Exposure Therapy: Katie

Katie Nowak, Guest Writer

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I have lived almost 18 years of my life as a female. In that time, I have had many experiences that have become part of the definition of sexual harassment: the catcalling, the unwanted advances, being objectified, that kind of stuff. I’m at a point where I’ve just gotten used to it. When I enter into an academic environment, however, I expect to not have to worry about those things. That has not been my experience.

I’ve always thought that dress codes are inherently sexist. They’re ways to get girls to stop being able to wear clothes that show off parts of the body that society has coined as “provocative” (shoulders, midriff, etc.). As an eighth-grader, I remember reading the high school dress code on the EPHS website and being elated to see that the rules I thought were stupid in middle school (like the one where straps had to be three-fingers-width wide) were not a part of the high school handbook. All that was prohibited was clothing that was offensive, which made sense to me. I was so excited to not have to worry about school officials deciding if my outfit was sexually inappropriate or not. That statement alone says a lot about dress codes in general. 

I did not run into a problem with this school’s dress code until last week. There apparently has always been a rule in the handbook about showing midriffs and bra straps, which has been chosen, among others, to be more strictly enforced this year. I am a senior, practically an adult, and the school decides this is the year to start treating us like middle schoolers again.

I’m sitting in my connections class on the first day, and my teacher is handing out the new school IDs for the year. He hands them to every student in the class, except for me. Naturally, I’m a little confused. “Why wasn’t my ID in the stack?” I ask him, expecting it to be a simple logistical error. He shows me the list of students that are supposed to get their IDs, and next to my name is two letters: D.C. — dress code. Now I’m even more confused. I don’t remember ever in my life receiving a dress code violation at school, or why it would matter to receive my ID. It’s not like senior privilege, where a fine or a violation can get it revoked, everyone needs a student ID. The problem, I found out, was because of my school picture. I open up my Campus to see what all the fuss is about and take a look at the photo I have on file. In the photo, you can see my bra strap. “You’ll have to retake your photo next week.” my connections teacher tells me. 

Bra straps have always been controversial in school dress codes. The general consensus is that they’re sexual pieces of clothing. However, people tend to ignore the fact that they fill a need to help girls function every day. Most girls wouldn’t feel secure in themselves if they weren’t wearing a bra. The school doesn’t want that either, though— it would be equally distracting if a girl wasn’t wearing a bra than if she was. Yet, bra straps are condemned to be hidden under shirts that also cover our midriffs and shoulders because boys can’t handle the fact that girls have bodies, apparently. It’s a vicious cycle, and female students never come out on top. So, because you’re able to see a strap attached to a garment (that almost every girl has to wear, mind you) in my ID photo, I am being forced to do three things: A) retake my school picture, B) wait on my senior privilege to go into effect, and C) be without a student ID card for almost the first month of school. That guideline in the dress code is there to stop clothing from inhibiting people’s ability to function at school. This seems like it’s inhibiting my ability to function, doesn’t it?

My point is this: this type of rule in any dress code has done more to sexualize girls than it ever has to prevent “distractions” from people’s (mainly boy’s) ability to learn. Things like bra straps are part of female student’s everyday lives and forcing us to cover them up sends a message that something natural is perceived as sexual by the school. The fact that this rule is still in effect at EPHS shows that we are a part of the long list of schools that still prioritize a male student’s comfort over a female student’s ability to function. I strongly believe this needs to be changed.

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