A group of high school students went viral for protesting a sexist dress code. Student Evita Frick Hisaw, 16, arranged and documented the protest on TikTok and Instagram. She explained that she and her friends decided to make a stand during an assembly when the principal addressed the dress code to ban midriff-revealing outfits. It was the ideal time to make a statement at the performing arts academy of Natomas Charter School in Sacramento, California.
Evita explains their actions in a series of TikTok’s. She says that the school’s dress code “is sexist towards women and perpetuates rape culture. It makes us very uncomfortable. We all just want some freedom of expression and freedom to express our confidence, whether that’s in a baggy T-shirt or in a tiny little tank top.”
“… as students feel like what we wear is not distracting towards others or affecting anyone’s learning environment; we should not be kicked out of school for wearing a crop top.”Source: The Independent
Students Protest Sexist Dress Code
During the protest, the students wore crop tops and placed posters in the school’s hallways. These read, “If children’s midriffs distract you, you shouldn’t be working with children,” and “Teach boys to focus, not girls to cover up”. Some protesters wrote similar messages on their exposed midriff.
Evita’s Instagram post about the protest had the caption: “Our body our choice, it isn’t our fault they’re distracted. They can’t take away our confidence and self-expression”.
Moreover, in her TikTik, Frick-Hisaw explains that she discussed the protest with her favorite teacher at the end of the day. He sides with the students, adding that they “could have had a better approach to it”. Frick-Hisaw agrees with that, feeling like he “understands” them.
The walk-out elicited mixed responses over social media. Some people applaud the students. “They can hold an assembly to tell girls how to dress but they can’t have an assembly to educate boys on how they should respect other people’s bodies,” one person wrote in the comments.
“I mean in University we don’t have a dress code and everything is fine and no one is distracted so idk where they get that from,” another user added.
“You have inspired me to make a move in my school,” another said. “I’m organizing a protest now. I am proud of you!!!”
The School’s Response
As the walk-out went on, more students joined the protest, including boys. Some of them also wore crop tops to fight the sexist dress code. Meanwhile, Natomas Charter School’s Executive Director Joe Wood maintains that the students were blowing the issue out of proportion and that the school always focuses on the emotional wellbeing of their students.
He said: “It seemed like they were more protesting other schools’ dress codes, not ours, and the largely sexual and racial [tone] they can have.”
Additionally, he maintains that there was no assembly that day about the dress code. “However, we noticed that some students began coming to class in slippers, crop tops, and sports bras, so our plan was to have a 2– 5 minute conversation with the school over Zoom, as we cannot have in-person assemblies due to COVID regulations,” he explained. “That conversation was basically telling students, ‘Don’t forget the dress code that’s been here for three years, and as you shop for the summer, purchase things in alignment with the dress code.
“Our dress code’s primary concern is that they come to school with appropriate clothing on their body. The kids are more frustrated about wanting to be able to wear crop tops or sports bras.”Source: News Week
According to the school’s handbook, “Clothing must cover areas from one armpit across to the other armpit, down to approximately three to four inches inseam length on the upper thighs…[and] tops must have shoulder straps.” However, since the protest, the school staff began meeting with students to hear out their concerns about the dress code.
Responding to Criticism
However, not all of the feedback was positive. “These little kids are gonna have a really hard time getting a job in the future if they can’t understand the basics of dress code,” one wrote.
Therefore, Frick-Saw addressed the critics in a follow-up TikTok. First, she thank everyone for the support and explained why they held the protest. Then she said, “We know we are going to have a dress code when we get older and possibly have uniforms with whatever job that comes, but right now we are in school, and we are in a learning environment. We should not have to be kicked out of class just because we are wearing a crop top… I shouldn’t be the only one speaking on this topic and that’s why we are having this meeting.“Source: News Week
Are School Dress Codes Sexist?
It’s unclear how sexist or not the Natomas Charter School’s dress code may be. However, many dress codes require serious changes. For instance, according to the New York Times, there was an incident of a school altering 80 girls’ photos to hide their chests, causing the girls to feel sexualized and exposed. On the other hand, none of the boys’ photos were altered, not even the image of the male swimming team in Speedo bathing suits.
Often girls are targeted by sexist dress codes because “they distract boys.” This creates a troubling double standard where girls are penalized for their attire while boys receive no punishment for theirs. This could greatly hurt the girls’ confidence and sense of self. After all, if a girl is sent home for wearing distracting clothes, this sends a message that the boys’ education is more important than hers. Alternatively, providing dress-code breakers with sweaters and T-shirts could give them consequences for breaking a rule while allowing them to return to class quickly.
Additionally, calling girls’ clothes a distraction for their male peers puts the onus of inappropriate reactions on the girls, instead of the boys inappropriately reacting. This holds the same sentiment that it’s women’s fault for getting assaulted because “their clothes were asking for it.” “Often they report hearing phrases like, ‘boys will be boys,’ from teachers,” says Laura Bates, a co-founder of The Everyday Sexism Project. “There’s a real culture being built up through some of these dress codes where girls are receiving very clear messages that male behavior, male entitlement to your body in public space is socially acceptable, but you will be punished.”
Changing For The Better
Therefore, dress codes should be as body-positive as possible. Plus, it should be enforced fairly and in a positive, non-embarrassing way. Taking a real-life example, if a girl is sent home for a short skirt, it’s unfair if boys wearing shorts that length receive no citations. The rules must be consistent or changed to be so. Remember, clothes are a way for students to express themselves, and responding negatively could hurt their self-esteem.
“We’ve seen a real resurgence in the popularity of feminism and feminist activism, particularly among young people and particularly in an international sense, facilitated by social media,” says Laura Bates, a co-founder of The Everyday Sexism Project. “I think that one of the striking elements of this new wave of activism is a sense of our entitlement and our courage to tackle the forms of sexism that are very subtle, that previously it was very difficult to stand up to, because you would be accused of overreacting, of making a fuss out of nothing.”Laura Bates, The Atlantic
- “Teens protest ‘sexist’ dress code policy at high school” The Independent. Gino Spocchia. June 10, 2021
- “High School Student Sparks Debate After Protesting School’s ‘Sexist’ Dress Code.” News Week. Courtney Brogle. June 6, 2021
- “‘Am I distracting?’: California teens stage walkout to protest school’s ‘sexist’ dress code.” Meaww. Pooja Salvi. Jun 20, 2021
- “Is Your School’s Dress Code Outdated?” New Tork Times. Shannon Doyne. May 25, 2021
- “Students are waging war on sexist and racist school dress codes — and they’re winning.” Vox. Nadra Nittle. September 13, 2018
- “The Sexism of School Dress Codes.” The Atlantic. Li Zhou. October 20, 2015