Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Let’s talk body shaming.

“Hey, school administrators and teachers, we have to talk about something.

You uphold antiquated, strident, unbalanced and frankly sexist standards when it comes to female students and how they dress at school. That's a problem.

It's time to stop body shaming your female students (and hey, even some of your male students) over their fashion choices.”

Mashable posted an article calling out schools and their approach to dress code enforcement, aka body shaming to those that want to raise their fist in the air and fight the power because rebellion.  Now this article could very well be addressing dress codes that are actually over-the-top and gender discriminatory but I figure I’d address the article from the point-of-view of a young (42) male teacher that enforces reasonable dress codes in a professional manner.  I also only teach Seniors so my dress code issues are usually not a really big deal.  This year they were an area of contention because a sub-group insisted that dress codes were automatically a veil of misogyny.  So, let’s take a look at what Mashable recommends and put a real perspective on an article that plays around with an issue that can be trouble for male teachers. 

1. Accept that these students have bodies — large, small, pear-shaped, hour glass, etc. And they can't change that.

This is the weight-loss/weight-gain argument and how teachers should not comment on either in regards to a student.  Simple out-of-the-blue comments on student body composition are unnecessary and I can’t imagine why a teacher would comment except to seem self-important.  However, if a teacher knows a student is on a weight loss journey then encouragement is good.  The idea that you wouldn’t support one students healthy choices because it MIGHT offend another student is moronic.  And as an Economics teacher we look at things like obesity statistics and healthy eating in terms of health care and Standard-of-Living.  If those things become offensive to a person then that might be more of a wake-up call, not a moment to censor. 


2. Seriously, get with the times.

Seriously, get with the environment.  Trends that promote transparent clothing don’t automatically mean that people’s rules are antiquated and that you are above said rules.  Wear that around town, to the beach, to the county fair, whatever.  Idiotic trends that are there to “empower” people within a classroom isn’t generational.  People have been trying to attract attention to themselves for a long time.  Time and place. 


3. Remember your comments over dress code can easily trigger such mental health issues as disordered eating, depression and anxiety.

Bullshit.  A teacher doesn’t have to be an asshole with enforcement of rules or with talking about controversial subject matter but turning one’s classroom into a sterile environment devoid of any potentially sensitive commentary is the peak of the promotion of victimization and ignorance.  A student that has eating disorders, depression, and anxiety needs much greater supports that go beyond  a teacher saying “Hi.  Please cover up your bikini before coming into my classroom.”  And in my 15 years the vast majority of students that deal in dress code issues are not dealing with any of these issues.  They are being teenagers.


4. Treat male and female students equally.

Absolutely.  This year I nailed a male student for wearing transparent clothing and “wife-beater” style tank tops will have my attention and the insistence of covering up.  But here’s the dirty little secret that nobody likes to mention; female students push the dress code more than male students.  No one likes to say that because one comes off as being gender bias by those with agendas.  But take a look at the clothing that is worn, actually not, and you’ll find that female students dress more for the attention.  It’s not classless or despicable, just inappropriate for the classroom.


5. Remember that it is your responsibility not to label these young girls as sexual objects.

That’s an interesting statement.  It assumes that teachers do the labelling and not the teenage students.  In the Mashable post the author says that the number one reason that girls are told to cover up is that “it’s a distraction to male students (and teachers) in the classroom” and therefore promotes males to continue a “rape culture.”  Two things here.  First, I used to be on the rape culture bandwagon until I started to look at statistics and the culture that exists that is so anti-rape that simply being male becomes evidence that you are potential rapist.  So dress codes don’t promote a culture that is questionable at best.  Second, there is a dress code that is appropriate for the classroom.  That’s it.  Consent and sexual assault should be discussed in your classrooms but to put it within the guise of dress codes is a great way to flip the conversation to fighting-the-power and teenage rebellion, not solving the issues that revolve around sexual assault.

7. Do not, I repeat, do not publicly humiliate or shame the student.

I have no idea where #6 is because Mashable didn’t have a #6.  But yeah it’s not really a good idea to publicly humiliate or shame students on dress codes.  The problem is often the student becomes the attention-getter and makes the issue bigger.  I usually meet the students at the door and quietly mention that the clothing is not acceptable.  Most of the time there isn’t a problem.  Sometimes the student will march into the class and cause a minor huff because the teacher is a fascist.  On rare occasion the student will go off-kilter and begin to rally the troops for an Occupy Dress Code movement in F-6.  It’s up to the student to see how far this goes. 

  8. Have the rules explained in a clear-cut fashion and enforce it consistently.

Rules can be clear but we aren’t going to hit everything and the idea that you ignore something that is inappropriate because you didn’t write it down is amusing.  There is an expectation of behavior that doesn’t always get hit in the rules and the teacher makes those calls.  This is why the “anything the teacher deems inappropriate” is perfectly fine in the class policy.  And it’s not like we jump from day one into full blown sweater mode.  You approach the student and say “That’s not going to work here” early on and give the student the opportunity to change it.  And yes, your rules must be consistent.

9. Be understanding and fair.

Pretty much stated above.  I would say that 9/10 dress code infractions aren’t demonstrative, they’re just inappropriate for the classroom.  They don’t warrant a suspension unless the student out right refuses to comply.  The rare occasion is usually something I already see coming, like Halloween.  The student is going to push and then want to challenge an outfit that hyper-sexualizes Smurfette if she were working nights at the Gold Club.

10. Catch up on some reading.  I challenge you to educate yourself on the harmfulness of rape culture, gender politics and feminist authors in general. We recommend all of them but some contemporary writers like Roxanne Gay and Lindy West are a good start.

I mentioned the questionable aspect of rape culture and victimization early on but I’ll point out again that the author doesn’t want the reader to be educated, the author wants the reader to indoctrinated.  There is not to be a discussion about rape culture, gender politics, or feminism.  There is THAT way because it’s so damn clear with all that emotional reasoning. 


This is not to say that some schools don’t have insanely restrictive or maybe even bias dress codes.  Watching some of the idiocy from afar one can pretty easily see that some administrators are still freaking out over hemlines and jeans.  But Ukiah High’s dress code is pretty relaxed to begin with and even that is hardly ever enforced.  Some of that comes from male teachers that think dress codes become weaponized plutonium that can be used at an attempt to nuke a teacher’s career.  The current climate (with some female teachers and students) often views male teachers as out-of-bounds when discussing dress codes so the safest course of action is to ignore it.  That’s ludicrous and it’s getting worse.  Mashables posts like this are basically geared towards warning male teachers and administrators that rules are now social experiments to be manipulated and that their lack of complicity makes them potential sympathizers to misogyny and gender politicking.  Administrators and school boards need to support teachers and reaffirm that the academic environment is there for the benefit of everyone’s learning, even if groups want to use them as their own soapbox.  

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