On one, my daughter, Wholesale Babydoll Lingerie who is in the final throes of fifth grade, came skipping out of class, her gangly legs poking out of her favorite denim short-shorts. "She won't be able to wear those next year," another mom commented. "They won't pass the dress code." A dress code? In Berkeley? Next they'll be endorsing Darwinism in Kansas.
It turns out that modern middle school parents from San Francisco to New York have been forced to break out the ruler. Are those inseams too short? How wide are those tank top shoulders? In March, middle-schoolers in Evanston, Ill., picketed a policy against leggings. In May, students at a Utah high school opened their yearbooks to discover digitally raised necklines and sleeves added to female classmates' shirts.
Girls, particularly those serfewrfdfds with ample hips or breasts, are almost exclusively singled out, typically told their outfits will "distract boys." As if young men cannot control themselves in the presence of a spaghetti strap.
Continue reading the main storyThe last time classroom attire was this contentious was the late 1960s and early 1970s, when the most high-profile cases centered on boys. According to Jo Paoletti, author of the forthcoming book "Sex and Unisex: Fashion, Feminism and the Sexual Revolution," young men with long hair were sometimes attacked by their peers. In an all-too-familiar scenario, it was the victims who were blamed for such assaults, accused of provoking classmates with their "distracting" appearance. While girls who violated dress codes were sent home to change, boys were suspended or expelled. Their parents also disproportionately lawyered up: By 1974, there were 150 court cases involving young men's hairdos.
Continue reading the main story Boys run afoul of dress codes when they flout authority: "hippies" defying the establishment, "thugs" in saggy pants. For girls, the issue is seductiveness, and that, too, has become politicized, exposing a new generation gap.
Today's canny girls, emboldened by YesAllWomen Twitter culture, scold their elders, "Don't tell us what to wear; teach the boys not to stare." They are correct: Addressing leering or harassment will challenge young men's assumptions. Imposing purdah on middle school girls does the opposite.
Even so, while women are not responsible for male misbehavior, and while no amount of dress (or undress) will avert catcalls, cultural change can be glacial, and I have a child trying to wend her way safely through our city streets right now. I don't want to her to feel shame in her soon-to-be-emerging woman's body, but I also don't want her to be a target. Has maternal concern made me prudent or simply a prude?
Thank you for subscribing. An error has occurred. Please try again later. You are already subscribed to this email. View all New York Times newsletters.
In its landmark 2007 report on the sexualization of girlhood, the American Psychological Association linked self-objectification to poor self-esteem, depression, body dissatisfaction and compromised cognitive function. Meanwhile, a study published last year in the journal Psychological Science titled "Objects Don't Object," found that when college women were asked to merely think about a time when they'd been objectified, they became subsequently less supportive of equal rights.
Yet, for today's girls, sexy appearance has been firmly conflated with strong womanhood, and at ever younger (not to mention ever older) ages. Hence the rise of mani-pedi "spa" birthday parties for preschoolers; the heated-up cheers and dance routines of elementary school-age girls; the weeklong "slumber party camp" that promises to teach 9-year-olds "all the tricks of beauty."
In a cruel bait-and-switch, embracing sexualization doesn't even lead to a healthier attitude about sex; quite the opposite. By stressing self-presentation over self-knowledge, girls learn that being desirable is more important than understanding their own desires, needs, capacities for intimacy and pleasure.
So where does that leave schools? With a mandate to educate ā not stigmatize ā students. Telling girls to "cover up" just as puberty hits teaches them that their bodies are inappropriate, dangerous, violable, subject to constant scrutiny and judgment, including by the adults they trust. Nor does it help them understand the culture's role in their wardrobe choices.
After a flurry of parental feedback, my daughter's school is making two changes for next fall. First, the staff is developing lesson plans for students, faculty members and parents about the impact of sexualization on boys as well as girls. They are also revising the definition of "distracting" apparel. Clothing must allow students a full range of motion ā sitting, bending, reaching, running ā without requiring perpetual readjustment. It cannot, in other words, pose a "distraction": to the wearer. Beyond that?
Continue reading the main storyIt's the families' call, as it should be.
Middle school starts the day after Labor Day, just as Northern California moves into Indian summer, its hottest season. My daughter can hardly wait.
Peggy Orenstein, a contributing writer for The New York Times Magazine, is the author, most recently, of "Cinderella Ate My Daughter."
This service has no ratings - order and leave the first!
$6 - In stock