CREDIT: CBC News screenshot
As temperatures heat up, teenage girls across Canada are being kicked out of school for their summer attire. Between 20 and 30 girls in the Newfoundland and Labrador province were sent home at the end of last week for wearing sleeveless shirts that exposed their bra straps — leading some of them to complain that administrators are unfairly targeting girls who just want to dress comfortably.
Menihek High School sent home a group of female students last week for wearing spaghetti strap shirts, saying that violates the institution’s dress code. Although a few male students were also asked to leave for wearing sleeveless shirts, the school district allegedly approached the issue slightly differently with female students because they’re specifically worried about girls’ bare skin becoming a distraction.
Emily Connors, one of the students who was sent home, told CBC News that the girls who were asked to leave were told it was “because of our bra straps, and that it was inappropriate because some of the male teachers, and male students found it distracting for them.” Other students told the National Post that the school has been explicit about the fact that their bare shoulders could “invite unneeded attention” from male students because “boys will be boys.”
“We were actually given a presentation at the beginning of every school year, and they were telling us, ‘Well, you can’t wear certain types of shirts because they’re afraid that male students will take it the wrong way,’” recounted 12th grader Danielle Matias, who wasn’t asked to go home last week but who is still opposed to the school’s dress code.
Some parents are frustrated with Menihek High School as well. Emily’s father, Gary Connors, said that the school’s reasoning is “outrageous” and “as far as I’m concerned, what a woman wears doesn’t give a guy a right to do anything to them [or] say anything to them.”
The female students say they weren’t trying to violate the dress code, but they wanted to dress appropriately for the Canadian province’s unseasonably warm weather. Temperatures reached nearly 70 degrees last week, which is “a virtual heat wave in the harsh subarctic city,” according to the National Post.
This has been an recurring issue in Canada this spring. Over the past month, several teen girls across different provinces have been sent home from school for wearing shorts and sleeveless shirts. Now, some of them are fighting back against what they perceive as sexist dress codes. Last week, a 14-year-old in Ottawa wore a spaghetti strap shirt specifically to protest her school’s policy. And a 15-year-old in Quebec recently started hanging up signs around her high school telling school administrators, “It’s hot outside. Instead of shaming girls for their bodies, teach boys that girls are not sexual objects.”
Dress code issues certainly aren’t specific to our neighbor to the north. Here in the United States, schools across the country work to police girls’ necklines and hemlines so they aren’t a “distraction” to their male peers. Girls have been kicked out of prom for wearing short skirts, banned from wearing leggings to class, and even photoshopped to appear as though they’re showing less skin in their yearbook photos. There’s a common thread running throughout these examples: The assumption that it’s young women’s responsibility to cover up their bodies because men just can’t help themselves. Dress code critics point out that’s the same cultural attitude that contributes to rape culture and the normalization of violence against women.