Oak Ridge, United States

Dress Codes and Women’s Rights

“I’m sorry that my stomach and shoulders are so distracting!” a girl sarcastically exclaimed as she was pulled out of my Algebra two class for wearing an off shoulder crop top last summer, sometime in August or September when it was still hot outside. The Oak Ridge Dress Code, found on page twenty two of the student planner, are guidelines for what students can or cannot wear at school. If you read them you will find that many of the rules, although not all, are directed towards female students. Women have many more opportunities in today’s society as compared to the past, but the dress code is still a rather relevant part of student’s lives, in particular female students. Although the dress codes are really rather lenient here at Oak Ridge, female high school students did not have such luxuries as wearing shorts, but were rather forced to cover up so as to not be “indecent”, and were forbidden from wearing pants but instead were forced to wear skirts or dresses. Dress codes throughout history are indicative of women’s rights, stricter dress codes meant less rights, and lenient dress codes meant more women’s rights. 

In the 1950’s, women were expected to be the perfect, obedient wife. High school girls were taught home etiquette, on how to please their husband. This included making herself, the house, and children look nice, and having a hot dinner ready, oh, and to shut up and listen to the man of the house. That changed in the 60’s and 70’s when women’s labor unions and feminists began working together, benefiting both parties. In 1963 the Equal Pay Act was passed, making it illegal for employers to pay women less than their male counterparts for their equal work. These were some of the first major victories for the women’s rights movement, helping to liberate women across the United States of America.

In 1920 women, although this was limited to white women, were given voting rights, in 1973 abortion was legalized in the Supreme Court Case of Roe v Wade, in 1983 Dr. Sally K Ride is the first American woman to be sent to space, and most recently in 2013 the ban of women in the military was lifted. Although these are great achievements, some people in today’s society do not recognize them, and in fact will even mock them. A guy (who shall not be named, but we will call him guy number one) hangs around my friends and I at lunch, and once he made the joke “How many feminists does it take to change a lightbulb? None, because feminists can’t change anything.” Followed by guy number one and another guy, who we will call guy number two, laughing. I sarcastically responded, “Yeah, it’s not like women can vote or anything.” to which guy number two accused me of being quote “what’s wrong with the world” because I, according to him, had no sense of humor. Although some people such as the before mentioned guys like to joke about feminists, or call them useless, the women’s rights movement has accomplished a lot in the past century.

Here at Oak Ridge High School we do have a dress code, and it’s rather lenient, especially compared to other dress codes in more conservative states. It could even be considered just guidelines since it seems that it is not strongly enforced by the Oak Ridge faculty. Only a few staff members will actually enforce it, usually in the summertime when it can be 90 degrees fahrenheit and above. The stifling heat leads students to don less clothing, like tank tops, short shorts or short skirts, crop tops and other “inappropriate” attire. Attire that shows the torso or is high on the thigh is deemed to be “distracting” to other students. However many students are not distracted from their school work by clothing, at least most students of decency are not, and in fact objection to the dress code actually led to the school changing the dress code just last year, making it more sensible and lax.

Thankfully, the dress codes nowadays are much more lax than they were in the past, thanks to the work of women’s right movements. In the 1960’s and ‘70’s women were forbidden from wearing pants, and were dictated to instead wear only skirts and blouses (which is a type of shirt) or dresses. In response to these restrictive and sexist dress code the women’s rights movements demanded change, until the social norms changed and women were allowed more liberty in what they could or could not wear. Now men and women alike can wear a wide variety of clothing, cough cough although clothing some shouldn’t be worn, for example Croc shoes. But although men and women alike have more freedom in the way we dress, the dress code at Oak Ridge targets female students by labeling certain clothing as distracting to male students, which depicts girls as sexual objects that must cover up so the boys don’t get distracted, rather than telling boys to control themselves, and focus on their schooling regardless of what fellow students, both male and female, are wearing. After all that is why we come to school, not to ogle other people but to focus in our learning environment and pay attention to the teacher and the class.

Article by Karly Talbot & Video by Tiffany Wong

Works Cited:

Boris, Eileen, and Annelise Orleck. “FEMINISM AND THE LABOR MOVEMENT:

A Century of Collaboration and Conflict.” New Labor Forum, 8 Mar. 2018, newlaborforum.cuny.edu/2011/01/03/feminism-and-the-labor-movement-a-century-of-collaboration-and-conflict/.

“Stepping Through History.” U.S. News & World Report, U.S. News & World


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