There’s no need for inconsistent dress codes

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A dress code that interrupts class to call a skirt “distracting” isn’t just unproductive—it’s inappropriate.

Last week, an Ontario Catholic school principal in Midland objectified female students when he interrupted a class to publicly measure their skirt lengths. He justified the disruption by saying the young women’s skirt lengths put “every male” in an awkward situation because “legs are pretty.”

Public shaming in an educational institution is more than humiliating—it’s demeaning and has long-lasting gendered effects.

Uniforms and dress codes in schools are often meant to promote equalizing students and diminishing social hierarchy based on clothing. However, those dress codes are only appropriate when they’re balanced across genders and clearly delineated.

When school administration emphasizes the supposedly inappropriate nature of an inch of fabric, they do the opposite of equalize—their outcome contradicts their intent. They create an imbalanced power dynamic that hypersexualizes young women and encourages their male classmates to focus on their bodies.

Inappropriate dress code enforcement in an academic environment normalizes gendered objectification. Authority figures targeting young women for their clothing send the message that biased behaviour is acceptable, and that girls are sexual objects to be policed.

This enforces victim-blaming: it teaches young women public humiliation based on their clothing is acceptable, and reinforces the perceived connection between a woman’s morals and her appearance.

This doesn’t just harm women. It harms all genders. Sanctioned objectification in schools—especially by male authority figures—encourages young men to spectate and judge women’s bodies. This prevents adolescents from forging meaningful relationships with their peers.

Girls shouldn’t be taught their bodies are inherently distracting for simply existing in an academic context.

Regardless of gender, teachers and principals have the privilege of acting as role models for students. Bringing sexism and sexualization into the classroom fails students and has lasting effects on a young person's life.

If a school follows a dress code, it should be at least consistent. Though school boards often make separate decisions and deal with varying academic cultures, it’s important to have some coordination across districts to ensure student dress is managed sensitively and appropriately. This means checking uniforms privately, and not citing teachers’ personal discomfort when doing so.

In the case of this Midland school, the dress code itself isn’t the problem—the problem is the school’s perpetuation of gender bias through enforcing its dress code.

Rather than publicly shaming girls for the length of their skirts, schools should ensure their dress codes are privately and equally enforced across the board.

—Journal Editorial Board

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