Earlier this month, Haven Middle School administrators notified parents that female students are no longer allowed to wear shorts, leggings, or yoga pants because those articles of clothing might be “too distracting” for their male peers. That’s sparked a protest among parents and students in the Evanston, Illinois area, who are arguing it’s not girls’ responsibility to accommodate the boys in their classes.
More than 500 students have signed onto a petition protesting the new dress code policy, which they say is sexist because it’s only targeting girls’ clothing. Some female students have chosen to defy the ban and are wearing leggings and yoga pants to school in protest. A poster plastered in Haven Middle School reads, “Are my pants lowering your test scores?”
“Not being able to wear leggings because it’s ‘too distracting for boys’ is giving us the impression we should be guilty for what guys do,” one of the students participating in protest, 13-year-old Sophie Hasty, told the Evanston Review. “We just want to be comfortable!”
It’s not just the students who are getting involved, either. Two parents, Juliet and Kevin Bond, sent a letter to the school principal arguing that this approach toward the dress code is furthering unhealthy attitudes about sexuality. Targeting tight pants rests on the assumption that girls must work to prevent themselves from being ogled, rather than teaching boys they should work to avoid objectifying their female peers. The policy also links girls’ clothing to boys’ inability to control themselves.
“This kind of message lands itself squarely on a continuum that blames girls and women for assault by men. It also sends the message to boys that their behaviors are excusable, or understandable given what the girls are wearing,” the parents wrote. “We really hope that you will consider the impact of these policies and how they contribute to rape culture.”
Haven Middle School isn’t the first institution to struggle with these issues. Last year, a junior high school in Northern California banned tight pants to prevent girls from distracting the boys. More recently, a Boston-area high school enacted the same policy. And across the country, school dress codes regulate girls’ hemlines and necklines without putting equal restrictions on boys’ clothing — sending girls the message that their bodies are an invitation for sexual aggression unless they properly cover up.
This approach toward female bodies persists into adulthood, where society continues to punish women for outward displays of their sexuality. Women are simultaneously encouraged to strive to be objects of men’s desire and criticized when they look or behave in a way that’s deemed too “promiscuous.” Some women have lost their jobs because their bosses decided that their presence was too big of a “temptation.”
The dress code at Haven Middle School is still up for review. The principal’s advisory team will meet on Tuesday to discuss the policy.