Many of my fellow feminists are extremely indignant about all dress codes, arguing that they are objectifying and that compliance to them often requires a lot more of women than men. But I haven’t always had a bone to pick with dress codes. I went to a Catholic school that demanded my wardrobe consist of navy tartan jumpers, white blouses, and matte black Mary Janes. I didn’t have much of an issue with being told what to wear. I don’t have much of an issue with places of employment and worship requiring a dress code. I do, however, have an issue with dress codes in public schools.
I don’t have an issue with dress codes, so long as they are enacted with good reason. “It distracts the boys” is not a good enough reason. “It distracts the male teachers” is much worse. I get dress codes for the sake of professionalism. I get it when a dress code is in place to uphold a standard of service or modesty. When a dress code is maintained for the sake of keeping customers and clients comfortable in a business setting, it does not demand that women buy new clothes or hide their body for the sake of the men around them. These dress codes — the ones in place for the good of all, not just the men involved — are an acceptable form of clothing regulation. But when a dress code is in place to make sure that the education of men remains intact because female bodies are “distracting,” it becomes a whole other animal.
Dress codes, when applied only to women, go beyond regulating behavior and maintaining innocence. When a dress code restricts women’s bodily freedom, it becomes a tool to shame women for loving their bodies. Dress codes that prohibit spaghetti straps tell women that their shoulders need to be covered because they can be construed as sexual. Dress codes that outlaw crop tops tell young women that their stomachs are something to be ashamed of. The issue with oversexualizing women and then telling them to hide their bodies is that it discourages a healthy relationship with sex and with one’s body. When you’re told, over and over again, that your body needs to be covered, you begin to believe that it’s a bad thing. You begin to believe that the sexuality arbitrarily assigned to your ribcage and knees is a bad thing.
Telling women that they need to cover up instead of teaching men to treat women (and their bodies) with respect contributes to a culture where the outfit of the victim has bearing on a rape case. Telling women that their bodies are not something to flaunt teaches self-hatred. Telling women that wearing “slutty” clothes makes them less of a person creates a culture where women are shamed for having and enjoying sex — where women are shamed for being human. Women should be told to wear whatever they damn well please. Women should be encouraged to wear whatever makes them feel good about their bodies, not slut-shamed for it.
So no, I don’t have an issue with Target requiring their employees to wear red and khaki. No, I don’t have a problem with the choirs here at Concordia being asked to wear robes. No, I don’t have an issue with my sister’s third grade teacher asking that her students wear closed-toed shoes to school. What I do have an issue with is when young women — specifically middle and high school aged girls — are scolded for wearing what is trendy or what makes them feel good about themselves. What I am not okay with is when girls are told to hide their bodies
Natalie Dulka is a sophomore English Writing and Theatre Art double major from Minneapolis, MN. She keeps herself occupied by holding the position of Chief Executive Officer of Feminism Club, being involved with the theater, and writing plays. Her passions include sarcasm, wool socks, and equality.