KISD Dress Code Distracts Me From My Education

KISD Dress Code Distracts Me From My Education

Abby Tow, Staff Writer

I was thirteen.

My middle school had entered for some strange reason a year of strict dress code policy wherein the slightest violation landed an offender in the office. Note: to be considered an offender, she must have had some bit of her shoulder showing, some neckline too deep, some length of exposed thigh too long.

I was thirteen.

At this point boys didn’t even talk to girls. Most were afraid of us. Most were nervous around us. They were learning the ways in which boys in America are to treat girls, how men in America are to treat women. The girls were also learning. This was a good two years after the puberty seminars, the first tampons purchased, the first training bras thrown away for real ones. We were also learning the ways in which girls are to be treated by boys in America, how we were to treat our own bodies.

I was thirteen.

It was the day of STAAR Testing. We knew this was the day where we would show everyone what we’d learned in our time in the public education system. We knew it would be a long day of sitting in one seat and not moving and that we’d perform best if we were comfortable. We wore our leggings, almost all of us covering our butts with the hems of our t-shirts.

We were thirteen.

The counselor approached me at my locker as I was putting away my backpack. She looked at me as if to say, I’m sorry. But instead said, “Please stand straight up,” so she could check to see if my cardigan covered in cat print would cover me. Mid-thigh was what the books enforced, but that was never really the case. There was always a way to make us wrong. They lined up girls outside of classrooms, none of the boys with them, and had them sent one by one to the office. They were sent to be written up as a violator of dress code and then to be returned to class wearing the baggy red basketball shorts all girls whose bodies were too much of a distraction for everyone else were forced to wear.

We were thirteen, and on that day, we learned that our bodies were war zones and always would be.

There is the backstory. Every girl has one these days: when she was sent to the front of the class for wearing a tank top in seventh grade, when she was called out in front of her crush and embarrassed forever for a shirt and leggings combo that didn’t sit right with administration, so on and so forth.

I think what I learned the most on that day of standardized testing was not anything to do with math or reading. Instead, I learned that this was my right of passage: to be told my tiny, 13-year-old body was something I was to be punished for and something I should be continuously apologizing for by how I dress it. The fact is, by teaching our girls at such a young age (or any age at that matter) that their bodies are something they do not own, we are giving boys power over things they shouldn’t own.

Now, I understand that teachers have to follow the rules of the district to keep their jobs. This is important. If you as an educator decide to dress code a student, I suppose you have the legal right to do that in a private, non-humiliating way that does not endanger the education of the student you dress code.

But listen clearly. If, as an educator, you choose to target girls by embarrassing them in your classroom through publicly reprimanding them for dressing out of the rules because of their shoulders, thighs, cleavages, or anything along those lines, you are teaching herl that she is inherently a problem by existing.

You are telling me, thirteen years old, coming to school in leggings and a big t-shirt, that I am an object even when I choose not be one. You are teaching me that I have no agency and no autonomy of my body.

If there are boys in that classroom, by sending me out of class in front of everyone and into a half-hour ordeal of punishment for my body, you are teaching every boy in that room that their education comes before mine.

You are claiming that my loss of classroom time is less important than a boy’s.

You are prioritizing boys over girls in your classroom.

Nowhere in our district handbook does it say you are to publicly humiliate your girl students. But I’m sure somewhere it mentions how as an educator you are to create a safe classroom free of fear. By dress coding me in such an embarrassing manner, you are creating a power imbalance in your classroom that is, frankly, very, very distracting to my education.  

That power imbalance carries out into the real world. And I don’t think the fact that 1 in 6 women in America will be victims of attempted or completed rape is unrelated to that imbalance.

How dare you teach your boys that they are some kind of animals, some kind of primal apes unable to restrain themselves of ownership over my body?

You teach me that I am meat. You teach the boys that are carnivores and nothing better.

Keller ISD is an exemplary district. I love it. I really do. But because of my education here, girls like me who have been made to feel dirty for a body we did not choose have had to teach ourselves and each other that we are owners of our own bodies, that we are more than victims, and that we are worth more than what a dress code policy tells us we are. We have sat through the assemblies where the person on stage tells an auditorium that the boys are doing great with dress code and to keep up the good work but that the girls are still struggling to follow the guidelines especially as the weather gets warmer. (You know, summer temps, when people wear shorts and tank tops and other scandalous garments.)

Teachers: if you want to dress code me for my leggings, do it. It is part of you job.

But as a young woman, I also have a job. My job is to unlearn all of the rhetoric I have been fed about my body by this education system. By turning my school day into a chapter from The Scarlet Letter you are only reminding me of what I already know: that I am an object before I am a person. You aren’t teaching me anything new, and I’m almost certain that’s your job.

Now, to what matters.

Girls: I am sorry if you have ever been made to feel embarrassed, alone, mocked, violated, sexualized, objectified, or as if you are disadvantaged in your education because you existed comfortably in your own body. There are ways to unlearn the self-hate. Do not apologize for your body to anyone. You exist in a system that wants you to feel as if you have no power over yourself. You can comply and not apologize. You can be dress coded and not apologize. You can exist and not apologize. There is power in that.

There are things girls learn on our own in this world. So don’t worry about it, high school, we’ll figure this one out.

It wouldn’t be the first time.


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