School dress policy sparks debate over gender responsibility
Clothing has stirred a deeper conversation of whom the burden of preventing sexual objectification falls on after approximately 30 Menihek High School Students in Labrador City were sent home to change their attire.
© Photo by Ty Dunham/The Aurora
All wearing appropriate clothing, Mehihek High School students (l-r) Rebecca Kelly, Tyson Burt, Hayley Taylor, Kaleigh Waterman, Dylan Ricks, Kyanna Miller, Brandon Parsons, Donilda Ackerman, Kourtney Miller-Dempsy, Hannah Kelly, Danial Hoskins, and Ashtion Greeley, all agreed with Taylor who called the schoolâs dress code, which recently sent 30 students home to change, âRidiculous.â
Faculty deemed their attire unfit on Wednesday, May 28, according the schoolâs dress code.
Although the majority of the students sent home were female, a few male students were also sent home. The students were permitted to return to school that day with a suitable outfit.
Dialogue has been ongoing on social media over a womanâs right to wear what is comfortable and if itâs acceptable not to adhere to the school policy. Some argue the policy is putting the responsibility on young girls to stave off the eyes of their male counterparts, instead of teaching them to be respectful, while other argues the rules are in place for a reason and should be followed until changes are made.
The code states muscle shirts, backless tops, tops with spaghetti straps, and tube tops cannot be worn. Appropriate clothing must be worn underneath, tops should not be low cut, and a bra should not be seen above or through clothing.
For bottoms, underwear should not be seen at the waist and must be covered, and the length of garment should be at least halfway between the hip and knee.
Maddie Pynn, 16, said she was in her first period class for 10 minutes before the teacher announced she should check with the schoolâs office if her dress was too short. She was wearing shorts underneath, as well as long boots and a hooded shirt covering her shoulders.
Pynn believes the policy is trying to teach girls how to not be distracting, instead of teaching the boys not to be distracted.
âItâs the same as they teach us how to avoid being raped instead of teaching not to rape.â
Itâs perpetuating the rape culture, she claimed.
âSome males are going to get the idea that because she was distracting or looks a certain way it is okay to sexually assault her or sexually harass her. When in reality it doesn't matter what you are wearing - no one is ever asking for it.â
Pynn said itâs not just a school issue, but also a general issue.
âBut the school board isn't helping it any. I feel we need to talk more about this stuff because it happens too often not just here but around the world.â
Pynn said she and her classmates just want to be comfortable in the summer months.
âA shoulder shouldn't make anyone uncomfortable and if it does you're the problem.â
Pynn feels the education has been one-sided.
âI feel it's wrong for us girls being the ones who have to teach people or tell them not to objectify women, not only parents should be teaching their kids that it's not right, but the teachers should be teaching students as well.â
A shared responsibility
However, itâs not the teachers but the Newfoundland and Labrador School District who sets direction around policy, followed by each individual school council, which develops their own dress code.
The districtâs director of education Darrin Pike said although itâs up to each school to govern the dress code according to its community standards, there is no consistent provincially directed policy. The district strives to balance the rights of the individual while protecting the rights of vulnerable groups.
âWe want a school environment thatâs welcoming to all students that respects student individuality. Certainly students at that age, and many people of all ages, their personality comes through with how they dress. We want to encourage that.â
The goal is to teach students on what is appropriate for the occasion in their transition period from high school to post-secondary education or a workplace environment.
Pike said if the policy creates an environment where students feel the responsibility to prevent the objectification lies with the female students, it needs to be addressed.
âIf a student felt that way, weâd want to work with the school, and the school too would want to work with the students to find solutions toward that.â
â(As a man) I think I have a lot of responsibility to ensure it doesnât happen. All of us have a large responsibility to ensure women are not objectified. We have a role to play in that. Men have a large responsibility to make sure their behavior is appropriate.â
As a father of two daughters, the youngest in high school, Pike said he understands the role clothing plays in expressing oneâs personality.
âMy daughter has a unique sense of style and I encourage that, and it stretches me as an individual. Children express themselves through what they wear.â
Pike said he was encouraged with the ongoing discussions around such a heavy issue.
âWhen (Pynn) expresses herself that way, when you think about it from a high school student perspective whose thinking about what sheâs wearing on a global perspective as an individual and a young lady, itâs pretty encouraging the students are having that self reflection.â
Pike was impressed with the weight of the questions being asked.
âSheâs asking âOkay, what does it mean for me and what does it mean in society, and where should the boundaries be? How can we engage a discussion around that?â Thatâs a pretty interesting discussion sheâs encouraging. And itâs a good discussion.â
The district is in talks with the school and is encouraging discussions between the student council and administration to work out the issues.
âWeâre hoping everyone will work together, and if students have concerns theyâll work with their student and school councils and have good dialogue. I think those are fantastic discussions to have to ensure everyone is valued in the process.â