Education

The Real Problem with Leggings Ban for Middle School Girls: Specific Targets

An Illinois middle school has banned leggings and yoga pants on female students. The reason why has sparked outrage nationwide.

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News of a confusing ban on leggings and yoga pants at an Evanston middle school is sparking heated conversations around the nation.  The fitted pants are apparently too distracting for male students.  Juliet and Kevin Bond, both educators, are parents of a 7th grade girl at the school, and they wrote a letter to the principal to express their concerns, as printed in The Patch and reported by Christine Wolf.

In part, the letter reads:

“We are frankly shocked at this antiquated and warped message that is being sent to the kids.  Under no circumstances should girls be told that their clothing is responsible for boy's bad behaviors.  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 behaviours are excusable, or understandable given what the girls are wearing.  And if the sight of a girl's leg is too much for boys at Haven to handle, then your school has a much bigger problem to deal with.

We really hope that you will consider the impact of these policies and how they contribute to rape culture.  Girls should be able to feel safe and unashamed about what they wear.  And boys need to be corrected and taught when they harass girls.”

The principal of the school has been very responsive to the concerns and is working to discuss the situation with parents and teachers.

But no one has addressed what I think is the biggest problem with the dress code: of the female students, only specific girls are being dress-coded, and the kids have noticed it.

Four Haven 7th graders were talking about the leggings ban with Juliet Bond, who asked if any girls in particular are targeted by teachers for violating the dress code.

“Yes,” the girls all responded, “The girls that are developed are the ones that get dress-coded. “

Bond, a LCSW who teaches Gender Studies at Columbia College, tried to clarify, “Do you mean that the girls without boobs are not getting dress-coded?”

The girls all replied. “Yes.  That’s what is happening.”

Just last week, a 7th grader with a curvy build came home upset about this.  She had worn an outfit with a skirt and leggings, and in the morning, a teacher had said to her, “Cute outfit.”  But then her homeroom teacher pulled her aside at the end of the day and said, “You know, another girl could get away with that outfit, but you should not be wearing that.  I’m going to dress code you.”  Juliet Bond and the child’s mom were discussing the incident, not certain if the message to the child was ‘you’re too sexy’ or ‘you’re too fat.’

The kids also report that the teachers have been discussing ‘appropriate body types for leggings and yoga pants and inappropriate body types for yoga pants and leggings.’

Bond says, “This is concerning because it is both slut shaming and fat shaming.  If a girl is heavy or developed, the message is that she cannot wear certain clothes.”  Neither is acceptable.  We should not be sexualizing kids, nor should we be making them feel that they can wear leggings as long as they remain stick thin.  Bond asks, "Why are the girls being pulled out of class to have assemblies on whether they are wearing the right clothes, while the boys remain in class, learning and studying?"

I don’t have a problem with a school having a dress code; in fact, I attended a school that didn't allow jeans or shorts or shirts without collars, but I do have a problem when the dress code is discriminately based on gender and body type.  There is a big difference between telling all students to dress respectfully and telling curvy girls to dress in a way that doesn’t distract boys.

Carrie Goldman is the author of Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear (Harper Collins, 2012). She writes the blog Portrait of an Adoption for ChicagoNow. Her articles have appeared on the Huffington Post, Babble.com, CircleofMoms.com, Mamapedia.com and other parenting sites.