On Dress Codes and Middle School

My daughter started Middle School this year, and it’s the first year that we’ve really had to deal with a school dress code. Thoughts about the dress code have exploded in our local Facebook community, with some people for it and others against it.

I’m really of two minds about the code. On paper, everything with the code is fine. You can’t wear tight fitting clothes, “short” shorts, hats, gang symbols, or clothing with “offensive” writing or symbols. There are a few things that are questionable, though; like the fact that you can’t wear tights or reveal your shoulders (many young girls wear tights under their dresses when the weather gets cool, and in Georgia it gets really hot and humid in the summer).

So, that’s all well and good. Except this dress code was (and still is) a cause of stress for my daughter, even before the school year started, and who still worries every day if her jeans are too tight, or if her shorts are too short. We reassure her that the clothes she has are fine; we wouldn’t have bought them for her if we thought they were inappropriate, and we wouldn’t let her leave the house if she was wearing something she shouldn’t.

That’s where the other part of me wonders if this dress code is yet another way that young girls are told that they are being judged on their looks and that if they reveal too much of their bodies they will be distracting to boys. I think of the magazines I see in the grocery stores which have scantily clad women on the covers, broadcasting the message that the way to get noticed by men in the world is to show off their skin. Is the middle school dress code perpetuating this message from the other angle? That is, is it saying that you can’t show too much of yourself, or else boys/men can’t study/work? You’ll get in the way if men notice that you’re a woman?

From one respect, this is – unfortunately – true. Boys and men do tend to judge women based on their looks (women do too), and an easy way to get their attention is to flash some skin. But, whose problem is this, really? Is it the fault of girls and women? Or is it the fault of boys and men – and their fathers – who failed to teach them the proper way to value and treat women? Are we as fathers, by the way that we treat women in the presence of our sons and daughters, perpetuating this view that women are just distractions in school or in the workplace?

I worry about this, because in some cultures women are blamed if they are assaulted, because they “enticed” their attackers. As I think of my own daughter, I would be enraged if someone felt they were entitled to attack her because of what she was wearing, or because she wasn’t wearing clothing that was “up to code.” Why do we tolerate this treatment towards other men’s daughters? Why do we allow men to turn women into objects?

Certainly, this was not the way things were meant to be, before Adam and Eve’s fall and the subsequent corruption of creation. God made Eve from Adam (and Adam from the dirt); Adam was incomplete without her, and she without him. They were meant to join together in marriage to be one. The first man to take more than one wife was Lamech, a murderer of the line of Cain (Genesis 4:19ff). He transgressed the God-given boundary and ordination of marriage and treated women as his “right,” rather than as fellow-creatures of God.

That’s the problem, really, in our own time and culture (and in every time and culture since the fall). Too often we fail to treat other people as fellow-creatures of God, and the way in which many men treat women is just a symptom of this larger problem.

I don’t have an answer; I am a sinner in this regard as well. The only thing I do have is the injuction of Jesus: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). Maybe a corrolary would be, “However you wish for other people to treat your own daughter, treat their daughters the same.”


(Image is public domain stock photo from https://pixabay.com/en/goddess-cast-symbolism-sculpture-185457/ )

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