By Cassie Walter
While doing this weeks reading, specifically the articles Becoming a Gendered Body by Karin Martin and Tuck in that Shirt! by Edward Morris, I was reminded of the ways that males and females are treated differently because of the gender norms that society forces on them, specifically in the way they dress and are reacted to because of their clothing choices. While Tuck in that Shirt! discussed the discrimination males are subjected to based on their dress, I’ve always thought more about the way girls are negatively affected by the attention that is focused on what clothing they choose to wear. Perhaps this is because I am a girl myself and I have experienced it firsthand. Earlier this year, a girl from my high school posted a photo of our old dress code that she had found in her younger sister’s student handbook (I included a slightly blurry picture of it below) and the ridiculous list of prohibited clothing items it contained created outrage among the female students from my old school. My personal favorite from the list, and perhaps the most nonsensical item, was a rule that stated “clothing which draws attention to physical characteristics” is not allowed. First of all, I’m pretty sure that all clothing that isn’t a shapeless sack will draw attention to ‘physical characteristics’ so I’m not really sure what the administrators here are referring to. Secondly, when the dress code is created and enforced as something that ‘keeps students from being distracted’ it becomes even more upsetting to me because it targets girls as being distracting to males simply because of the clothes that they wear.
I think there is a much bigger problem here, however, if boys are thought of to be at risk of being distracted in class simply by seeing girls dressed in tank tops or shorts. It ties into discussions of rape culture, such as that girls shouldn’t be told that they cannot become intoxicated or wear revealing clothing without fear of getting raped, but rather boys should be taught that they are not allowed to touch/interact with women they don’t have consent from.
While the ways in which girls and boys in middle and high school are treated differently when it comes to clothing are upsetting, it is rather appalling the way it influences children in preschool as described in Becoming a Gendered Body. While observing preschool classrooms, Martin noticed the way that teachers were frequently adjusting the clothing of the girls which then “call[ed] girls’ attentions to their appearances and bodily adornments” (p. 499). It is sad that so early on in their lives, girls become gendered by society to pay attention to their appearance and the effects their clothes have on them. The boys hardly ever had their clothing adjusted or were told to behave in a certain way that was appropriate for their gender. The way this is done in preschool sets the girls up to grow up constantly thinking about their bodies and the way they present themselves.
In Believing is Seeing, Judith Lorber talks a lot about the inequality between men and women’s professional sports. It was while reading about the injustices she discusses, such as female figure skaters in the 1992 Winter Olympics being limited to only one triple jump in their routines while the men were required to have at least three, that I was reminded of the gender pay inequality that used to exist in professional tennis. I played tennis in high school and had been a fan of the sport for much of my life so I was shocked when I learned that only recently did the women champions of the Grand Slam tournaments win equal prize money to their male counterparts. For a long time the women earned significantly less money and tournament officials justified this because the women only played best two out of three sets while the men played best of five sets. This could be considered somewhat fair until it is pointed out that the women did not actually choose to play only three sets, they were more than willing to play matches as long as the men, but the tournaments would not allow for it because it would then mess up their TV broadcasting schedule. So while the women now have equal pay, there is still not equality for women in professional tennis because they are not allowed to compete at the same level as men even though they are more than capable of doing so.
(My old school’s dress code)