A letter to my daughter’s school, and anyone else who is shaming girls for what they wear

Hi friends, since many of you were curious about the letter I wrote regarding the recent dress code and girl shaming incidents at the kid’s school, here is the letter, with identifying information removed.  Thanks to the friends that took a look and provided input on my draft. Here’s hoping it does some good, doesn’t cause any trouble for the kid, and doesn’t just get me labeled as the crazy feminist parent.

Principal (name removed),

In the likely case that you share my perspective on this topic, I am sending this letter for you to use as evidence that parents support a positive school environment for both girls and boys. Hopefully this letter will serve as a contrast to the parental perspective that was previously communicated to administration, and to me by (teacher name removed), as described below.

I’d like to express concerns that I have regarding the recent implementation of a stricter dress code than is reflected in the handbook, as well as concerns I have about the reasons for implementation of that stricter dress code that have been communicated to our sixth grade girls, and to parents. I will preface this by saying that, in theory, I have no problem with a dress code, and have made sure that my daughter has followed the dress code, as reflected in the (school name removed) handbook, to a T.

I’ll start with my initial concern, which is that girls are now apparently required to wear shorts that are longer than “fingertip length”. I don’t necessarily have a problem with this; however, it’s never been a rule in the past 5 years my daughter has been a student at (school name removed). The Student-Parent handbook that we all received, went over with our children, and signed at the beginning of the year states the following regarding revealing dress code:

“Revealing clothing (cropped tops, short shorts, oversized tank tops, spaghetti straps/strapless dress, or swimsuits) is prohibited. Underwear may not be visible.”

I see that it specifically says no short shorts, but I don’t see anything in the dress code rules requiring that shorts be longer than fingertip length. If longer than fingertip length shorts are the rule, or if there are any other specific requirements regarding dress, they should be stated in the dress code part of the handbook so that when we are buying school clothes for our kids we can take those requirements into consideration. As the mother of an athletic girl with a tiny waist, long legs and long arms, I can tell you, shorts that reach her fingertips are VERY hard to find. When we went shopping for shorts after she got in trouble for dress code violations (for the first time ever) a few weeks ago, it took us several hours and trying on every pair of shorts in Old Navy to find something that would reach to her fingertips, and even then, it was only when I took out the cuffs on the shorts that they were BARELY as long as her fingertips. I can’t imagine my daughter is the only one with this “problem”, given the growth spurts that all of the girls are going through right now.

The bigger concern that I have, though, is what I perceive to be the reason that there has been a recent enforcement of a stricter dress code. My daughter, and a few of her 6th grade friends, have told me that (teacher name removed) recently gave them a talking-to regarding dress. Apparently the boys were told to go to the library, so that the girls could go to the book exchange. However, my understanding is that the girls weren’t taken to the book exchange. Instead (teacher name removed) sat them down in the auditorium and had a talk with them about appropriate dress, and included something to the effect of “boys are starting to like girls at this age, you need to be sure you aren’t doing or wearing anything to make the boys feel uncomfortable.” I was curious about the context of this, as I thought she surely couldn’t have meant what I think she meant by it, and I intended to ask (teacher name removed) about it. But before I had a chance to ask her, she sent an email on Friday, which stated:

“Student’s shorts need to be longer than the length of their finger tips when their arms are extended and need to wear appropriate tops that do not allow undergarments to show. The students were just reminded about this a week ago. Please help us support a productive learning environment with out the clothing distractions.”

So at that point, I emailed (teacher name removed) asking her to explain why the dress code had changed from what is in the handbook, and what she meant by “clothing distractions”. This is the response I received:

“Sorry forgot to address your whole question, clothing distractions comment was based on a parent’s concern that felt their boy was being distracted by the way the girls are dressing.

She felt that it was a form of sexual harassment thus the purpose of us having another discussion on appropriate school attire. It is hard to keep everyone happy”

What was said to the girls in the auditorium and the above email response are both HUGE concerns for me.

That a parent would go so far as to classify our sixth grade girls as sexual harassers because her son can’t keep focused in school is unbelievable to me. But it is made far worse by the fact that the school would support such a sexist and insulting statement about our girls by accommodating that parent and implementing a stricter dress code in order to satisfy her. I have a huge problem with the school instructing our girls that they need bear the responsibility of keeping boys comfortable and focused.

