Monday, June 8, 2015

The Dress Code Conundrum

There has been a lot of talk recently about high school dress codes, particularly when they are applied to girls. Many girls have protested being asked to change clothes when wearing clothes that expose the shoulder, midriff, or too much leg. They say that schools have no right to tell them how to dress, and even that dress codes contribute to demeaning and sexualizing young women. Many have claimed that these dress codes are enforced unequally, and thus they should be allowed to get away with the same things that they have seen others get away with.

First let's take a look at the line of reasoning that claims: "because I saw someone else dress like this, I should be able to as well without getting in trouble." To really be able to analyze this argument we need to remove the specifics of the situation and replace them with generalities, so here is the basic structure of this argument: Person A says that doing action B is wrong. Person C did action B and Person A didn't punish them for it. Therefore, I (Person D) can do action B and not be punished by Person A. Now let's substitute a few scenarios in this argument. The School says that wearing a sleeveless shirt is wrong. Susan wore a sleeveless shirt and the School didn't punish her. Therefore, I can wear a sleeveless shirt and not be punished by the School. Now let's contrast this with a different scenario. The police say that speeding is wrong. Joe was speeding and the police did not punish him. Therefore, I should be able to speed without being punished by the police. Do you see how that argument doesn't really make sense? Just because someone else got away with something doesn't mean you get a free pass as well. If you still don't buy it, how would you like a more extreme example? The government says that murder is wrong. O.J. Simpson murdered someone and the government didn't punish him. Therefore, I should be able to murder someone and not be punished by the government.

Next let us look at the argument that dress codes demean and sexualize young women. This argument at first seems to hold some water. However, if you review several dress codes you will find that the same restrictions apply to both genders. Generally, both young men and women are required to wear sleeves, not expose their midriff, and wear shorts that are at least mid thigh length. There is no inequality, so if there is sexualizing going on it is being done equally. Many, however, point to the reason that administrators give when asking a girl to change into something more appropriate as an indication that there is something wrong. This reason is often that the girl's attire is distracting, to which they respond that if young men are so distracted by their dress that they are failing classes, then the young men are the ones with the problem. However, both sides have a point in this issue. Young men have raging hormones that naturally make them attracted to, and often distracted by, a pretty girl. However, young men need to be able to control these hormones. However, inappropriate dress doesn't only distract the men in the class room.

Inappropriate attire can distract from the environment that school and it's administrators are trying to create. These people have gone through the trouble of providing you with some of the best resources available, at little or no cost to you, so that you can have the best education possible. All they ask in return is that you help maintain the atmosphere of learning they have created by showing a little respect, and dressing in the barest minimum standards of professionalism. School is not there for your personal fashion show, nor is it a day at the beach, and so you are expected to not dress like it is. Again, all they ask is the barest minimum standards of professional dress. At their core, dress codes are not about sexuality, they are about professionalism.

Finally to those who say that schools have no right to tell you how to dress, well, actually they do. Remember when you were registering to begin school and some counselor or teacher handed you a stack of papers you needed to sign? I guarantee you that on one of these pieces of paperwork it said something like this: "I have read and agree to the school's dress code." Who knows? You may have even signed such a paper at the beginning of each year, but I guarantee you that you signed it. So you may not ever remember such an action, chances are that you never even read the dress code, but because you signed that paper they can hold you to it. If you wanted to protest something you felt was unfair in the dress code, you should have done it before you signed, not after. But for know all the school has to do is produce that piece of paper with your signature on it, and they can hold you to every little thing in that dress code.

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