September means the beginning of a new school year, and every year teachers and administrators have tasks that reach far beyond educating children. Last year, at Forsythe Middle School in Ann Arbor, one of those tasks included fashion police and clothing monitor.
Some Forsythe students protested the fact that girls felt like they were being singled out by an arbitrary and unfair standard, the so-called “fingertip rule” for skirts and shorts. The problem, as I see it, isn’t in the lessons that can be taught with the dress code, it is the lessons that are missed in the way the code is enforced.
For starters, the idea that a dress code is needed to stop the boys from being distracted is ridiculous. Middle school age boys are going to be distracted by girls, whether it was showing a scandalous amount of ankle back in 1875, or spaghetti straps today. Boys that age will also be distracted by video games, sports, school, music, movies, friends, books, homework, parents, chores, and whatever other topics momentarily invade their brain. And that’s only in a thirty second span.
This is a school we are talking about. A dress code is needed to teach children how to dress appropriately for certain situations. In a previous life, I was in charge of a movie theater. I have interviewed hundreds of teenagers looking for work. If a girl showed up for an interview dressed like she was about to go to the club, or a boy showed up in ratty jeans, or worse, sweatpants, neither would be hired by me.
Girls’ clothing options are more diverse than boys, this is one reason why girls are often singled out. If exchange student Hamish McDonald from Scotland wore a kilt that was too short, he would probably be told to change his attire as well. Whether it is Hamish or Hannah, neither should be conspicuously pulled from class and told to call their parents so they can change immediately. That should only be for extreme cases, like promoting methamphetamine, or wearing a Nickelback shirt.
If young people want to protest something truly meaningful, they can look at the labels on their own clothes. We pay a hefty price for cheap clothing. This “protest” is a textbook case of first world problems. Try to remember that a Bangladeshi girl has to work fourteen hours a day, in dangerous conditions, for $0.83 an hour. For her toil, we get to have a debate over whether those shorts come in just under the fingertip.
Jeremy Rosenberg gave up the corporate rat race years ago to become a freelance writer and graduate student, as well as a stay-at-home Dad to his two children, Jack, 11, and Eva, 6. He also enjoys playing the guitar, letting his cats fall asleep on his lap, and trying to be a decent human being.