Breaking Dress-Code

One day last week I woke up and began scrolling through Twitter to get my daily overload of London news and stumbled upon a story about a student from A.B. Lucas Secondary School. Her name is Laura Anderson and she is bad ass.

For those of you that don’t know what went down at Lucas, the snapshot version is that a responsible, intelligent and involved student was sent home from school for wearing this:

LA

In response to her school’s decision, Laura staged a protest. In an interview with one newspaper Laura was quoted saying:

“They just said that what I was wearing was not appropriate for school and that I should not be able to be seen in school until I change,” said Anderson. “I went home and changed into regular jeans and a baggy t-shirt, but felt very sad about the incident and very degraded by the incident.”

Laura encouraged other students to replicate the outfit she wore when she was sent home — i.e. Jeans and a tank top — in protest. And before you assume that she’s just an angry, rebellious, “immature” teenager, take a look at this statement:

“My intention always was and always will be to make a positive change respectfully,”

“If we bash the entire dress code on Wednesday, that’s going to make us seem immature and rebellious.”

Laura’s decision to stage a protest was not simply about fighting a dress-code — It was about fighting inherently sexist policies within the school system that translate into our wider communities. While many people have praised these young women for their actions,  some people have written them off as immature and fighting for a “silly cause”.  I have read countless responses throwing out the term ‘fake feminists’ in quotations or suggesting that this fight isn’t one worth having. Some people have gone so far as to suggest that “there is no hope for humanity” and question “what has this world come to?!”

Here are the four major arguments from the haters:

  1. This is just a silly, immature fight
  2. The dress-code isn’t a big deal, suck it up
  3. School is supposed to be preparing you for the professional world; and
  4. Some kind of weird implication that these girls aren’t feminists — aka “fake feminists”

Let me break it down for the haters…

Number 1 For those of you that view this fight as silly, I pose this question to you:

What did you fight for when you were in high school? 

Better yet…

What are you fighting for right now?

Regardless of your opinion of the actual purpose of the protest, let’s give this girl a hand for actually DOING something when she felt she was being treated unfairly in school. It doesn’t matter if your efforts start with freeing children from the dangers of child labour, feeding the hungry or encouraging your school to update their outdated dress code — the point is that there are young people in our city seeing things that they don’t feel is just, and they are doing something about it! This is not something to ridicule. This is something to celebrate. Everyone has to start somewhere.

But let me emphasize this…. this IS a fight worth having. This battle is no small feat.

Number 2 This dress-code IS a big deal.

First of all… these dress-codes were an issue when my friends and I were in school and there are still issues with it. When I was younger my friends and I didn’t understand why it bothered us so much, but we knew that it wasn’t fair. We didn’t have the knowledge, language or the tools to understand the issue, let alone act on it.

But here’s the issue – these dress-codes imply that there is something inherently inappropriate about our shoulders, our legs, our bra straps and that these body parts and articles of clothing are “distracting” within an educational space.

Perpetuating the idea that a girl’s tank-top, or her body,  is “distracting” or inappropriate in some way creates the very foundation that leads to over-sexualizing females, victim-blaming and rape-culture within our society.  This concept diminishes our bodies to nothing but our sexuality — can a body be sexual? Yes, obviously. But only when a person chooses to be sexual, then and only then is that body sexual. Not in the middle of a high school. Not in the middle of a classroom. And definitely not when a young woman is trying to learn. This outfit is not inappropriate, but the reaction to it is. When you interrupt a girls education and send her home because she should not be seen in a tank-top, you are teaching every student in that school that what she looks like is inappropriate and punishable and that her education is less important than what you think she should be wearing. 

Not only is it unproductive to perpetuate this idea as it teaches male students to over-sexualize their female peers because of their appearance or their choice of clothing, but it is even more unproductive to assume that male students (and teachers) are unable to focus on their work simply because they can see a leg, a shoulder, a belly or a bra strap. This outdated approach to dress-codes is straight up insulting to males. First off, if they actually are distracted by something so minuscule, they should be sent home. Secondly, are we really assuming that males are nothing but their hormones? Are they unable to view females as human beings, friends, peers? Are they unable to be productive members of the community because of a bra strap? Give them a little more credit folks. 

Number 3 What does ‘professional’ even mean?

Seriously though. What is appropriate in one profession may not be appropriate in another. Now I would never go so far as to argue that we should toss dress-codes out the window entirely. Almost everywhere you go is going to have some version of a dress-code, even if it’s something as simple as “no shirt, no shoes, no service”. But the day of this protest I went to work and more than one of my female colleagues, all of which are in leadership roles, were wearing outfits that exposed more skin than Laura Anderson — did this impact their work? No. Did it impact anyone else’s? No. Did it impact the respect people hold for them? No.

And yes, of course part of the purpose of school is prepare young people for their future careers… but the key word being part. 

Do you remember what it was like to be in high school? You are not just preparing for the “professional world”. High school is a time for self discovery, self exploration and believe it or not, it is supposed to be fun. 

Someone asked me the other day what the youth scene was like in London. You know what my response was? We don’t have one. London, I love you, but you have next to nothing for young people. Now that’s not to say that there aren’t wonderful people and amazing organizations dedicated to empowering and celebrating youth, but let’s face it, youth are cast to the sidelines in our community. High school is their space. Let them be young, let them have fun, let them be who they want to be! They have the rest of their lives to be “professional”.

Number 4 “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people too”

If someone is fighting to empower women, then yes, they are a feminist. End of story.

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What most young people involved in these kinds of movements are trying to accomplish is an updated dress-code that does not over-sexualize girls bodies by implying that a bra strap, shoulders, legs, etc. are “inappropriate”. They want to ensure that girls’ education stops being disrupted. And as I mentioned before, if a male student is so distracted by a bra strap… Send him home! That’s his issue, not hers (Although I do give males more credit than this and really doubt that they are distracted). And finally, these young people want a say in something that affects them on a daily basis. You want to end political apathy among young people? Support them when they want to engage in policy decisions.

A few things to keep in mind:

We need to celebrate and support young people fighting for social change

Just because something isn’t relevant or important in your day to day life doesn’t mean that it does not have value

Males are not walking hormones, despite what you may think

A person’s body is not sexual unless they choose to be sexual

And let’s not forget that at one point women were fighting for the right to wear pants, cut their hair short and even show a little ankle — I bet there were haters ripping on those girls too. But how would you feel today if they had given up that fight?

“Don’t overdo it, dress code protesters urged”

“London student in jeans, tank top sent home for breaking dress code”


Found this slam today – it reminded me of this post and thought I would share it with readers. Powerful words spoken.

Dress Code, original slam poem by Laura De Sousa