A. Teaser: Every day in our country, secondary student learning is being interrupted and curtailed. No, it’s not at the expense of the parking lots being too full. Nor is it at the expense of our new secretary of education, at least not yet. And again, it is not at the expense of illness or incompetence. It’s leggings, it’s spaghetti straps, it’s skirts that are too short, and pants that are too baggy or tight. These are the culprits. Seemingly innocent pieces of clothing in their own right, but through the eyes and prejudices of school administrators and educators nationwide, these are provocative pieces of impropriety meant to distract young boys and their adult male counterparts.
B. Thesis: Girls who violate dress code are sent home to change and made a spectacle of by school administrators and this has to stop. We must take a stand against this behavior. Public schools should implement a dress code policy that doesn’t unfairly target self-expression of the female gender by sexualizing their dress.
C. Preview: Today, I will share with you the problem of not having an equal dress code policy in public schools, the causes of the current problem, and viable solutions to improve the status quo.
TRANSITION: First, let’s look at the problem.
A. THE PROBLEM: School dress codes unfairly target females.
Main Point #1: A host of issues arise when schools have dress codes with too many shades of gray.
a. Support: According to the Edmonton Journal, from June 11, 2016: Girls have been, “coded for wearing a midthigh skirt. And it’s not like the boys are called out for what they wear. They can wear whatever they want.”
b. Support: The Calgary Herald, October 11, 2016 edition addresses these issues. The dress codes which are often ambiguous, “leave female students feeling sexualized and treated unfairly”
TRANSITION: This unfair targeting feeds body dysmorphia in young women, it makes them ashamed of their bodies, and it even feeds into rape culture.
1. Sub point #1: This bias can have damaging, lasting effects on both genders.
a. Support: An article in The Atlantic, August 13, 2015 edition furthers these points by citing, a film: “Shame: A Documentary on School Dress Code , that explores the negative impact biased rules can have on girls’ confidence and sense of self.”
b. Support: “Telling our girls that they should dress modestly or what else will boys think of them, once again puts the onus on the girl to not be used or degraded….”Girls and women in turtlenecks as well as in short shorts….are subject almost daily to commentary about their body, commentary from men and women” according to The Brattleboro Reformer, October 20, 2016. This creates an unhealthy sense of self…do I cover up? Am I too skinny, fat, curvy to wear this?
TRANSITION: Not only are these behaviors detrimental in the short run; they are also detrimental in the long run. It affects the larger, more dangerous idea of rape culture.
c. Support: According to the February 10, 2017, issue of The Gazette, “when rape culture takes hold, this violence against women is normalized and the typical repose is to…..blame the victim (what did you do, wear….)” We aren’t focused on teaching young men to not sexualize women. Instead, we are focused on teaching girls to hide their bodies for fear of the possible outcomes if they don’t.
d. Support: This sexualization of young women and girls in school begins a dangerous slippery slope that leads to normalizing the aforementioned behavior.
2. Sub point #3: Self-expression and participation is also hindered by arbitrary school dress codes.
a. Support: Support: “When girls are denied time in the classroom because their knees, shoulders or upper arms are considered inappropriate and in need of covering up, it privileges the societal sexualization of their adolescent bodies over their own right to learn according to September 10, 2015 edition of The Guardian.
3. Sub point #4: And on the other side of the coin, when girls are forced to wear skirts in a mandatory uniform environment it makes participation in activities uncomfortable and difficult.
a. Support: The January 15, 2017 edition of the Canberra Times highlights this: “There are many examples of girls and women talking about the fact they feel restricted in dresses and it prevents them from engaging in the sports and the activities that they want to.”
4. Sub point #5: Further, focus on learning is lost
a. Support: In the November 6, 2016 edition of the Washington Post this point is highlighted. It shares the story of an 11 year old whose mom was called to bring her jeans as the leggings she was wearing were in violation of school dress code as her shirt did not extend far enough down her thigh.. According to the girls mom, her daughter: “….loves school and dreams of being a doctor; that she missed 20 minutes of reading time class ‘over a couple inches of fabric’ was outrageous”
TRANSITION: Now, that I have informed you of the problem, let’s talk about the cause.
B. THE CAUSE: The purpose of dress codes is unclear
Main Point #2: There are too many different points of view that mire the issue and make it confusing.
a. Sub point #1: First, some schools argue that they are teaching all students to dress for success. If we all have to wear uniforms in life, why not start now? This ignores that not all jobs will require a specific norm for dress, and further, that we are becoming more and more relaxed about dress as time moves forward.
b. Sub point #2: However, some who still see roles as very gender specific keep this issue moving forward in a negative way.
a. Support: The New York Times, January 26, 2017 edition reported that a temporary receptionist in the UK was sent home because she wasn’t wearing heels. And, in another story published in the Belfast Telegraph, January 25, 2017, women in some occupations have been forced to dye their hair blond, reapply makeup throughout the day and wear revealing outfits.
c. Sub point #3: Additionally, people cannot separate their own prejudices from their roles.
a. Support: According to The Daily Dispatch, November 30th, 2016, “We must remember that the patriarchy usually subordinates women to men.”
b. Support: This is dangerous because again the sexualization of women and what they wear is called to blame for actions where blame should be placed elsewhere. Why don’t we teach our young men from an early age to not degrade young women, to not sexualize them?
c. Support: A 2016 law review by legal scholar, Meredith Harbach highlights the broad brush applied to women’s clothing because educators and administrators are unable to separate their own personal views with their roles as educators. Further, she notes that even some adults at schools “get distracted” by the female’s clothing due to their own prejudices.
TRANSITION: We have now seen the reasons behind this issue; let’s move on to a solution to this problem.
C. THE SOLUTION: School uniforms with equal choices or legal non-oppressive clothing allowed –(dns)
A.Main Point #3: Clearly this problem is deep rooted and multi-faceted and the answer is much deeper than a simple fix. However, until we smash the societal structures that allow “boys to be boys” and girls to be the subject of expected harassment, there are two possible solutions that can be implemented in the meantime.
1. Sub Point#1: School uniforms that focus on gender equality could work, meaning that all clothing choices are made available to both genders and no specific gender is forced to wear a specific item such as a skirt for females or trousers for males.
2. Sub point#2: If uniforms are too limiting or that is not a viable option, as long as the clothes would not be cited for public indecency or aren’t oppressive to any specific group such as inciting hate speech, etc., students should be allowed to wear them.
TRANSITION: Clearly, there are some viable options to change the status quo.
B. Pleaser: Arbitrary dress codes are interrupting and curtailing secondary education in our country both literally and figuratively. We must take a stand to keep education moving forward. That stand is not against the leggings and skirts and tank tops hanging in the closets of the elementary, middle, and high schoolers of our country. That stand must be against our own biases about the female body and its inherent sexual nature. That stand must be against clothing that doesn’t allow for self-expression and movement and participation. That stand must be against our own prejudices and fears. Because in the end, that is the culprit.
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