Students Protest Sexist Dress Codes By Wearing Scarlet Letters

by Holiday Black

Students in Charleston, South Carolina are attaching letter As to their clothing to protest sexist dress codes at their school. Their protest comes in tandem with those of other girls across the country, who are starting to ask questions like, “Why are schools calling our bodies ‘distractions,’, instead of calling on boys to treat our bodies with respect?” It seems like these policies are ripe with double-standards.

Peyton Corder, a junior, pointed out that not only is the code’s iron fist stronger towards girls than boys, but that it is particularly harsh towards bigger girls. According to The Post and Courier, Corder was approached by a guidance counselor, who told her, “If you’re a larger girl, wear a longer skirt so your butt doesn’t show,” causing her to break into tears. “I was already stressed because I was missing Spanish and thought I was in trouble,” she told The Post and Courier

The “A” refers to part of their slogan, “Not A Distraction,” and the letter refers to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter, which tells the story of Hester Prynne, who is forced to wear a scarlet “A” on her clothing after being found guilty of adultery. There is something to be said for the humiliation that comes with being told that what you are wearing is not “appropriate,” in a public space like a school. It can make one feel like their presence isn’t “appropriate,” or that they aren’t wanted.

It also seems that some of the dress-code enforcement tactics are unnecessarily invasive. Caroline Hamrick, a 10th grader told The Post and Courier about a time when she was forced to change into other clothes:

“My midriff was covered and I was within dress code, but they really wanted to have me change, so they asked me to raise my arms all the way up. And of course you could see my midriff once I raised my arms, but I was like, ‘Still, I’m not like this all the time.’ And she said, ‘Well, I can see your bra,’ and she couldn’t see my bra, so she leaned down and looked up my shirt and made me extremely uncomfortable and said, ‘There, I can see your bra.’”

It seems that these extreme efforts to ensure that everyone is within dress code could maybe be re-directed to other things…like…I don’t know…educating students?

As someone who was once a student at a public high school, it’s exciting to see that young girls feel empowered to speak out about the gender bias in dress codes. Respecting women’s bodies means not telling them where or when those bodies are acceptable. It means not telling them under what conditions their bodies are permitted to enter a room or a school or to leave their apartment. Dress codes more or less seem to be used as a way to remind girls to stay in the lines, to contain themselves and to keep quiet.

Hopefully boys and yes, male teachers, can be taught that it’s just simply not okay to ogle female students. Or to harass them, for that matter. The only reason why a girl’s upper thigh would be distracting is if you’re a dude with a self-control problem. Maybe creating a more professional environment in schools means telling men and boys to behave in a professional manner, as opposed to policing and shaming women and girls. 

Images: Facebook/Easy A, Facebook/Peyton Corder

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