A group of girls at Urbana Middle School in Frederick County, Maryland are protesting their school’s sexist dress-code policy by wearing large yellow shirts marked “I am more than just a distraction.”
Girls found in violation of the dress-code, which prohibits thin tank top straps and shorts with less than a 4-inch inseam, are pulled out of class and forced to wear a humiliating baggy yellow shirt for the rest of the day. The policy also encourages girls to “be conscious” of their cleavage.
The teens argue that the school should be teaching boys not to objectify women instead of teaching girls that their bodies are hindrances to learning and invitations to harassment. Feminist advocates point out that removing a girl from class because her appearance is “distracting” teaches her that her education is not as important as the boys with whom she shares the school.
School administrators’ defense of their dress-code policy highlights just how immersed they are in a rape culture that is comfortable shaming, stigmatizing and sexualizing the bodies of young girls. Tom Saunders, the instructional director of the district’s middle schools, said the need to unfairly target girls, for reasons such as bra-straps, comes from a desire to maintain a safe learning environment.
Laura Bates, founder of The Everyday Sexism Project, writes “This sends an incredibly powerful message. It teaches our children that girls’ bodies are dangerous, powerful and sexualized, and that boys are biologically programmed to objectify and harass them. It prepares them for college life, where as many as one in five women is sexually assaulted, but society will blame and question and silence them, while perpetrators are rarely disciplined.”
Teens across the country have mobilized in recent years to protest their schools’ sexist dress code policies that can fuel a toxic rape culture and perpetuate harmful body shaming.