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Ban Lifted on Male Earrings in Jefferson County

Ban Lifted on Male Earrings in Jefferson County

The Southern Poverty Law Center celebrated another victory last week as the Jefferson County Board of Education in Alabama voted to lift the ban on male earrings. The policy violated students’ Title IX rights because it discriminated against students on the basis of sex. The Board of Education repealed the policy for these reasons, which is a huge victory for students’ rights.

The whole process started on April 25 when the Southern Poverty Law Center sent a letter to the school board on behalf of Hunter Mahaffey, a student at Hueytown High School. Having just had his ears pierced, he was told that earrings were for females only and forced to remove them. In a recent article from the Southern Poverty Law Center, Mahaffey commented on the overturned policy.

He said, “I’m really happy to get my ears pierced again and keep them pierced this time. I felt discriminated against when the school made me remove my earrings just because I’m a guy. It’s a relief that the school board made the right decision by lifting the ban. Now students have more freedom and equality.”

This is not only an important victory for male students, but for other marginalized groups, too. Telling young men that they may not wear jewelry typically meant for female students reinforces our society’s rigid notions of gender and sexuality. By making it inappropriate for male students to wear earrings because it is something only girls should do, the school board was teaching students at a young age that doing anything outside of our rigid gender norms is inappropriate. This reinforcement of typical gender roles tells young men that it’s not okay to wear something a girl would typically wear because it would not be what we consider masculine. Forcing students into those gender norms is unfair and dangerous to everyone involved.

Sam Wolf, attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, said, “This is about more than an ability to wear an item of jewelry. By lifting this ban, the district has taken a step away from perpetuating harmful gender stereotypes that to be acceptable, males must look and act a specific way. Federal law protects students’ right to be free from unwarranted sex discrimination, including in dress codes.”

Most schools have dress codes for various reasons. Proponents of dress codes say that they minimize distractions in the classroom by not allowing students to wear colors or symbols associated with gangs and by not allowing students to show too much skin. Still others say that dress codes and uniforms can prevent students who come from low income families from feeling out of place among their peers who wear the latest, most expensive trends and, as such, can also reduce instances of bullying.

However, many dress codes are unfair, either because the policies themselves or the enforcement of those policies discriminate against students based on gender, sexuality, body type and a number of other factors. Schools and school boards spend a good deal of time deciding on dress codes that work for the majority of the school’s population, but every once in a while it takes a student to bring about change to an unfair policy. In this case, it is a major victory for students’ rights.

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Photo Credit: Yogendra174

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60 comments

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11:28PM PDT on Sep 8, 2012

Cathy C.: That's a good one!
But seriously. A huge victory? Earrings have been worn by men a long time (sailors, pirates, colonizers), make-up was very masculine in the 1700s. Looking to other than white cultures, jewelry, make-up, tattoos and other body enhancement are well-known among those.
How about some real victories: Free education for all, free health care for all, equal pay for equal work, a non-sexist society, just to mention a few that comes to mind.

11:58PM PDT on Jul 4, 2012

I'm surprised at a couple of the hostile, defensive, punitive remarks here. We have basically the same bodies we've had for many thousands of years; we still need basically the same nutrition; our social and family needs have not particularly changed; and people of both genders have always liked to adorn themselves in various ways. Let's let people be themselves, no matter what their ages.

3:01PM PDT on Jul 3, 2012

A big yes !

4:13AM PDT on Jul 3, 2012

What's next? Allowing 6 year old students to sport tattoos? Navel, lip, labia, and penis piercings?

8:16AM PDT on Jul 2, 2012

Who cares!?
It is so strange that anyone would waste time creating a ban and working to stop this behavior, which is quite normal in many quarters, when there are SO MANY OTHER issues that might better be focused on.
Jeez/..

6:21AM PDT on Jul 2, 2012

Piercings in any form,are a grotesque throwback,to ancient tribal days of development. We all should be moving forward,NOT backward!!!

6:12AM PDT on Jul 2, 2012

good

10:49PM PDT on Jul 1, 2012

When I was 31 years old I went ahead and got my left ear pierced. I still wear an earring in that ear 21 years later, and since I design jewelry for a living, regularly make and wear different ones. I have occasionally had uptight macho types make comments about them, maybe because I usually wear one that dangles rather than a stud, but I usually just laugh at them, since I spent eighteen years living in Detroit, and am pretty hard to intimidate...

8:41PM PDT on Jul 1, 2012

I honestly had no idea anyone prohibited boys or men from wearing earrings anymore. Gee, I thought we left that controversy behind in the early 80s.

8:22PM PDT on Jul 1, 2012

Just let the kid wear his earrings if he wants to! Honestly, there's nothing wrong with it, and there are far more important things for the school to worry about like teaching.

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