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Dress Code. Let's Talk About it.

Updated: Jul 12, 2023

Sexist policies and their consequences.

By: Ana Palacios

"Of all things you wear, your expression is the most important." Janet Lane


A word often met with mystified expressions when asked how to look it. Appropriate for where, would be the most fitting question, as it seems most femminine presenting people must have highly adaptable wardrobes, to dress both according to their own creative desires and appropriately; cautious to adhere to strict dress codes. The dress code, as generally defined, is a set of rules and regulations set specifically regarding clothing, as seen throughout various establishments including school, the workplace and most recently seen in amusement parks (at least you may get a free princess t-shirt). Whilst some may deem dress codes indispensable for a ‘comfortable’ working and schooling environment, what is there to be said about scrutinizing younger and younger feminine presenting people for the way they look and may be perceived by men.

This ‘code’ of wear has prevailed in society, and is well documented in the ancient Roman era. Utilized as an indicator for status: both societal and specifically marital. As it seems, clothing has always been an indicator of who you are in society, and more importantly, how you should be treated. Translated to modernity, dress codes are used to police feminine presenting people’s bodies all for the sake of propriety, and scarcely inspect masculine presenting people’s etiquette. A code that is inherently sexist, yet; how is it not? In a culture where a plethora of sumptuary laws and unspoken codes, strictly enforced, are used to regulate feminine presenting people.

From a young age most of us are used to following rules, most universally we are told to treat others as we want to be treated. Yet; young feminine presenting people learn to follow an unspoken set of rules, a code of conduct and wear, so as to exist appropriately. Young femening presenting people are already burdened with their perceptions by others, and made liable for the consequences. When our attire is considered disruptive to the environment, we are punished, even by the adults meant to protect us. In school, femminine presenting people will be discreetly called to the office and told their shirt is “too revealing,” or even “seductive,” causing them to miss time meant to be spent on their education. This putative decision contains a dynamic in which adults objectify and accuse a young feminine presenting people of being inherently sexual: sexualizing a body young feminine presenting people may not even recognize as sexual, and much less their classmates. Who’s confort are we advocating for?

Once we have been made to change our clothing to pander to men and our education impeded, we are made to go through the humiliation of wearing ill-fitting clothes to “cover up,” without explanation. Of course, other than the trepidation of waking up in men and boys, that ‘uncontrollable sexual impulse,’ which femining presenting people are made responsible for placating and preventing. What message is a dress code sending to girls? That being ‘appropriate,’ and ‘not distracting their classmates,’ is more important than their education? Why are girls held responsible for their perception when they dress, however they do? Rape culture invades us placidly; in this culture, rape is prevasive and normalized.

Rape culture perpetuates the belief that victims of sexual violence are responsible for their own victimization. By policing young girls' bodies, labeling them as a distraction for others, usually to young boys and men, is indicative of a culture that weaponies our bodies against us: tells us we are to blame. Unlike the golden rule, dress codes are subjective to our body types. As feminine presenting people, our bodies are rapidly attuned to society's perceptions of ethnic bodies, along with the prejudices. This usually means those with curvier, fuller, or “different” bodies are penalized more often for what they wear, even for a simple t-shirt; but why? The answer may lie on the onset fetization of ethnic bodies, different stereotypes imposed on us, resulting in tangible acts of violence, like the 2021 Atlanta shooting, fatal for asian working women.

If policing young women's bodies in an intellectual space in order to accommodate men is demonstrably symptomatic of a culture that holds mens confront in a higher regard than women's basic right to education, then what is it? Do we really believe that girls outwardly presenting as “appropriate” has any space in our education system? What kind of message are we sending to young girls about their bodies, which are used against them to penalise our bodies, having adults, those meant to guide and protect us, objectify us?


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