Students are rising up against dress codes that single out girls and hold them accountable for what boys may think or do. This is a sign that girls posted in one high school to protest sexist dress codes. 

Opinion: I’m not a distraction, far from it. Stop treating me as one.

A senior at Etowah High School wrote an essay about the message school dress codes deliver to young women. 

Regular readers know I share Cherokee County student Madison Jones’ concerns over dress codes and the misplaced focus on how the behavior and appearance of girls impacts boys and their education.

Most recently, I wrote about a Texas elementary school that included a hallway quote attributed to a woman who ran a high-priced Manhattan escort service: “The more you act like a lady, the more he’ll act like a gentleman.”

In the same week the story broke about the quote, another Texas school drew headlines for creating and showing a video on dress codes that featured only female students and used M.I.A.'s "Bad Girls” as its soundtrack. The video showcased the offense of girls wearing athletic shorts to school, zooming in on their legs to make the point.

In both cases, parents and students rose up and schools retreated, replacing the Mayflower Madam quote with one by teenage Nobel Prize winner Malala Yousafzai and apologizing for the video.

Girls have been dress coded and pulled from class for showing their collarbones or wearing tank tops that reveal shoulders. 

The good news is more schools are heeding the voices of young women like Madison Jones and adopting dress codes that affirm all students should be able to dress comfortably for school without fear of or actual unnecessary discipline or body shaming and that staff and students both should understand they’re responsible for managing their own personal "distractions" without regulating individual students' clothing/self-expression. 

With that, here is the piece by Madison:

By Madison Jones

I hate being a girl.

I hate being treated like a little hard work will break me. I hate being told I can’t do something because it’s for boys. I hate feeling like I’m less than, just because I’m female. 

There are many things that I can’t change, unfortunately. 

I can’t change the boys who catcall as they drive by in their cars. I can’t change how some people see me as “property” that needs to be “protected.” I can’t change that some of my anatomy is more prominent in some areas than others. I can’t change some people’s attitude. 

But there are some things that I can do. 

I have a voice and I know how to speak with it. I have a brain and I know how to think with it. And I have a heart, a heart I know how to listen to. And now it’s your turn. 

I’m tired of being told to cover my shoulders. I’m sick of being singled out because of what I wear. I can’t stand being called out, shamed for my body, and taught to change myself for someone else. 

I’m not a distraction, far from it. I’m a girl, a girl who gets up every morning, goes to school, works her tail off, goes home to work even more, and then goes to bed, sometimes at ungodly hours of the morning, over and over again so that someday I can put on that cap and gown and receive that little slip of paper that portends my future and be prepared for the next step in supporting myself and making a life. 

But how am I supposed to do that when I’m not allowed in class?

What’s distracting is being singled out, called to the front of the class and publicly humiliated because my shoulders are showing, or my shorts, measured against an index card, fall short.

Why am I punished for sitting silently and doing my work? Why should I be blamed for someone else’s inability to do their job? Why do you treat me like a rape victim, being told that I asked for it, that it’s what I deserved, that I should be ashamed for who I am? 

Why don’t you start teaching our boys to be respectful, instead of blaming the girl for being a “distraction”? 

This is what perpetuates rape culture and mistreatment of women. You play the blame game and place these ideas in young girls’ minds that they should give in to the ideas of men and give themselves, their minds, and their hearts up. 

I could understand being labeled a “distraction” if I were to come in to class in my underwear, or stand up on my desk and scream, but I’m don’t. The reason I’m a “distraction” is because I’m female. 

I hope that I have not offended, or come off as rude, but I can no longer stand by and be treated like nothing. I am a girl, and I deserve respect not labels. 

I thank you for taking your time to read this and I hope you will reconsider these outdated standards and help take the first step to curing our tainted society and views. 

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About the Author

Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey
Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.
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