Dear Anglophone School District,
Your school district contributes to rape culture. Rape culture is a culture where 1 in 3 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. It’s a culture where only 3% of rapists will see a day in prison. It’s a culture that cares more about protecting the identities of rapists than supporting rape victims. Dress codes lead to the sexualization of young women, the punishing of women for taking control of their own bodies and the blaming/shaming of women who don’t dress overly-modest. And after all that, your schools have the audacity to not even have a sexual assault policy. Rather than enforce rape culture in your school, we ask that you discuss and discourage it. We are asking for two reasonable things: 1) Remove the dress code from your schools and 2) bring in and enforce a district-wide sexual assault policy.
We’ve heard the excuse that “students need to dress professionally to prepare themselves for the workplace” too many times. What constitutes “professional”? It’s naïve and unfair to assume that all students are going to go into 9am-5pm office jobs. Sure, some will, and those people may have to follow a dress code there. But what about the students who want to become artists? And actors? Should students who want to become mechanics wear overalls to school? Should students who want to become nurses wear scrubs to school? What should the students who plan to go into sex work wear? The dress code is sexist. We know, you claim its “gender neutral” so you get a free pass right? Wrong. Here’s the thing: just because you call your dress code “gender-neutral”, doesn’t mean it’s not sexist. 1) The dress code still targets women. Yes, men totally can wear crop tops and short shorts (and we 100% support that) but these trends tend to be ones that mostly women wear. 2) The sole problem isn’t just that the dress code targets women; another problem is that a dress code enforces outdated and sexist social standards. Dress codes punish women who feel empowered to dress in a manner that they prefer. We live in a culture that sexualizes and objectifies women but then shames women who take control of their own bodies. Our society teaches women to be ashamed of their bodies, to hate their bodies, to change their bodies. When women feel confident enough to wear mini skirts to school, we should support them, not shame them. There is nothing shameful about a women’s body and we need to move past the idea that there is.
The (Fredericton High School) dress code policy in the student handbook opens with “When at school, all members of the education community, are expected to dress in a neat, clean, modest and appropriate manner. “ Who gets to determine what counts as neat, clean, modest or appropriate? Many students have been asked to change due to the length of their shorts. Why are some shorts considered appropriate and some not? How much thigh is too much thigh? Who decides where the line is drawn? Does it depend on the body size of the person wearing the shorts? This rule is inconsistent and it’s also gross – legs are not inherently sexual body parts. If you find legs “inappropriate”, it’s because you are sexualizing those legs. When an adult teacher finds a student’s short length “inappropriate”, that adult teacher is sexualizing that student. Fire the teacher; don’t punish the student. When you send a girl home because a boy finds her clothing distracting, you are telling her that the boy’s education is more important than hers. When you tell a girl that she can’t wear a strapless dress because a boy might pull it down (yes, this really happened), you are telling her that it is up to her to avoid being violated. What about empowering girls to dress how they feel comfortable? What about sending home the boys who harass women? What about telling girls that you are here to support them? The problem here isn’t young women dressing “inappropriately”, the problem here is young women being sexualized and objectified. What’s the big deal if a woman’s bra strap can be seen? Is it meant to be a secret that some women wear bras? If another student is really so distracted by seeing a bra strap that they can’t focus on their work, then that student needs to be sat down and given a talk about thinking of women as more than just sexual objects.
The sexualization of young women is one of the biggest problems within a rape culture. Blaming women for the clothes they wear rather than blaming men for sexualizing women is also a big contributor to rape culture. Your district reeks of sexualizing women and then blaming them for it. We are shocked and disgusted that your schools can encourage rape culture and not even have a sexual assault policy. There is no dress code outside of school. There isn’t a dress code for walking down the street, for grabbing coffee from a café or for seeing a movie. Out in the real world, boys are going to have to deal with seeing bra straps and midriffs and… oh yes, thighs. It is your responsibility as a school to teach your students respect. Begin by teaching your male students not to sexualize and objectify women. Teach them that they are going to see skin – and lots of it, in their lifetime and that’s okay because there is nothing shameful about skin. Teach them that they may not touch without permission, teach them that if they do, they will be punished. And for gods sake, teach your female students empowerment. Tell them they are more than an object. Show them you support them by standing up for them, by punishing boys who harass them, by not embarrassing, shaming or punishing them for their clothing. By removing the dress code. By bringing in a sexual assault policy.
The Fredericton Youth Feminists
Sign our petition here: https://www.change.org/p/anglophone-west-school-district-abolish-the-dress-code-and-create-a-sexual-assault-policy