Sometimes a small change can make a massive difference. Today I found out my school district changed its dress code policy. What might look like minor language alterations actually add up to a huge development.
Last year my 13-year-old daughter was objectified, mortified and singled out due to her size (tall) and gender. First we were told girls couldn’t wear yoga pants because the boys can’t control themselves. Then various school administrators gave my daughter two dress code violations stating that her shorts were too short. Frustrated and embarrassed by what she had to wear the rest of the day my daughter wrote an email to the principal expressing her thoughts on the dress code. The principal wrote back that it was out of her hands as she was just following district policy (LAME).
I was livid and fed up with the policy and its implementation. I wrote a tongue-in-cheek letter to the principal inviting her to take my daughter shopping. The letter struck a chord, for better or worse, with so many. I received hundreds of notes from women and girls thanking me for expressing their frustration. I also received loads of well-meaning folks telling me I was raising a slut and a snowflake. Everyone is entitled to their opinion although I respectfully disagreed.
The dress code singles out girls. Although tall and overweight girls are disproportionately more likely to be cited. The not-so-subtle message of the dress code is that girls’ bodies are a distraction and girls need to be responsible for making boys comfortable. In the age of #MeToo it is clear that we need to be sending different messages to both the boys and the girls.
This year my daughter entered high school where miraculously the dress code isn’t enforced much. Life went on. However, I just spotted an understated post on the middle school Facebook page that simply says, “Dress Code approved 1/16/2018.” I clicked on the link and immediately smiled from ear to ear.
The new dress code states that kids must wear a shirt, pant, shorts or a skirt, and shoes. No one can wear clothing with profanity, violent images, any illegal item or hate speech. That’s pretty much it.
The best part of the new policy actually doesn’t relate to the dress code, but to how it can be enforced. School staff may NOT publicly call out a student for attire. Staff may NOT require students to bend, kneel or measure skirts or straps. And most important, school staff may NOT accuse students of distracting other students with their clothing. When I read that part I became teary from I place I didn’t know was still hurting. This is a huge advancement and a win for all the kids in the district.
I don’t think my letters to and about the principal had any influence over this policy. But I do think that our collective voice across the country is being heard. This policy shift may seem small and insignificant. But right now I feel hopeful, and that’s not nothing.
Read Catherine Pearlman's original letter to the school principal in this TODAY Parenting Team post.
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