arms, the world is full of children. They’re everywhere: trying to dart out into traffic, attempting to pull hot pots of off stoves, doing their best to climb too high up into the trees at the park. Whereas before I had children I probably could have strolled past a building with children dangling from the rooftops and have been blissfully unaware, once I had children of my own everyone else’s children became that much more real.
And so, even though in all likelihood my children will never be dress-coded again, the fact that there are children out there still going though it means that it is still very much on my radar. And still just as infuriating.
To understand why school dress codes are so infuriating it is helpful, I think, to look at the reasons why my own children will never be dress-coded again.
First there is my daughter, Clementine. As a college student she is considered by most people (other than bouncers) to be old enough to dress herself. But even if she weren’t—even if she were twelve years old—she probably still wouldn’t ever be dress-coded for the simple fact that she goes to an all girls’ school.
One of the favorite arguments of the dress-code crowd is that, at an age when students are absolutely flooded with hormones, girls wearing revealing clothing is just “too distracting” for the boys. But, in news that is apparently still news to some, some girls don’t like boys; they like girls. And yet, somehow, despite having the same flood of hormones that teenage boys have, and despite having the same eye for an appealing figure, the girls in this situation manage to keep themselves from being “distracted “ by collar bones and knees (two of the most titillating parts of a girl’s body, at least if most dress codes are to be believed.)
Then, of course, there is my son, Clyde. This is a boy who has never once been dress-coded, despite having shown up to school wearing bootie shorts and a middy shirt. (Granted, this was not done out of any desire to garner attention, but rather out of his failure to understand that it is, in fact, possible to outgrow your favorite clothes. Anyone who doubts whether or not someone can legitimately not notice that the clothes they are wearing are way too small can just witness him at the shoe store pulling his feet out of shoes that are two sizes too small. It’s like watching a clown family emerge from a VW Bug.)
In some countries they acknowledge their bias openly, and admit that the reason they prioritize a boy’s right to an education over that of a girl’s is because, with limited funding, it is more “important” that boys receive an education. Here, we do it the old-fashioned way, and hide our bias behind a cover of morals and decency. And yet the result is the same. Girls are told (either overtly or in code) that they are entitled to fill their plate at the table of education only after all of the boys have had their share.
To argue otherwise—to argue that somehow a girl’s shoulder is more exciting than a boy’s, or that a girl’s “natural docility” keeps her from acting on her attraction more so than a boy’s “natural aggressiveness” is to be either willfully ignorant or disingenuous.
In other words: it is just plain wrong.