Letter to The Editor: What Not to Wear—Montclair High School Edition

letter to the editorEditor’s note: Sophia Abraham-Raveson will be a senior at Montclair High School in September.   At the end of this past school year, her English teacher assigned the class to write a letter about an injustice. “I decided to write about the dress code, and so many female students in my class told me they supported it and agreed,” explains Sophia. 

Some think dress codes create a professional environment, but there’s nothing professional about making girls feel ashamed of their bodies and devalued for their clothing. Dress codes objectify young women and take control of their bodies.  Girls shouldn’t be made to feel that their bodies are something to hide, or that they are immoral because of their clothing.

In a culture where rape is common, and rape victims often blamed because of how they dress, schools should understand the message they’re sending.  Imposing numerous restrictions on girls’ clothing, but virtually none on boys’, implies that girls need to be controlled but boys don’t.  Punishing young women for their clothing is institutionalized slut shaming, teaching that girls who dress “inappropriately” are worth less.

The dress code’s purported purpose is to prevent boys from getting distracted by girls’ bodies, suggesting that when boys see a girl’s shoulder, they become dogs in heat, unable to keep from drooling.  Not only is this untrue and demeaning to male students, it blames girls for boys’ supposed inability to control themselves. This is another form of victim blaming: rather than telling boys to stop ogling girls’ bodies, teachers require girls to cover themselves.

As most young women are already used to getting whistled at and called “sluts” and “whores” in the streets, when security guards yell down the hallway, “I can see your bra, you need to keep that covered,” and “Your ass is hanging out, go change,” girls feel targeted, and these comments border on sexual harassment.  This reinforces the message that girls should be judged, ridiculed, and sexualized for their clothing.  Although administrators claim that dress codes are meant to teach girls to respect their bodies, they have the opposite result: they tell girls that their bodies are not their own.

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18 COMMENTS

  1. Most dress codes, including this one, DO specify unacceptable boys clothing — saggy pants, for example. These are actually illegal in Wildwood, in fact.

    I fail to see how young women are taking control of their bodies and making a positive statement by wearing shorts that have “Juicy” written on the ass. While I would absolutely agree that security guards shouting out to young women is wrong, I think that a reasonable standard of attire for both sexes is totally in line and that it contributes to a better learning environment for all.

  2. Good letter, bad idea.
    Whats next? If some girls want to wear their bathing suit tops to school because they like the way it looks, is that OK too? Shouldn’t they be taught that its not an injustice just because you don’t agree with the rules.

  3. The fact is that there are rules in schools and this young lady has to remember that she is still a child. Whether or not she agrees with the rules, she has to abide by it. Drivers may not like a 35 mph speed limit, but we have to abide by it or be punished.

    She is correct that there should be a dress code for males as well, and as already mentioned, most institutions that have a dress code have one for both sexes.

    School is for education, not a fashion show. If the kids are told to wear barrels, than they wear barrels.

    -From a former educator

  4. There’s a dress code for a reason – when left to their own devices students dress inappropriately. Cause and effect are clear here.

  5. If the quotes are accurate, sounds like there’s a problem with the conduct of the security monitors rather than the dress code.

  6. Drop the dress code….Naked fridays. Time for these students to grow up and get ready for the working world…..’nuff said

  7. when boys see a girl’s shoulder, they become dogs in heat, unable to keep from drooling.

    Check!

    Not only is this untrue and demeaning to male students…

    It is indeed demeaning to male students, but it is, sadly, true.

    it blames girls for boys’ supposed inability to control themselves.

    One could quibble with the word blame, but otherwise… Check!

  8. Ms. Abraham-Ravenson, regardless of one’s opinion on dress codes in high schools, your essay is exemplary in the presentation of a clearly and elegantly considered position. Congratulations to you for qualities as an author and congratulations to Baristanet for having seen its value and publishing it.

    You provide a thoughtful and concise argument as to why a dress code in the Montclair Public Schools should be reconsidered. You helped me to understand better why dress codes are demeaning and, more often than not, the cause of what they seek to avoid.

    I think your essay stands its own ground far better than the replies that would want to undermined your position. I wish you an excellent senior year, hoping that you will dress yourself in the morning with the same conviction and intelligence as you dress your words in the classroom.

    (ecoaster, it could be a problem with both the dress code and the security monitors. The students might consider to report any further such harassment by the security monitors in writing to the principal with a copy to the school superintendent. E-mail is fine.)

  9. I don’t see dress codes as “demeaning” at all. There are standards of attire in most workplaces and in most schools. A great many public schools, quite a few of them in NJ, have adopted policies calling for uniforms. I’m not sure that is needed, but I know that I’ve seen plenty of kids walking around in outfits that should be worn to beaches, parties, or concerts but not to school.

