Culture & Entertainment

School dress codes: Sexist and antiquated, or smart?

By: Jennifer Gruden
Canadian Living
Culture & Entertainment

School dress codes: Sexist and antiquated, or smart?

By: Jennifer Gruden
School dress codes are making hot headlines across the country as an Ottawa teen claims her school's ban on visible underwear including bra straps is sexist, a Beaconsfield school sends a teen home for shorts that are too short, and CTV reports that dress code suspensions are on the rise. All this in the same week that Rihanna showed up at the CDFAs in a dress that inspired the hashtag #FreeTheNipple. Boy in underwear at school School dress codes should not be about whether something's sexy As someone with boys in school, I really don't want to give them the idea that if a girl dresses in a provocative way that she's making herself available. So it's a tough one for me to respect a dress code that labels certain looks, for boys and girls, "distracting." That really is code for "sexy" and I don't think we should be raising our kids to believe that how a person looks makes them available. (Also, while I was never a teenage boy I definitely was a teenage girl and the beautiful dark locks of hair on Kenny H. were incredibly distracting but that didn't mean he had to shave his head. Learning to manage one's own hormones is an important life skill.) At the same time...come on. Maybe I'm just getting cranky but I don't think a dress code requiring that underwear be hidden or that shorts not be super-short is unreasonable. Dress codes are, however, a fact of life I believe we need to help our kids learn that what works in one environment or among one group of people doesn't necessarily work in another. That goes for moving between cultures as well as different places and events. A school environment is where our kids go to do something really important - get educated. As a culture, often we signal when things are important by dressing a little more formally for them. A bra strap or seeing a kid's boxer shorts doesn't give me the vapours, but I also think it's okay to say when we go to school to learn, we should wear clothes that cover our undergarments. And in some ways I think this is at the core of the debate: Is school where our kids go to learn how to be most themselves, or to learn the rules of the society around them? I actually think it's possible to do both, but that means giving a bit on both ends. Self-expression is great, but we all live in a society where our clothes do give people around us strong signals. And while I don't think we should judge people's value on their understanding of fashion trends, the truth is being part of the human tribe has involved dressing in line with the tribe (or against the tribe, for a different message) for a long time. Our kids deserve to grow up in way that gives them tools for success, and part of being successful is being aware of rules -- spoken and unspoken -- around clothing, so that they can make informed choices as adults. Having a non-draconian dress code at school is one way to help families from all different cultures and backgrounds and socioeconomic groups aware of what the ground rules are for that environment, and I think that is a great way to start the discussion. Besides, isn't showing up for school in only your underwear supposed to be a nightmare? What do you think?  
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School dress codes: Sexist and antiquated, or smart?

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