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School is fraught with all kinds of issues. Standardized tests to pass, social and behavioral issues to navigate. Bullying. And clothes. Don’t forget the clothes.

Apparently clothes are a big danger to our children. Specifically our boys. Well, not just clothes. But the girls who wear them. Their bodies and the clothes that they put on them are a distraction to our boys.

This is what the dress codes in many schools imply. It’s also what is frequently cited as justification for singling out girls in violation of dress codes.

As the new school year begins, social media is once again flooded with pictures of girls who were sent home or forced to change clothes. In one notable incident, a girl was instructed to put a scarf on to cover her collarbone. Yes. Because now collarbones are provocative too. The Principal’s statement in regards to this incident?

“Certain outfits that [female students] wore created this situation where guys would make inappropriate statements, and there was a distraction to the learning environment based on what some of the folks were wearing at school.

This man who -is paid to lead and teach young people- just blamed the girls at his school for the inappropriate behavior of some “guys.” Let that sink in for a minute.

Last year we had the younger generation schooling administrators on the sexism in the school dress code policies. There were the yoga pant clad students carrying signs to school that read “Are My Pants Lowering Your Test Scores?” There were the middle schoolers in New Jersey who got #IAmMoreThanADistraction trending.

What these girls were pointing out with their civil disobedience was a glaring issue facing school aged girls all over our country.

Dress codes sexualize young girls.

The bulk of school dress codes are aimed at girls. No tank tops or spaghetti straps. No exposed shoulders. No cleavage. No tight fighting yoga pants or leggings.

Girls are being singled out at school. They are made to line up and pass “fingertip tests”  when wearing shorts and skirts. We’ve seen a School Superintendent refer to girls dressed immodestly as skanks. My own daughter was forced to wear a cardigan from the school Lost and Found because she was wearing a sundress. In the 1st Grade. This is a problem.

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All of this sends a clear message to our young girls. They are being told that walking around in their bodies is too much for boys to handle. They are being told that they will give boys impure thoughts. That they’re very existence, unless covered appropriately, is responsible for other student’s education and behavior.

These girls are being embarrassed.

Shamed.

Sexualized.

Objectified.

It’s a story as old as time. Women and girls bear the burden of covering up. Women are walking temptations. Victorian times had women covering their ankles. Some religions require women to swim in full length dresses. Some tout the phrase “Modest is hottest.” The irony in that phrase is worthy of 1000 words unto itself.

But girls are fighting back. These young girls are reminding everyone that they are more than their bodies. That their bodies serve real practical functions, amazing feats, power and strength. Their bodies are more than objects to be ogled.

And let’s not forget. These are young girls. These are girls just trying to understand their growing bodies. These are girls going through puberty much sooner than previous generations. These are girls just trying to dress comfortably or maybe fashionably.

Let’s try to remember that these are growing girls who’s bodies change overnight. The skirt that fit last week might be noticeably shorter this week. The shirt that wasn’t tight last month might show cleavage this month. Let’s remember how hard it is to go through these teen years with ever changing bodies and moods and temperaments. And let’s acknowledge that girls who are more physically developed than their peers are getting called out more often.

Let’s remember that these are girls.

They are not trying to seduce.

They are trying to learn.

They are not aiming to distract.

They are usually trying to fit in and fly under the radar.

They don’t view their bodies as sexual. They don’t think of their bodies as a means to produce “impure thoughts.” Not until you suggest it, imply it, or outright state it as you wave your sacred dress code in their confused faces.

Many of us rail against objectification of women in media. Many of us rant about the sexualization of women’s bodies and how that contributes to rape culture.

Yet, we’re letting it happen in our schools. To our young girls. By people we pay to educate them.

What effect is this having on our girls? Well, we’re teaching them young. We’re teaching them that society will view them as sexual even as they try to learn.

But what about the boys? Exactly. We’re not giving boys much credit. These policies tell them that they are easily distracted. They tell them that they have little or no self control. They imply that they shouldn’t even try to have self control. It’s also suggesting ideas that may not have been a part of their mindset to begin with. 

A bra strap is not going to send them into a dizzying flurry of hormones that will render them unable to be educated. Leggings or yoga pants or any tight pants are not going to cause such a distraction that they won’t be able to function. No. But do you know what does cause that kind of disruption and distraction? Singling the girls out.

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We’re sending our kids off to school, entrusting teachers and administrators with educating them. We want our kids to learn to follow rules. To show respect. To respect the educators. To respect others. To respect themselves.

I’m not so sure that these dress codes are serving that purpose so well. Maybe it’s time for the school dress code policies to grow up.

We need to remind our schools. These girls are more than their physical appearance. They are more than temptations. They are more than distractions. By the looks of these protests, they are much more. They are a force to be reckoned with.

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“Boy, you’re gonna carry that weight.

Carry that weight a long time…”

-The Beatles, Carry That Weight

Boys are getting a bad rap.

They are being reduced to the lowest common denominator.

