Opinion

Challenging the CMS dress code: why we should encourage young feminists to stand up for their rights

The other day, my mom said she was disappointed with how little feminism she sees nowadays.  A feminist myself, I argued; “It’s different now, but it’s still here.”  The culture of feminism has changed, and the focus, which is still of course aimed in equal proportion to equality in politics and in the workplace, is focused on the sexual liberation of women, especially young women.  So of course, this starts with girls.  But how are teen girls—12,13,14 year olds—supposed to be confident in their bodies and grow into strong, proud women when the institutions in which they learn tell them they shouldn’t be?

Our schools do not promote a pro-women environment.  We don’t learn about feminist movements in our history classes, even though they reflect the history of half of the school’s population.  Boys sports are inherently deemed more important than girls’, even when the girls’ teams perform better (I couldn’t attempt to count the number of times I’ve heard someone call women’s lacrosse a joke).  Just days ago at Community Middle School , aadministrators sent an email to parents, describing a new, strict dress code banning any clothes that are tight, reveal a bra strap, show the student’s midriff when she sits or raises her hand.  Even a simple bow or headband, which they say “distracts” from a girl’s face is not permitted.  The new rules are designed to cover girls up, undermine their freedom of expression, and slut shame.

It is wrong that in my culture, in my generation, being a feminist is still looked down upon.  I don’t think it’s right that I feel silenced, that I feel like when I’m in a crowded room I’ll be judged right off the bat by my peers if I, or if any other girl speaks up and says, “I’m a feminist.”  And I hate more than anything all the cop-outs and stupid reasons different people have for not supporting feminists. I’ve heard excuses ranging from “women have equality” to “I just don’t like the word,” statements that are both callous and ignorant.

Feminism isn’t some cult of scary, bra-burning lady-tyrants.  It’s women—and men—fighting sexism.  Plain and simple.  So I ask: why are so many people—politicians, peers, even our schools’ administrations—against the principles the movement stands for? Not being a feminist is like being a bystander.  You know women are undervalued, paid less, judged more, and rather than supporting a change, you sit passively as others fight.  Lack of involvement may as well be opposition.  So when an administration threatens to send girls home if their bra straps or midriffs are showing, because it’s “inappropriate” or “distracting,” you see the beginnings of female oppression, and if nobody stands behind a movement to revert back to old policies, girls are going to continue developing in an environment that tells them they should be uncomfortable with themselves simply because of their gender.

Girls wearing leggings and crop tops to school shouldn’t be a  “problem.”  Maybe if there weren’t such high societal standards for girls, fewer might feel obligated to prove they are “skinny” or “pretty” or “have a nice butt.”  Perhaps girls don’t wear leggings for attention, but rather because they’re comfortable.  It seems as though nobody wants to notice that girls don’t need protection from boys giving them unwanted attention by having a list of rules to follow, but instead need for everyone to respect them, rather than immediately judge and sexualize them, in all aspects of life.

These issues insult boys, too—the school administration doesn’t believe they are decent enough to respect their classmates.  I have plenty of guy friends who respect me for my intellect, my personality, and who I am as a human while having never made an inappropriate romantic pass at me. And it isn’t fair to them that this would come as a surprise to so many adults.

It all feeds back into the idea that within the microcosm of our community, girls are treated as if we are somehow inherently less than boys, which I certainly will never attest to.  We are viewed as if we don’t value ourselves, which couldn’t be further from true.  I like my personality because I make people laugh and smile.  I like my body because it lets me run and jump and breathe, and it gives me a brain that lets me think.  I do not measure my worth in the hem of my dress.  No girl ever should.

Feminism isn’t an idea we simply like or want; it’s a movement we need.  Whether it’s in the bubble of WW-P or the wide expanse of the rest of the world, we have to stand up for women, and that starts with young people inschools.  Yes, feminism has changed, we just have to prove that change is good, that it’s exactly what we need.

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