Are Schools Really Still Forcing Girls to Wear Skirts?

It’s 2019, but you wouldn’t know it based on some sexist and racist school dress codes. From girls being forced by school administrators to cover their nipples with Band-Aids to gendered rules about who can or must wear skirts, dress codes remain rooted in harmful stereotypes. They objectify young women, privilege some cultures over others and shame students whose gender expression doesn’t adhere to traditional norms.

In March, a federal judge ruled that Charter Day School in North Carolina can no longer require girls to wear skirts instead of pants or shorts. Three years prior, the ACLU had filed a suit on behalf of three students who said the school’s dress code was discriminatory. According to The Washington Post, in an email to one of the student’s parents, a school leader defended the policy as necessary to “preserve chivalry and respect among young women and men.” Perhaps he should pay more attention to the constitutional protections afforded his students than to the archaic morals of knighthood.

The ruling against Charter Day School is a win for the school’s female students, who now can be as comfortable and mobile as their male classmates. But it’s hard to believe we’re still fighting dress code battles at all.

When school leaders talk about dress codes, words like “safety” and “respect” often find their way into the conversation. And, after all, who wouldn’t want students to be safe and respectful of each other? The problem is dress codes that haven’t been carefully designed with all students in mind can end up making a school less safe and respectful.

That’s why the Oregon National Organization for Women decided to create a model dress code that ensures all students are truly safe and respected. NOW’s approach aims to prevent “marginalization or oppression of any group based on race, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, household income, gender identity or cultural observance,” according to the code.

Instead of labeling students’ natural bodies and chosen expression as problematic, NOW’s dress code empowers students to be comfortable and express themselves freely without fear of shaming. It also reshapes the conversation around distractions. Is a skinny shoulder strap distracting you? It’s your responsibility to deal with it internally rather than dictating that someone wear different clothing. The dress code also addresses real threats to student safety, such as clothing advocating violence or the use of alcohol or drugs.

Charter Day School chose to stand by its discriminatory policies, but schools have better options. Regular reviews of dress codes can ensure outdated rules are replaced with better models. And, if an outdated dress code gets called out by students or parents, it can be an opportunity for community-driven change.

Schools should be committed to providing the most inclusive, equitable learning environment — far from an easy task in a society that’s still rife with inequity and bias. But dress codes are simple to fix, and there’s no excuse for schools to continue enforcing rules that harm students.

Image credit: Getty Images

60 comments

Beth L
Alice L22 days ago

Thanks for posting

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Olivia H
Olivia H23 days ago

thanks

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Ben O
Ben Oscarsito25 days ago

Give me a break!

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Elaine W
Elaine W26 days ago

An uneducated practice has become a very silly rule.

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Sarah A
Sarah A29 days ago

thanks

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Richard Anonymous
Richard Anonymousabout a month ago

Continuing to require girls to wear Catholic school girl miniskirts is outrageous given that such outfits have become sexualized as sexplay costumes. This seems especially ridiculous for religious schools.

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Leo C
Leo Custerabout a month ago

Thank you for posting!

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Leo Custer
Leo Custerabout a month ago

Thank you for sharing!

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Leo C
Leo Custerabout a month ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Coo R
Coo Rabout a month ago

Talks about regressive. These morons are actually making it a crime to be female.

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