Zene H. Wisconsin

Eliminate Rape Culture in School Dress Codes

School dress codes establish a climate of "Rape Culture". Dress codes tell students that sexual assault will only be avoided if you dress in a way that society thinks is appropriate. This is wrong. Instead of teaching students that sexual assault is instinctive and that they should "cover up" to avoid provoking these instincts, sexual assault awareness should be discussed and taught in school. Covering up has not and will not stop people from being sexually assaulted.

Dear Future President,

There are many social issues going on today that I’m sure aren’t as important as most political issues, but still directly affect our youth population here in America. One of these issues being dress codes, and how they reinforce the idea of rape culture upon school aged males and females. Although many people dismiss the idea of rape culture as a lousy feminist term, a large portion of our youth has been negatively affected by the reinforcement of rape culture through school dress codes. As a sixteen year old girl in highschool, I especially know the effects dress codes.

School dress codes have affected me for as long as I can remember, which dates all the way back to elementary school. My first experience of having rape culture enforced on me was in second grade. My mother bought me a spaghetti strapped romper that I absolutely adored, and I happily wore it to school as soon as I got a chance. Before I could even settle into my reading class, I was pulled into the hallway by my teacher and lectured about my outfit. I was told that, “good little girls should dress like ladies, and real ladies always keep themselves as covered as possible.” She then sent me home with a note that told my mother that my outfit was inappropriate and distracting. As I reflect on the event I often think, ‘what would be distracting about a 8 year olds outfit’. These situations have happened to countless of children, but mostly young girls. These situations teach girls that they are responsible for sexual assaults and the attention span of boys, and they are teaching boys that it’s okay to assault and objectify girls because that's in their nature. Why is this a lesson we want to teach the youth?

School dress codes are rules created by schools that prohibits certain types of clothing. These rules are mostly aimed towards females; banning certains types of dresses, skirts, and shirts, while males are only prohibited from wearing gang apparel and some tank tops. Wendi Yang from the Berkeley Political Review website says that, “While ideas about appropriate clothing in school are arbitrary, the enforcement of school dress codes is characterized by gendered notions about what is appropriate, targeting girls for their sexuality and propagating the culture that leads to institutionalized slut-shaming and rape culture.” These dress codes are teaching children that in order to have their bodies respected, then they have to dress according to what society think is okay. This teaching is wrong, we should be teaching children to respect everyone.

The biggest way that dress codes are reinforcing rape culture is by teaching victim blaming to the youth. “Victim blaming is a devaluing act that occurs when the victim(s) of a crime or an accident is held responsible — in whole or in part — for the crimes that have been committed against them (1)”. These rules are telling students that if they’re sexually assaulted or insulted in anyway, they are responsible based on what they were wearing, or what they were doing. They teach us that those who assault us (males especially) are just doing what is instinctive, and if we were fully covered our attackers wouldn’t get these instincts. “The problem is often compounded by a lack of any attempt to discipline boys for harassing behavior, which drives home the message that it is the victim’s responsibility to prevent. We have received thousands of testimonies from girls who have complained about being verbally harassed, touched, groped, chased, followed, licked, and assaulted at school, only to be told: “he just likes you”, or: “boys will be boys”,” according to Laura Bates at Time.com. This means that rather than teaching children that sexual harassment is wrong, children are being taught that if they don’t think someone’s appearance is respectable then they can harass because they aren’t preventing them from doing so.

This problem could easily be fixed by teaching students about sexual assault is, and how it affects people in our health classes. In my health class, they didn’t teach us much about sexual assault. This would be the perfect class to teach students about the affects of sexual assault. It should be taught to all students that assaulting people based on their attire isn’t okay, no matter how inappropriate you think their attire is. Students should be taught better ways to avoid sexual assault, than to cover their bodies. Dressing “appropriately” has not, and will not stop sexual assault. People all over the world have been sexually assaulted while fully covered, or in non-provocative clothing, therefore clothing choice is not the answer to sexual assault. We need to teach people that sexual assault is never okay, and that ‘instincts’ are never an excuse for any sort of sexual assault. 


Zene H. 

Wauwatosa West High School

Wauwatosa West American Public Policy

All juniors are enrolled in a required civics and public policy course called American Public Policy. The capstone project is the Issue Investigation - students identify an issue that can be solved by the creation, modification, elimination of a public policy. Student letters are their first research step in the Issue Investigation process.

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