How Dress Codes Disempower Womanhood and Promote Rape Culture

By Sam Stroozas 

Image Credit: Art by Moga

Image Credit: Art by Moga

My body is my temple. It is the love of my life and my constant amongst inevitable change. Did you notice how I said my? My body is my temple – not yours. My body is my love – not your lust. I own the right over my autonomy and what I choose to do with it. When you teach me that parts of my body should not show, you’re teaching me that they should be invisible because you feel uncomfortable with the art that is the female body.

Hiding your body away from a world that begs to see it and then shames you for displaying it within your level of comfortability exists only to punish the oppressed and encourage the oppressor. This behavior is not destined, it is taught and reinforced through “locker room conversation,” inadequate sexual health classes in K-12 education, and mass media. We tell our daughters, our sisters, our students to cover their bodies because the world cannot handle a woman who is confident and beautiful. We tell women not to hate themselves, and then explain that they look the best when you cannot see the bends in their hips and rolls in their tummies.

Having dress codes that discourage young girls from expressing their fashion taste and confidence teaches them to feel responsible for every negative action that occurs in their lives, and then reinforces that idea by blaming it on their gender and bodies. Restrictive dress codes result in body-shaming amongst young girls. They are punished for dressing in clothes that are produced by a capitalistic hierarchy that turns away from intersectionality and melts away individuality.

Dress codes are shaping young girls into the objects we tell them they are, before they even know what objectification is. In an article for CNN, Catherine Pearlman, a mother to a young girl, discusses how her daughter was told in school “not to wear yoga pants because the boys would get turned on and then they would be embarrassed.”

Teaching a girl that she cannot wear what she wants because our heteronormative, immature environment is more worried about a boy getting an erection than a girl wearing the clothes that make her feel the best enforces gender roles that ultimately position girls as second and their comfort as unimportant.

Pearlman later goes on to add, “As a woman, I know almost no women who like their body, who feel good about their body, almost none, but you don’t know how you got there. But when you have a daughter, you see, I can literally see it happening, and it’s so subtle, but it’s all of these things. It’s the yoga pants. It’s the short shorts.”

This is not just about how we got there, but how we are passing the idea through each generation that a woman who dresses provocatively in accordance to social norms should be seen as less than. The same article claims that a fifteen-year-old girl was suspended for wearing shorts that fell to her mid-thigh; “The teacher suggested that her clothing was suggestive and that she was ‘asking for it’...The student said, ‘I feel bad because it’s my body… and there’s no reason for the school to be telling me that I have to cover it up… Just because I’m wearing this doesn’t mean that I want people to look at me sexually. I want to be seen as a woman. I don’t want to have to feel bad about my body.’”

We sexualize girls before they even know what being sexual is. We tell them to be sexy, but not to be interested in sex or exploring their sexuality. We cannot continue to live within this binary of being too much, yet not enough. I want to live in a world where I am not ashamed for being confident in my skin, but instead in one where I’m encouraged to explore why these constraints on my being even exist. I want boys to feel like they do not have to participate in this hunting game of hyper-sexualization and overwhelming masculinity.

Teach young girls to be proud to be women and proud of their curves, or lack thereof. I want to know that stretch marks and cellulite are normal before I see them appear on me. I want not to be called a slut when I feel comfortable enough to wear a shirt that shows my loving tummy, and then called a bitch when I slap away a curious hand that tries to tell me I was “begging” to be touched. Why is it my fault that you’re attracted to my body?