A change in attitude

Ty Dunham
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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. 

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 school’s dress code, which recently sent 30 students home to change, “Ridiculous.”

Faculty deemed their attire unfit on Wednesday, May 28, according the school’s 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 woman’s right to wear what is comfortable and if it’s 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 school’s 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.  

“It’s the same as they teach us how to avoid being raped instead of teaching not to rape.” 

It’s perpetuating the rape culture, she claimed.

“Some 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.” 

Pynn said it’s not just a school issue, but also a general issue.  

“But 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.”

Pynn said she and her classmates just want to be comfortable in the summer months.  

“A shoulder shouldn't make anyone uncomfortable and if it does you're the problem.” 

Pynn feels the education has been one-sided.  

“I 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.” 

A shared responsibility

 

However, it’s 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 district’s director of education Darrin Pike said although it’s 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.  

“We want a school environment that’s 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.” 

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. 

“If a student felt that way, we’d want to work with the school, and the school too would want to work with the students to find solutions toward that.” 

“(As a man) I think I have a lot of responsibility to ensure it doesn’t 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.” 

As a father of two daughters, the youngest in high school, Pike said he understands the role clothing plays in expressing one’s personality. 

“My 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.” 

Pike said he was encouraged with the ongoing discussions around such a heavy issue.  

“When (Pynn) expresses herself that way, when you think about it from a high school student perspective whose thinking about what she’s wearing on a global perspective as an individual and a young lady, it’s pretty encouraging the students are having that self reflection.”  

Pike was impressed with the weight of the questions being asked.  

“She’s asking ‘Okay, 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?’ That’s a pretty interesting discussion she’s encouraging. And it’s a good discussion.” 

The district is in talks with the school and is encouraging discussions between the student council and administration to work out the issues. 

“We’re hoping everyone will work together, and if students have concerns they’ll 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.”

ty.dunham@tc.tc

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Recent comments

  • Amanda head
    May 31, 2014 - 09:00

    I teach my two daughters to stand up for what they believe in. Not to be a "sheep" and just follow rules. This age group are suppose to question the rules and use their own brains to make decisions. Some rules are meant to be challenged and discussed like when wen wanted to vote. Imagine if those women just followed the rules!! These kids are not professionals in the workplace and if they were they still have the right to have their voices heard! Everyone is entitled to their opinion because we live in this great country. My daughter was protesting the wording on the original dress code policy and not the fact that there should be a dress code and that my friend is the issue at hand! We need to get our youth involved in issues that matter to them no matter how big or small. It's not ok just to follow the rules and be silent.

    • Derp
      June 01, 2014 - 23:28

      What was being protested when she was sent home for excessive perfume?

    • Just saying!
      June 02, 2014 - 11:51

      They say "kids today" but you prove that we should be saying "parents today"

  • Cory
    May 30, 2014 - 20:27

    This is the dumbest thing i've ever heard. Seriously comparing a dress code to rape ? are you bloody serious ? How the heck did this get included in this article. Dress codes are there to tell students that they can't just wear whatever they want to. It's like going to work, you think your employer will allow short shirts, dresses or other revealing things ? NO. Follow the dress code and these things won't happen.

  • Ex-Teenaged Girl
    May 30, 2014 - 19:36

    1. Doesn't this school have air conditioning?? 2. Adult workplaces discourage sexual harassment AND dressing inappropriately. I'm sure schools can work out a good balance as well. It doesn't have to be just one or the other. Lastly: I wish more children would spend more time developing substance within them instead of polishing their exterior to be looked at.

  • Herry
    May 30, 2014 - 15:35

    Aren't teachers there suppose to um, teach ?! Why are these useless teachers getting paid to teach when, in fact, they are not ? IDIOTS !!!!

  • Amanda Head
    May 30, 2014 - 12:05

    I am Maddie Pynn's mother and I agree totally with her on this issue. Maddie's point of view deals more with social perception and what it means rather than having a dress code. It is the way the school presented the code on the original "green" policy that they have since removed from the school's web page. I have received many comments on my facebook page and it is quite interesting. Thank you for presenting the student's story in such a positive way. Sincerely, Amanda Head

    • Parent
      May 30, 2014 - 14:53

      It's also your job to teach your daughter that the issue at hand is to follow the rules!

    • Claudine
      May 30, 2014 - 20:19

      In reply to "Parent" about his or her comment, wouldn't you rather have your children be critical and analytic? Rules change over time greatly, and we don't need to look that far to see striking examples: slavery was once an established "right" and those under that system had to follow the rules established by their masters. I am not equating this situation to slavery, but using the latter as an example on how rules need to always be analyzed in order to better protect the people they serve to protect. Teaching your children to think of the system surrounding them in a critical manner is one of the best education you could give them.

    • dan
      May 31, 2014 - 01:01

      Typical parent.....blame everyone else but yourself. Follow the rules and just shut up. How easy is that? Bring back school uniforms.