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My daughter is entering kindergarten tomorrow. Kindergarten. She won’t even be five for another couple of weeks, and I’m not at all on top of her birthday plans, but that’s a story for another day. Last night I was going through the paperwork in the folder that they gave out at orientation on Friday, and my eyes fell on the dress code. I started reading it, and the more I read, the less comfortable I became. It’s a funny thing, because my son went to this elementary school, and I assume that the dress code was the same back then. At the time, I most likely skimmed it but didn’t react. Why? Because he was a boy and it largely did not apply to him. Anyway, this time it bothered me. It bothered me enough that I posted about it in a local Facebook moms’ group. It wasn’t the post that broke the internet, by any means, but it certainly garnered more attention than I was expecting, and not all of it positive. Below is an excerpt of what I posted, or most of what bothered me about the dress code (and a bit of my reaction to it):

Shirts: Shoulders and tummies must be covered. No strapless tops. No bare tummies or backs. Funny how every word of this applies solely to girls, isn’t it? Avery got a new dress from H&M specifically for school which has spaghetti straps. Her shoulders are very much uncovered. Should I keep this one for home-only use? Wouldn’t want to test that code, right?

Shorts/skirts: Must be no shorter than the end of the fingertips while arms are at rest. Really? I had this same rule as a child in rural Michigan in 1978, and it was just as hard to follow then unless my mom cut off my pants to create shorts. For starters, once again, this part of the “code” appears to apply solely to girls. What happens if my daughter wears shorts or a skirt that isn’t of Bermuda length? Will the boys be unable to learn? I think at this moment she owns ONE pair of shorts that would be deemed acceptable under this rule. One. The dresses are probably hit and miss. I guess I could have her wear leggings under all her dresses, but as it’s often still over 90 degrees, I’d rather not.

In the end, there were so many replies to my post, and replies to replies, that it became difficult to find the reply itself even when receiving the notification of that reply. It was a bit crazy, honestly.

I may be an outspoken liberal, but where my children are concerned I consider myself fairly conservative. I certainly don’t buy anything resembling provocative clothing for my daughter, and I feel I am an excellent judge of what is or is not appropriate for her to wear. Does my kindergartner really need shorts to be as long as her fingertips? Is a glimpse of her shoulder going to send some young boy over the edge?

I may be more sensitive to this at the moment because I’ve read half a dozen articles in the last several months about various dress codes nationwide and how they get applied, mostly to girls. Articles that describe girls being forced to kneel in front of their teachers or a principal just to be certain their skirts touch the ground (this one sent me into a blind rage). Articles about a girl being sent home for failing to wear a bra (how is this anyone’s choice other than the student in question?). This kind of gender bias infuriates me, and seeing it get applied even at the elementary school level was very upsetting. There were a couple of responses to my post that I found particularly disturbing. Here’s a piece of one:

Just another silly thought, but if we are for girl power, maybe having our girls dress modestly (I may be mentioning a taboo word now) then the focus is not on the body but on the brain and the ability.”

Wait, so in order for the focus to be on the brain/ability, it is necessary for girls to dress modestly? How about just teaching our children to focus on people’s minds and abilities, rather than on their style of dress? I am not against modest dressing, if that’s what the wearer prefers, but to imply that in order for the focus to be on the brain or someone’s abilities modest dressing is required…? That really scared me. Below is another one that bothered me:

“Just follow the dress code and stop whining about it. Rules are rules!If you don’t like it you have the option to homeschool. (sic) We need to teach our kids young that even though we don’t always agree with the rules we MUST follow them.”

Wow. So if I disagree with something I’m by default whining about it? And I’m supposed to just go along with rules, regardless of how much I’m bothered by them? By that logic, women still wouldn’t have the right to vote and Jim Crow laws would still be in effect. Also, it bears mentioning that I absolutely do NOT have the option to home school, given that we both have to work in order to make ends meet. But thanks for sharing your thoughts. And yet another:

When you all have a 3rd or 4th grader that wants to wear the tiny Justice shorts to school, all you have to say is that it’s not to code. I am pretty sure they won’t be measuring the shorts of your kindergarteners (sic). It’s more obvious on a leggy 9 year old.”

While I’m all for allowing parents to mandate what is or is not appropriate for their child to wear, it’s the “leggy 9 year old” part of that response that left my stomach unsettled. So by 9 my daughter’s legs will be seen from that sexualized vantage point? Nine.

I’m all for open discussion, and no one is required to agree with me, ever. That wasn’t and isn’t my point. But I felt like so many of these responses gave tacit approval to a system that does in fact sexualize girls from a very young age. And perhaps the most upsetting response of all was this:

Oh man. Yes. My daughter was sent home in 1st grade because she was wearing a tunic tank top. You know, the kind that is all ruched elastic across the middle. The teacher at recess was the one to call her out, projecting and sexualizing her. I was livid.

My daughter owns tops like the ones described above. I have been warned, and I won’t be sending her to school in them, but in my opinion there is nothing at all wrong with the tops. FIRST GRADE. The girl was six. Give me a freaking break! Livid? I would have gone apeshit.

In the end, this was what I posted to one of the responses, and my feelings stand:

Boys will ALWAYS sexualize girls. Their clothing choices won’t change that. If a girl is told that she should dress modestly so that the focus is on her abilities, she’s learning that it is her job to hide/disguise her body so that others are able to focus on her insides. Maybe we should start teaching our young people that all people’s abilities should be noticed, and whether they’re in Daisy Dukes or a hijab shouldn’t matter?

If a girl WANTS to dress modestly (and I have no problem with the word at all) she should be able to. I work for Orthodox Jews, so clearly I’m on board with that concept. But to tell a girl that if her shorts don’t hit her fingertips she’s showing too much leg… or that if her shoulders are showing it’s somehow titillating, that’s wrong on any number of levels and it’s teaching our girls that their bodies need to be kept hidden, whether to allow others to notice them for their abilities rather than their bodies or to prevent boys from being distracted by the apparently endless allure of the female body (an allure that apparently becomes an issue as early as 9).

The more responses I read, the more convinced I become that it is perceived as normal that girls should hide their bodies, whether for their own good or for the good of others. NOT okay.”

So where do you all stand on dress codes? You don’t have to agree with me, I promise. Just don’t tell me I’m whining if I don’t happen to share your identical viewpoint.