Thursday, May 15, 2014

How Short Is Too Short?: When Schools Police Female Bodies

A school in Nova Scotia disciplined some teenage girls for wearing "inappropriate" shorts that would cause a "distraction". Also, a girl was ejected from her prom for wearing a dress that was considered too "distracting" by the adults present. This sort of thing happens all too often in our schools. I remember when I was younger girls would be sent home for wearing shirts that did not cover their bra straps, or shorts that were deemed too short. Even on a hot summer day when you just want to be comfortable. And the rules are arbitrary, and usually not applied with any sort of consistency. It makes for a situation where it's hard to know what is acceptable and what is not. And of course what they mean by "distracting" is "distracting to the boys", because their needs are apparently the primary concern of the school.

Why is this onus put on young women in these situations and not the people who can't seem to handle seeing some teenage leg? Why are we putting girls into this situation where they have to choose between going to school and being comfortable in the classroom on a hot day? Why are the learning needs of male students put before the right for a girl to be in class? Is being reprimanded and pulled from class not more distracting than the shorts themselves? Why are underage girls being punished for going to prom in dresses that an adult is apparently incapable of not looking at inappropriately? How is the school allowed to be sexualizing girls as young as 12 or 13 in this way?

Nothing seems to be more frightening to our society than the teenage girl. What she wears and what she does or does not do with her body are an absolute fixation. For this reason we police the behaviors of young women for fear that they may step out of line and thus become undesirable to a man. In the end all of this policing isn't for the good of these girls, but for men. It's to ensure that women know that their worth is entirely dependent on how they are perceived by men. And the rules are so contradictory that it is difficult if not impossible to make sense of them all. No wonder young women today are so confused.

This is not a "dress code", this is a way of punishing girls bodies and making them ashamed. Why are we catering to views that encourage young men to believe that if a girl is dressed a certain way that she is "asking for it" or deserves punishment? Its high time that young men are taught that they are responsible for themselves, and that young women are not obliged to somehow regulate their sexual desires. How is this sort of thing any different than the Burqa or Niqab that people rail on about as being oppressive?

Either way it is the same message. Young women had better beware. If you do anything to "distract" the boys (because their needs are more important than yours) you will be publicly shamed and forced to accommodate them. Why are we telling boys that it's okay to treat young women this way? Instead of punishing girls we should be teaching all students to be respectful of their classmates regardless of what they are wearing.  A pair of shorts, or a prom dress is not an invitation.

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1 comment:

  1. Very important topic and post here. I gave a talk about this recently and will write about it on my blog shortly. We need to react, or we will be the new Afghanistan in a matter of years!!!