Over Labor Day weekend my husband and I decided to plan a trip with our high school aged daughters. Our time with them is quickly slipping by and we wanted to spend some one on one time with them to connect and have fun. The majority of our plans were touring colleges our senior daughter is interested in attending, but we all love shopping so we planned to carve out some time to shop for homecoming dresses.
We had such a great weekend shopping and we were successful in finding our girls dresses. Both of my girls looked and felt like a million bucks in their new dresses.
As a woman and mental health counselor, I know the importance of validating my girls and letting them know how beautiful, smart, talented, and special they are. My husband and I take every opportunity we can to let them know how loved they are and how much value they have, so we both ooooed and ahhhhed as they modeled their dresses for us in the hotel room.
It was a great night and a special moment. However, the next week I got the email; the email from the school about the dress code for the Homecoming dance. Upon a quick review, I knew my oldest daughter’s dress was not going to qualify. I decided to go ahead and send a picture of my daughter in her dress in the hopes the school would approve it, since it was OK with me and her dad.
I got a very quick response saying it didn’t meet the requirements due to the dress not being knee length, being too tight, having a cut out in the back that showed skin, and for a “plunging” neckline.
Not only was I disappointed for my daughter, I was disappointed for girls everywhere that have to live with the shame, harassment, and erroneous messaging which come in the form of dress codes.
Depending on the study you read, 1 in 3 or 1 in 4 girls will be sexually abused by the time they are 18 years old. If anything should be banned it should be allowing sleepovers to happen, but that is a blog for another time. Around the age girls start developing sexually, is also the time dress codes start popping up. Girls who are sexually abused carry around the shame of “could I have done something to have prevented my abuse?
As they begin to process their abuse and become aware of their sexuality, they receive the subtle message, in the form of dress codes, that tells them “perhaps if you had dressed differently this wouldn’t have happened to you.” The cognitive distortion carried that the sexual abuse they suffered is their fault is reinforced.
The dress code further propagates the idea of rape culture. Rape culture is an environment in which the victim is blamed for their assault because of how they behaved thus provoking the attacker to assault them. The subtle messages dress codes promote is a woman deserves her assault if she dresses in a manner causing the assailant to attack. The message is that men are not able to control their sexual desires, making it the responsibility of girls to help them not become savage by dressing modestly.
Dress codes also relay the message that boy’s needs are more important than girls; that to not distract the boys, girls should put the needs of boys ahead of their own, creating a whole gender of people pleasers; that girls should dress in ways that make boys feel comfortable, even if it is at the expense of making themselves uncomfortable.
I hate to burst everyone’s bubble, but boys are going to be distracted by girls whether they are in parkas or bikinis, and shockingly girls are attracted to boys. Boys and girls are supposed to be attracted to each other. Human beings are created to be sexual beings. By vilifying sexuality, one is vilifying something by nature we are created to do … procreate. Rather than making sexuality a negative thing, perhaps all children coming into sexual maturity should be allowed the respect to be taught what sexuality is about and the importance of it, rather than trying to pretend it doesn’t exist.
My children go to a Christian school and while I understand the schools intent to look different than the rest of the world, I believe they have utterly missed the point. By having dress codes, the school looks exactly like the rest of the world, because just like the rest of the world, girls are being subjected to shame over how they look.
If we as Christians really want to look different than the rest of the world, perhaps our dress code should say it is our policy not to make girls feel as if their value is in what they do or do not wear. A person’s value comes from the fact they are a child or God paid for by the sacrifice of Jesus. Wear what makes you feel comfortable.
I challenge Christian schools to be known for their love and not their rules. After centuries and centuries of trying to be good enough to earn God’s favor, we should know by now we can never measure up. God doesn’t love us because of how well we behave, He loves us in spite of it.
Works based mentality does not work and is contrary to the Good News of Jesus. We belong to God, and ultimately our hearts are softened towards what breaks his heart. Shaming His daughters for what they wear must break His merciful heart.
It would be so much easier for me to keep my mouth shut on this issue. Conflict makes me uncomfortable. It makes my friends uncomfortable. It makes my family uncomfortable. It makes our school administrators uncomfortable (or annoyed, or likely both).
But uncomfortable is the example Jesus set for us.
So I’ll follow His example of flipping tables in the temple when he knew conflict was necessary. I’ll follow the example of Rosa Parks who wouldn’t move to the back of the bus. I’ll follow the example of MLK who marched from Selma to Montgomery. I’ll follow the example of the late Ruth Bader Ginsberg who stood up against so many status quos for women so they could have the same rights as men.
I choose to not be quiet, even when it’s uncomfortable, because if I chose to remain quiet about injustice, I have inadvertently become the oppressor. I refuse to be on that side of history.
As girls and boys are coming into maturity, they are dealing with so much. They have emotions they have never experienced before. The playful and easy nature of friendships are changing. School is becoming more vigorous. Their bodies are changing in ways that can be very strange and scary. These kids are already navigating enough uncertainty about themselves, let’s not add another layer to their insecurity.
Making girls self-conscious about how they look in what they wear is a degrading and humiliating experience. As adults we should be protecting our children from shame and disgrace, not subjecting them to more of it.
I boldly declare with my daughters, with all young girls who have ever felt shamed, and with the entire female gender … enough is enough! My dress is too short. God’s grace is not.