Another school year, another slut-shaming controversy. This time the culprit is Tottenville High School in Staten Island, New York, which handed out 200 detention slips for dress code violations in the first few days of the semester, about 90% of which went to female students. Why did the girls get pulled from class and kept after school? Apparently their clothing was “disruptive to teaching and learning.” This means that girls wearing leggings, tank tops, low-cut blouses or too-short shorts or skirts are deemed “too distracting” for the boys to handle.
As I’ve written before, dress codes often encourage teachers to slut shame. Rules for girls are blatantly sexual in nature—”cover your skin”—but are not for boys. In fact, the rules are so uneven, that Jessica Valenti recently pointed out in the Guardian they could be violations of Title IX, the law that forbids gender discrimination in schools.
Instead of teaching boys to keep their eyes on their books and not on their co-eds’ bodies, schools think it better to tell girls that they are dressing “inappropriately” or that their clothing is too “distracting.” In doing so, they make girls feel guilty for boys’ actions. The argument is not a far cry from telling sexual assault victims that they were “asking for it” by dressing a certain way. And it conditions boys to victim-blame women later in life.
That’s why students in both Illinois and Texas protested dress code rules last year, picketing in leggings and wielding signs that read “Are my pants lowering your test scores?” They argued that the rules blatantly discriminated against girls. Another group of students at a school in New Jersey began a social media campaign using the hashtag #IAmMoreThanADistraction.