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/ April 23, 2014
What Does It Mean For Society At Large When Leggings Are Banned In The Classroom?

In late March, word got out that an Illinois middle school that had banned leggings (a fairly common practice), openly cited the primary reason as being “distracting” to male peers.

The school is yet another entry on a long list instances in which academic institutions are tightening up their dress codes. Asides from the obvious issues of both sexualizing middle school girls’ bodies and placing blame upon them for something out of their control, what is this telling us about the bigger picture? Or about society’s willingness to objectify females, even in the classroom? NYU Local spoke to Margaret C. Smiley, president of the Feminist Society at NYU, and she offered up some insight on why the problem seems so prevalent lately, how it affects those involved, and ultimately, how to fix it.

NYU Local: Why do you think schools are taking such particular interest in their female dress codes and becoming so strict?

Smiley: I think there has always been strict policy on girl’s clothing across the nation, but it adapts with changing times. If it’s not mini-skirts, its tube tops, and now leggings…I think what has changed this time around, though, is the dialogue surrounding these events. We now have the proper words and vernacular, such as slut-shaming to point out why this is such bad policy.

How did it become acceptable for authority figures or administrations to blatantly sexualize young females’ bodies?

I have no idea–I think with the backlash we are seeing today against these policies, [it] show[s] that it is becoming less and less acceptable, but so long as those in authoritative positions stick with the same policies, we will get the same results.

How do you think this affects the mentality and self-esteem of young girls?

Adolescence is already a time of great insecurities, so to enforce policies in social settings, like schools, that exacerbate it is very troubling. I can speak to my experience in a public school–in middle school I was wearing shorts and a teacher of mine made me stand up in the front of class while I was asked to measure my inseam with a ruler. It was embarrassing, distracting, and the only person who was hurt in the process was myself. I missed class time and was teased by my peers. This slut-shaming policy doesn’t help stop classroom distraction. It creates it.

On the other side, how are actions like these affecting the young male psyche, by implying that they cannot control themselves around a female wearing tight clothing?

The policy implies girls are at fault for boys’ actions. The notion of “boys will be boys” is extremely offensive and perpetuates cultures of female guilt and shame while also perpetuating the ludicrous idea that boys are not responsible for their actions.

Do you think it’s possible to reverse society’s habit of inappropriately sexualizing females, regardless of age, and without consent?

Everywhere we turn the female body is objectified, fragmented, and consumed. It’s sickening to think this starts at such a young age with dress code policy, but maybe that’s the place to start in reframing the issue of sexualization. To answer your question, I don’t think so–but I do hope so.

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