They are suffering the permissibility of low expectations.

They have no self control. They have violent urges. They have uncontainable sexual tendencies.

Boys will be boys.

What does this oft cited phrase even mean? Does it mean that because they were born with the Y chromosome that they are inherently impulsive and helpless to their own actions? Does it mean that it is natural for them to be more violent, more sexual?

Or is it an excuse trotted out to dismiss unsavory behavior?

Is it an antiquated notion that keeps boys boxed into a hyper-masculine role while putting the burden on girls to keep order and civility intact?

I know a few boys.

I am a sister, a wife, a mother, a daughter. I’ve been blessed with some amazing boys and men in my life. Most of the boys I have known and encountered have been sensitive, intelligent, thoughtful people. Very much in control of their own actions. Yes, I have known some jerks. But they truly are the exception in my life, not the rule.

I love men.

I always have. I grew up having more guy friends than girl friends. I sometimes felt more comfortable and at ease with my guy friends. I love masculine, strong men and I love sensitive, artistic men and I love that these traits aren’t exclusive of each other. I don’t look at men as adversaries. I don’t view them as opposition. I view them as friends, as neighbors, as fellow parents-  as people full of good and sometimes a little bad but mostly just human and trying to do their best.

Let’s stop saying it…

Let’s stop saying “Boys will be boys.” It is said when little boys fight on the play ground. Instead of breaking up the fight and teaching them that there are other ways to problem solve, some people use this phrase as an excuse. Let them get out their anger, let them blow off some steam. It’ll toughen them up. Does this not seem an antiquated notion? Doesn’t it send messages that are hard to undo? Hurt and damage young boys who don’t necessarily enjoy fighting?

Let’s stop using it as an excuse for boys to grope girls. To say demeaning things to girls. Let’s not speak this phrase to imply that boys cannot control their urges around girls. To imply that it’s natural for boys to be misogynistic. It’s not. Misogyny is taught.

Let’s stop saying it when enforcing a dress code that is mostly thrust upon girls. Shorts must be a certain length. Skirts must be a certain length. No spaghetti strap shirts. Why? The reasons I’ve heard all seem to point to a few disturbing notions. Either that little girls will be viewed as too sultry or sexual when wearing shorts or tank tops or that it will put boys in the uncomfortable and impossible position of having to control their sexual urges. They will be too distracted by the show of flesh. So girls are all sultry sirens of the sea luring poor dimwitted boys to jump in the ocean, devoid of any self control?

Let’s stop saying it when men make lewd or inappropriate comments towards women. When men make crude and laviscious cat calls at a woman walking down the street.

And, dear god, let’s stop saying it when a boy sexually assaults a girl.

‘Cause here’s the thing…

Not all boys or men do these things. These are not behaviors inherent in the male species. Not all boys are violent. Not all boys are lustful. Not all boys view girls as objects. Not all boys are distracted by an exposed shoulder or an extra inch of thigh. Not all boys want to demean girls. Not all boys believe that they have rights to a girl’s body and privacy and sense of safety.

I don’t think any boy is born with these tendencies. They will have more testosterone, yes. And surges in testosterone can lead to feelings of anger or sexual urges. (And let’s start admitting that girls have sexual urges too.)  Boys can be taught how to deal with these feelings.  They are beyond animalistic instincts to act without regard to others or themselves. They are more evolved than that. To dismiss bad behavior with “boys will be boys” implies they have no control. It implies that they are subject to their worst impulses.

It is insulting.

The line of thinking that goes along with the “boys will be boys” mentality is an insult to boys. It is just as insulting as assuming that women are uncontrollably emotional and irrational because their bodies produce more estrogen. It only teaches boys that not only is bad behavior ok, it is expected of them. That it is evidence of masculinity. This is ridiculous. You know what’s masculine? Being honest about your feelings, showing emotion. Being respectful of others. Honoring other’s rights and needs. Understanding those around you.

I believe in setting high expectations, not shrugging away boorishness.

I believe that most boys don’t want to have to fight on the playground.

I believe that boys are completely capable of self control.

I believe my son doesn’t need to “prove” his masculinity any more than my daughters need to “prove” their femininity.

I believe that boys are capable of functioning around girls, even scantily clad girls, without succumbing to hormonal fueled hysteria.

I believe that if we stop dismissing behaviors and excusing them and expecting them, that we will raise strong, masculine men who respect themselves. Who respect women. Who want to be productive and not destructive. I believe that we can raise boys who won’t grow up to grope women. To make insulting cat calls. Who won’t say misogynistic things to women, to female senators. Who won’t assume rights or ownership to a woman’s body. I know it’s possible. I know many of these men. Many of whom grew up to be great men in spite of society’s banal accommodation of “boys will be boys.”

So let’s give boys some credit. Let’s assume they are capable of the best. Let’s expect more and in doing so imply that we know that they are more than able to do more. Let’s allow them to be who they are, not what society deems as masculine.

And once and for all, let’s stop saying “Boys will be boys.”