Editorial: Is the Dress Code Sexist?

On pajama day during this fall’s Spirit Week, several members of U-32’s boys’ cross country team took it in a different direction and changed “pajama day” to “no pants day.” Team members wore boxers all day at school. Although they did wear spandex underneath, they were still technically violating the dress code.

One day last year I wore a backless shirt. I felt confident and comfortable. During class there was a fire drill and on my way back in our assistant principal Jody Emerson handed me a note politely asking that I put on something over my shirt to cover up my back/bra. When the cross country team wore boxers, none were dress coded.

Some have taken this as evidence that the dress code is sexist.

The dress code, as written in the student handbook, does not mention gender. On paper, it is completely equal in the standards it sets: No drug references, no “words or graphics messages that demean, harass, exploit, or ridicule others,” no profanity or obscenity, and nothing “excessively revealing.” No clothes that “expose the chest, abdomen, navel, buttocks, or underwear.”

U-32 students generally face looser restrictions on their choice of clothing.

Compared to most schools, U-32 is pretty lenient. Students are allowed to show their shoulders, wear spaghetti straps, and wear hats in class. Also, enforcement of the code is usually polite and considerate.

But the dress code raises questions. Is the way that the code is enforced fair? What does “excessively revealing” mean? Why are bra straps such a problem?

The Chronicle recently published a survey about the dress code. Of the people who took the survey, 61.7% of them feel that the dress code is enforced in a sexist way. Most of them said that they feel teachers and administration are more likely to address girls than they are boys.

Jody Emerson, the woman who usually enforces the dress code, says that she only talks to people once or twice a month, and she is “more frequently talking to people who have clothing that promotes alcohol or drugs,” rather than people with excessively revealing clothes.

Junior Lola Bennett wearing a shirt that she has, in the past, been dress-coded for.

Jody said when girls wear crop tops, a lot of them are wearing something over it like a cardigan or a sweater, so it’s not as bad. She also says that a lot of girls who violate the dress code by wearing something revealing are very aware of what they’re doing.

“If I even walk towards them, they are mindful of what I might say, and they pull it down and I give them a thumbs up instead of talking to them,” said Jody.

28% of people who took the survey had been talked to at some point because of the dress code. Most were girls, and the only boys who had been dress coded said it happened during a sports practice. Most of those sports practice dress codes were for being shirtless during practice. For many of the girls, the problem was with their bra being shown. One girl brought it up with student council last year.

Jody said “you could argue that the dress code is sexist because girls have more underwear.” And that was the student’s argument. She had been dress coded multiple times for “underwear” showing and felt that the dress code was unfair.

The Huffington Post published an article written by Steve Nelson, the head of the Calhoun School in Manhattan. Nelson said that the dress code there is non-specific. Their dress code gives no details and no rules. What their dress code does say is that they expect students to dress appropriately. That way, as gender is not mentioned, students are responsible for using their best judgement.