Redressing the MHS dress code

Kaitlyn Lucey, Copy Editor

Dress codes are nothing new, and they permeate society on a nationwide basis, being stated in schools’ rule books across the nation. Massapequa High School’s own code, according to the Code of Conduct, states that “A student’s dress, grooming and appearance… shall not disrupt or interfere with the educational process.”  But is the enforcement of the dress code doing just that?

Recently, in multiple movements around the country, young high school students have spoken up against the sexist agenda that dress codes may unintentionally contribute to in an academic environment.

For example, almost one hundred students of Tottenville High School in Staten Island were given detention in September of 2014 because they defied the new “Dress for Success!” dress code. According to the New York Post, this updated code, predicated by the new principal, banned tank tops, short-shorts, miniskirts, leggings, headbands, halter tops, sweatpants, hats, and hooded sweatshirts. Tottenville students retaliated by ignoring the rules of the new code, and by refusing to change or cover up their clothing.  School administrators from Tottenville High School have stated that “students have the right to determine their own dress except where such dress creates a distraction, is dangerous or interferes with the learning and teaching process.”

The very title of this updated dress code suggests that female students in particular can only attain academic achievement if they dress in a very specific manner.  The majority of the guidelines are tailored directly to the task of limiting young women’s fashion choices for the purpose of eliminating any component that could lead to a distracting environment.

These rules dictating what female students may wear are ultra-specific while only broad specifications are put in place for the male portion of the student body to obey.

But what governs this so-called “distraction?”

MHS students may be able to relate to being required to abide to standard dress code rules. Rules such as not wearing shorts that extend to less than “fingertip length” and prohibiting girls from wearing spaghetti-strap tank tops are often questioned by the students.

The catch? MHS’s dress code doesn’t specifically mention either of these two relatively common offenses. Still, students, most notably girls, are expected to follow these unwritten rules.

School dress codes often use the excuse that some clothing choices — especially those of female students — cause a distraction or interfere with the learning process teaches students. Consequently, this implies that other individuals’ learning experiences are more important than their own academic career.

Many students and people involved in the academic community think that female students are more targeted than male students when it comes to their dress. Placing so much emphasis on female students’ wardrobe choices gives the impression that it is their responsibility to make certain male students and faculty are not distracted by them.  Meanwhile, little stress is placed on male students’ duty to make sure female students and staff are not distracted.

“There should be a part of the dress code that makes boys get in trouble for showing their underwear if I can’t show my shoulder,” sophomore Shannon Brust said.  

However, there is a mention of underwear in the dress code. According to the MHS Code of Conduct, students should “Ensure that underwear and midriffs are completely covered with outer clothing.” Although the dress code does mention underwear, male students are seldom targeted for exposed underwear, as opposed to female students, who are called out upon often for their violations of the dress code. This widespread belief that boys are less targeted when it comes to dress code enforcement is perhaps grounded in societal mistreatment and deep-seated anti-female sentiments.

For example, last year, a male student would frequently wear clothing to a class we shared that, according to the Code of Conduct, encouraged “violent activities,” such as gambling, prostitution, and weapon usage. This class was later in the day, so logically, he should have been reprimanded and obligated to change into more appropriate clothing by then. However, he consistently wore the contravening shirts throughout the academic year.  By contrast, just a few weeks ago, I witnessed a female student being publicly called out by an administrator for her tank top in front of her peers.

This societal stigma against female dress is not only sexist, but harmful. Throughout their adolescence and into their adulthood, women are continually held responsible for other people’s hormones and actions, perpetuating rape culture. Placing the blame on and sexualizing young female students suggests that the way they dress and look, not the way they think, controls their educational experience and, essentially, life.

This gender inequality is present nationwide. If the dress code of an academic institution is not equally enforced among genders, and if female students are subject to punishment to unwritten rules, the emotional and mental well-being of future adults is at stake.

That is not to say that schools should do away with the whole concept of dress codes, even if it is, at this point, flawed and sexist.  Students of any gender should be advised to use reasonable discretion when choosing their outfit for the day, as this demonstrates students’ self-respect for their own body.

“The dress code is pretty clear; no undergarments [should be shown] so the guys who pull their pants down are made to them pull them up if their underwear is showing. The same thing [goes] with bra straps — if they’re showing, we address it,” Dean of Students Mr. Patrick Howard said.

“Sometimes there are things you just can’t wear, and I say this every year, in a summary, dress for success.”

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