Dress Codes and Equal Pay in Professional Sports

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)


9 thoughts on “Dress Codes and Equal Pay in Professional Sports

  1. Patrick G. Landes

    My school had a dress code too. It has since changed to a uniform, but when I was there the rules were very similar, but it was actually more common for males to be disciplined for wearing the wrong type of pants than females to be disciplined. There was a theory about dress code, which included a suit and tie for males, that better clothes made you perform better in your classes. There seemed to be a focus for the teachers to enforce this upon the males in the classroom more than females. There seemed to be an association with masculinity and success. Most teachers who sensed that a males student who wasn’t trying to be successful would highly police their outfit.

  2. The fact that girls are expected to hide their femininity by wearing clothing that does not draw attention to the physical aspects identify them as female, is so interesting because at the same time society and schools want them to act as feminine as possible. Becoming A Gendered Body by Karin Martin, also mentions that the ways in which females walk, sit, stand and gesture towards things are different than how males are expected to do the same things. Which leads Martin to state that males bodies are able to become a source of power while women’s bodies are filled with anxiety and tentativeness to fit the mold society asks for.
    – Sophie Furman

  3. Sarah Wills

    Similar to Cassie, as I was reading ‘Tuck in that Shirt’, I realized that I never really thought about how boys were ridiculed for wearing certain clothing. In this article, the author focuses on how lower class, male minorities at a particular school are constantly being scolded for not having their shirt tucked in. The administration thought that this was a sign of gang violence, and in order to prevent such violence, then a strict dress code must be enacted. This just opened my eyes up to the ways in which boys are told to look and dress in a school setting.

  4. Gina Pol

    Personally through my experiences, I can agree with your statement on how girls are negatively affected more than boys in terms of dress code. Due to the variety of clothing options that girls have, it creates a greater chance of wearing clothing that is considered “inappropriate” or “non-ladylike” attire in comparison to boys. But most importantly, I find it very interesting how Morris’ study discusses the intersectionalities between race, class, and gender rather than each status separately. While gender does play a major role in the student’s treatment, it is a combination of their race, class, and gender that results in why certain groups are targeted more often than others. The teachers generally associated Latino boys with gang-related activities and African-American girls with being loud and not lady-like. The combination of their race and gender resulted in how they were treated by their teachers.

  5. Growing up, I attended both a public school with a strict dress code and a private Catholic School with an even more strict uniform. While many of my public school friends couldn’t understand how I could deal with the forest green tights and kilt, I actually found the dress code to be more oppressive. As undoubtedly gendered as the uniform was, enforcement of uniform violations were treated the same between genders and races. We wore professional attire and were expected to conduct ourselves in a professional manor. The dress code however was much more stilted against young women and essentially told girls that tank tops were too sexual and distracting – in the fourth grade. This practice of shaming girls into believing that their bodies are a distraction and should be hidden is much different than trying to teach students that an academic setting is a semi-professional setting by enforcing a uniform.
    Olivia Rabbitt

  6. Karen Dayanna Cardona

    I remember being a child and loving the way the color blue looked on me. That bubble was quickly broken by family members who would often remind me that girls do not wear blue because it is not ‘lady like’. As a child it was hard for me to comprehend how a simple color could simply dictate what made you more feminine or masculine. I also loved to play with cars , these cars were pretty soon replaced with dolls and kitchen toys. Now that i look back i find it completely astonishing how from the age of seven the roles that i was expected to play in the future society were place under taking care of children and cooking food. In the article ‘Tuck In That Shirt’ we can see how schools implement these rules regarding clothing such as the ones seen in the picture you posted to attempt to lad students in the right path. Overall making the statement that in order to move forward in life one must assimilate and accept the rules placed by society, in this case the gender roles that are displayed through clothing. In my opinion this sometimes forced change can leave or cause an identity trauma upon the childs life.

  7. Jihmmy N Sanchez

    My high school also has a dress code, but not a school uniform although it has been discussed several times. My school’s dress code prohibited girls from wearing clothes that was “too revealing”, the most upsetting part about the dress code at my old high school was that it prohibited “mostly” males from wearing different colors. This was because my school had and still has a very bad problem with gangs. When I was a freshman there were over 200 gang related incidents at the school. Most of them being gang related fights that started in the hallway simply because someone was wearing opposing gang colors. Color combinations that were prohibited at my school are blue/black, red/black, gold/black, yellow/black, and grey/black. These colors represent gangs that dominate in the high schools. The gangs being the Latin Kings, Gangster Disciples, Satans Disciples, and other latino/african-american gangs. The administration started to enforce a strict policy that sent home any student who was caught wearing “gang colors” in the school after a fight that started in the parking lot outside of the school escalated into a shooting and where several students were sent to the hospital. Many students then became aware that they could be sent home just for wearing color combinations that were prohibited, this started a trend where students who had no gang affiliation would wear color combinations that were prohibited by the administration to simply be sent home without any questions asked.

  8. Zoe Halpert

    That list of rules for the dress code is really interesting; you can clearly tell which rules are aimed at girls and which ones are aimed at boys. The rules aimed at girls focus on sexuality, such as restrictions on tight-fitting clothing and exposed skin. These rules are very much about the male gaze, and suggests that girls must always be aware of how they are perceived by boys. As if they are defined by this male gaze. Morris points out how African American girls in particular are told not to dress in a sexually provocative way. Similarly, in Martin’s article, she discusses how girls are trained to constantly think about their bodies and appearance.

  9. Bianca Scofield

    I really enjoyed reading your post. It got me thinking about a lot about dress code in high schools. I went to a private school where the dress code was actually stricter and more enforced on the boys than the girls. Girls did not wear uniform but had to wear skirts with blouses or pants with a blazer. Although I never experienced the inequality of a public school dress code, it angers me just the same. I noticed that only really 6 out of the 17 restrictions on dress at your school can be applied to males. Girls are so pressured by media and society to be attractive and thin that when a school enforces a strict conservative dress code, it leaves girls conflicted and confused. The rule “Clothing that which draws attention to physical characteristics” especially angered me because it places blame on girls for drawing the attention of a boy and little to no blame on the boy for being distracted in the first place.

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