Last week, a high school in Utah caused a stir when female students discovered their yearbook photos had been altered without their knowledge to cover more skin. The controversy surrounding Wasatch High School hasn’t yet died down — especially because, as the Salt Lake Tribune reports, the yearbook also contained photos of boys exposing their bare chests and boxers that apparently didn’t spark the need for similar retouching.
In a yearbook spread entitled “Wasatch Stud Life,” shirtless male students appear under a headline that proclaims, “Studs doin’ what studs do best!” The yearbook didn’t alter the photo to remove their tattoos or cover up their boxers:
“I keep hearing the word ‘modesty’ thrown around. So the girls are supposed to be modest while the boys are supposed to be ‘studs?’ That’s a huge double standard,” Melissa Milam, a parent of a male student at the high school, said in an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune. Milam added that she doesn’t have any problem with male students appearing in a fun yearbook spread, but “let’s have some cool pictures of the girls, too.”
Milam’s critique speaks to a persistent double standard in the way that men and women are expected to behave, especially when it comes to their sexuality. Across the country, school dress codes often police young girls’ clothing to prevent them from becoming a “distraction” to their male peers, without putting equal restrictions on how boys are supposed to behave or dress. Critics complain that those policies ultimately reinforce unhealthy attitudes about sexuality, teaching girls that it’s their responsibility to cover up because boys simply can’t help themselves.
Employees at a rape crisis center in Utah have publicly criticized Wasatch High School for its dress code and its yearbook alterations, saying there are serious consequences to “modesty shaming” and calling for sensitivity training for the school administrators in this area.
“I think the message there is that it’s women’s jobs to control the way they look, it’s males’ to look the way they want,” Holly Mullen, the executive director of the Rape Recovery Center, told Fox 13. “I say this all the time: short skirts, bare arms — they don’t cause rape. Rapists cause rape. It’s a continuum and that’s where we end up when we take this to the extreme.”
This week, Wasatch High School spokespeople apologized for the incident, acknowledging that “the high school yearbook staff did make some errors” and “Wasatch High School and Wasatch County School District are evaluating the practice of photo editing of pictures as it now stands and will make a determination on further use of the practice.”