By Stefania Bitton and Anna Kilgariff
“You can’t wear that to school. Your shorts are too short. Your straps are too thin. I can see your bra.” Are all phrases girls know all too well, hearing them from teachers, administrators, classmates, and adults. This is not a one off experience, or even a problem exclusive to NUSD. Women internationally are constantly sexualized and are seen as a distraction for having bodies.
We are expected to cover up because we are distracting men from their education. We are told to leave the classroom, or go to the office because the men in our classes can’t bother to keep their eyes to themselves. We lose valuable class time to make men feel more comfortable around us instead of making us more comfortable around men. Why not teach men to respect women and to know that what we wear does not affect them or warrant any response from them?
When I was in eighth grade I was considered a distraction by my male science teacher who reported me to the office for having shorts that were too short and riding up. They called me down to the office in the middle of class, taking away from the time I spent learning that day. What they did not consider when they stuck me in sweatpants was that it was 106 degrees that day and I would be profoundly distracted in my next classes further disrupting my learning, all so a male teacher could feel comfortable.
When I was in fifth grade, I was told that my shorts were also too short and that to keep from distracting the boys around me I could no longer wear shorts that length. At 10 years old I was told I was a distraction, impacting the way I saw myself in relation to the clothes I wore for the rest of my life. I had never been so bluntly sexualized before. I was a child. I am still a child. Why do people and more specifically the people in my community get to decide what I can and can’t wear when it’s my body and my education?
These experiences continued to follow us into high school as we were further sexualized by the teachers around us. Freshman year is supposed to be a time of growth as you enter a new level of education. Instead of learning taxes in our College and Career Readiness class, the class of 2022 learned that we were not allowed to wear leggings or shirts that showed our collarbones at school because it made that specific male teacher uncomfortable.
Instead of women being blamed as the distraction in a classroom we should be educating men on how to treat them with respect. We should be taught that our education matters just as much as the guy next to us wearing basketball shorts and a tee shirt. We have bodies and they have bodies, the difference is that we can keep our eyes to ourselves and they cannot.
From here on out, there needs to be a cultural shift from the sexualization of women’s bodies to the implementation of the idea that a woman’s body and education are just as important as a man’s. A rule or dismissal of the dress code will not change how women are perceived in the classroom; only continual societal growth and active commitment to change can do that. That is why we, as a society, need to do better in recognizing when misogyny and sexism make their way into education.