Why is it the girl’s responsibility to make sure the boys don’t feel or act on something they shouldn’t? It should not be the burden of the sixth grade girls, or girls of any age, to ensure that boys are not distracted, or made to feel uncomfortable, by their dress.

By doing this, our girls are essentially being taught at a young and impressionable age that if a boy is distracted by them, or leers at them, or harasses them, or assaults them, and they happen to have been wearing shorts or a tank top or have a bra strap showing, that its their own fault for dressing inappropriately. Perhaps the leap from distraction to assault seems extreme, we are talking about sixth graders after all, but our kids are learning behaviors now that shape who they will become as teenagers and adults. Everything they are taught right now, particularly by trusted adults such as teachers and parents, influences what kind of adult they will grow into.

Our girls should be taught that they are responsible for their own bodies, actions, and behavior; not that they are responsible for the thoughts, actions, or behavior of their male classmates.

Our boys should be taught that they are responsible for their own behavior; that it is their own responsibility to keep from being distracted by girls, that it is their own responsibility to control their gaze. Boys should be taught that it is their own responsibility to focus on their schoolwork, rather than on the few inches of visible leg between a girl’s knee and the bottom of her shorts.

I don’t believe that attempting to provide a distraction free learning environment for boys through dress code for girls is the answer to the problem at hand, as dress code can’t solve the problem of sexism. The best kind of dress code, in my opinion, is one that is clearly stated, that treats boys and girls fairly, and levels the playing field by taking the “cool factor” with regards to fashion out of school.  Of course the most effective way to achieve this kind of a dress code is by requiring a uniform. But even a uniform can’t solve the problem of sexist behavior.

Both girls and boys should dress in a tasteful manner that is respectful to themselves and others, and of course no undergarments should show. But it should end there, and based on the current dress code as reflected in the (school name removed) handbook, it does. Beyond that, boys should be taught to respect girls no matter what they are wearing, and control their own thoughts, behavior, and actions. That is the only way to solve the problem of sexist behavior and objectification of women and girls.

Rather than accommodating the sexist behavior of boys, and the insulting assertions of parents that it is the fault of our girls that their boys can’t focus; this sounds like an opportunity for the school, and more importantly the parents of these boys, to impress upon the boys that girls should not be objectified, even if they are wearing shorts that are shorter than their fingertips.

I know you, and the rest of the school administrators and teachers, are reasonable and will work to correct the unfortunate statements that have been communicated to our girls regarding their responsibilities as young women, and will also work to communicate to the boys what their responsibilities are as young men. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and please know that I am happy to talk with you about this further.

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About PGMG

Mama. Bookworm. Hiker. Music lover. Retro enthusiast. Eater of nachos.
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6 Responses to A letter to my daughter’s school, and anyone else who is shaming girls for what they wear

  1. stephanie kennerly says:

    “Our boys should be taught that they are responsible for their own behavior” AMEN!

  2. stephanie kennerly says:

    Tricia, you da bomb!

  3. Mark Perinsky says:

    Tricia, there is a big difference in the way many people handle situations that arise in life. In my opinion there are only two choices, you either react or respond. What’s the difference? When a person reacts they put their needs first ….when a person responds they put the needs of others first. You have truly RESPONDED to this situation in such a fantastic manner in regards to the shaping of Emma as well as children who aren’t even aware of your concerns for them . I am proud to know you and you continue to reinforce in me how
    an excellent parent handles their responsibilities. I enjoy your writings and posts. I don’t always agree with you….oh well…I still love you. However, I would fight with my last breath defending what an fantastic parent you are to Emma. She is very fortunate to have you as her mom. Love You, Uncle Mark

  4. Iris Gimbel says:

    Your response to the clothing and sexism issues at Emma’s school was well thought out and beautifully expressed. It seems unconscionable to change or make addendum’s to a dress code that was given to all parents and students in the Handbook they received at the beginning of the school year. What is the dress code for the Jr. High she will attend next year? Although they stifle individuality and creativity, it makes me think that stylish uniforms (is that an oxymoron?) could make life simpler and cheaper for the families of both the boys and the girls though it “skirts” the issue of budding sexuality.

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