    Reasonableness is key here. No one wants kids running around in suits and ties and office wear, but it is perfectly reasonable to expect them to dress for school like they take it seriously, and like they want to be taken seriously themselves. And absolutely, staff that make the sorts of comments that the author cited should be disciplined and, if warranted, removed from the school.

  10. croiagusanam, few workplaces have “dress codes.” Most people dress to fit the job, and codes change as company culture changes and fashion in the great wide world evolves. “Standards of attire” are usually far from “dress codes,” in both the workplace and in schools.

    It is superficial to suggest that children and young adults should dress “like they take it seriously and like they want to be taken seriously.” Ms. Abraham-Raveson’s essay is to be taken seriously however she was dressed when writing it, be it in swimwear or a ballroom gown.

    Regardless of how you or I feel about how children and young adults “should” dress, there is much truth in what Ms. Abraham-Raveson has written about dress codes. Indeed they are at times used in demeaning ways.

    Many school systems do not have dress codes. There is no known correlation between having a dress code and teen-age pregnancy rates, drop-out rates or achievement rates. One could well assume that dress codes negatively affect children and young adults with regard to their self-image and self-esteem.

    It could well be that you see more offense in the outfits than the students themselves. Often this is the case with people who promote dress codes or other measures to control others in their environment. It could also be that the offense is in what you perceive, rather than in what the person is wanting to express.And those that offend a sensitive soul, or a soul that sees more suggestion than others see, are much more the exception than the rule.

    Again, Ms. Abraham-Raveson’s (the student) essay provides more convincing arguments against a dress code than the postings (from the adults) who would want to control how she and her peers dress.

  11. This well written opinion is an excellent book-end to the annual uproars over suitable garb for prom events. Outfits worn on shows like Dancing with the Stars or MTV Awards invariably raise the hackles of administrators and parents when worn by 16 year old individuals of either gender.

    Being outrageous and pushing the limits is a part of being a kid. If the hall guards are acting inappropriately, that should be addressed.

  12. If you feel that “few” workplaces have “dress codes” ( I actually said “standards of attire”, by the way), then stop by a law firm or financial office and count the tube tops. Go to court in your bathing suit. Interview for a job in shorts. Then get back to me.

    I am not “offended” by any student’s attire. However, I believe that both faculty and students should dress appropriately in school. It makes for a more serious atmosphere. Contrary to your assertions, there is significant literature that DOES correlate achievement and dress. Like most studies, it has its adherents and its detractors. But it is there.

    As for my promoting “dress codes”, I stated that I didn’t know if this was needed. I certainly hope that Ms Abraham-Raveson, who wrote a very nice piece, pays more attention in reading others than you apparently do.

  13. croiagusanam, perhaps read again my reply to your original posting and then your reply to me. The failure to read carefully perhaps lies closer to home than you may have thought.

    The essay was about “dress codes,” not “standards of attire” or “uniforms.” No one questions that there are standards of attire in workplaces, in law courts, on beaches and in sports locker rooms.

    Enforcing dress codes so that children and young adults can be “like” serious is simply silly.

    Please reference your “significant literature” that shows a correlation between “dress codes and achievement” (not simply “dress and achievement” because that is not what is being discussed by the author of the essay nor by the other responders).

    When you make up your mind about “the need for uniforms,” please do inform us. Perhaps you could write a letter to the editor and we could compare the quality of your writing and argumentation with that of Ms. Abraham-Raveson.

    For now the clarity and consistency of her argument far exceeds those here who would undermine it.

  14. Well its been a while since I’ve been in a classroom so it takes time to dig things out. But if you want significant literature you can go to Holloman(1995), Alvarez (1995), Carpenter (1992), Levin and Lezotte (1990), and Nusser and Haller (1995). That should be enough to get you started.

    You can then formulate some sentences, using Ms Abraham-Raveson as your guide, indicating the difference between workplace standards of attire and school dress codes.

    I have faith in you, though God knows you’re testing it.

  15. There’s a part of me that hates the idea of a dress code. That being said, I actually like to dress nicely, i.e., a dress rather than sweats, when I go out in public. What I don’t like is the nanny-like directives that women can’t dress fashionably sexy. Now, I don’t mean shorts with the words “Juicy” on the butt, or bra straps showing (a personal pet peeve of mine), or too tight clothing. Why are short skirts inappropriate, for example? One of my teachers once wrote a note home to my mom because I had the AUDACITY to wear culottes to school! By today’s standards, they were tame. My mom actually laughed and threw the letter in the trash. She said that teachers need to concern themselves with education, not personal attire.

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