High School Students Protest 'Slut Shaming' Dress Codes with Mass Walkouts

A spate of revolts against school dress codes appears to be gaining momentum across the United States, with students staging walkouts and other protests to complain at the way girls have been “humiliated” and forced to cover up.


A vocal campaign has emerged after recent incidents angered students in New York, Utah, Florida, Oklahoma and other states, with some accusing schools of sexism and so-called “slut shaming”.

The protests have spawned a hashtag, #iammorethanadistraction, and expressions of support from some parents who say the application of dress codes can be capricious and unjust.

“I do think these protests are a trend and I think it’s a good trend,” said Ruthann Robson, a City University of New York law professor and author of Dressing Constitutionally: Hierarchy, Sexuality and Democracy.

The mass walkouts showed that dress codes related to public policy and were not just confined to individual students and schools, she said. “Such resistance points out the larger structural issues. There is a problem here of state power getting confused with matters of good taste.”

The recent protests have coincided with the resumption of the school year but the controversy is not new. In March a group of middle-school girls in Evanston, Illinois picketed their school for the right to wear leggings. In August a school superintendent in Oklahoma allegedly referred to “skanks” with inappropriate clothing, prompting calls for her resignation.

Previous dress code battles have focused on issues such as the length of boys’ hair or sagging trousers. The current round centres on girls revealing skin or wearing figure-hugging attire such as leggings or yoga pants.

Schools have expressed concern such attire could “distract” other pupils and responded by sending students home or obliging them to wear oversized, baggy “shame suits”.

Since such punishment predominantly affects girls some commentators think it could violate Title IX, the federal law that ensures non-discrimination in educational environments.

There were laws against indecent exposure but some schools went further by decreeing what was and was not good taste, said Robson. “Just because someone wears something that we consider bad taste doesn’t mean the state should mandate.”

In the most recent backlash about 100 pupils walked out of Bingham high school in South Jordan, Utah, on Monday to protest the turning away of female classmates from a homecoming dance last weekend.

School staff allegedly lined up girls against a wall as they arrived and banished about two dozen for having dresses which purportedly showed too much skin and violated the rules.

“It was embarrassing and degrading to them. It was shaming. She came home very upset,” said Chad Perhson, whose teenage daughter, Tayler Gillespie, was among those refused entry.

School administrators said her knee-length purple dress breached a rule that “hemlines should go no higher than mid-thigh when seated”. Gillespie disputed that and said she was not given a chance to prove it. Some, including the homecoming queen, were allowed into the dance after donning their dates’ jackets.

The school, which did not respond to a request for comment, said in a statement to local media that dress codes were clear and publicised in advance. Perhson said the problem was not the rules but erratic and insensitive application.

On one of the hottest days of the year earlier this month administrators at Tottenville High School in Staten Island, New York, intercepted more than a hundred students, mostly girls, and ordered them to cover up or to summon parents with additional clothing. Many were given detention. 

In response many returned to school in crop tops and tank tops, deliberately breaking the code in protest. A leaflet appeared urging staff not to humiliate girls for wearing shorts. “It’s hot outside. Instead of shaming girls for their bodies, teach boys that girls are not sexual objects.”

A department of education spokesperson said it was the first year Tottenville implemented its dress code. The school did not respond to a request for comment.

Oakleaf high school in Florida made headlines for forcing Miranda Larkin, 15, to wear oversized red sweatpants and a neon yellow shirt, each with “dress code violation” written on them, in punishment for wearing a skirt that was above the knee.

Her mother, Dianna Larkin, said the punishment amounted to humiliationand that she would file a complaint with the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

Other students around the US have adopted the hashtag #iammorethanadistraction, including Anna Huffman, 17, who has organised a petition asking Western Alamance, her North Carolina high school, to amend certain restrictions and to allow leggings, yoga pants and other comfortable attire.

“These codes really target women. You don’t see boys being sent home for wearing shorts above the knee.”

Such an approach condoned boys seeing women as sexual objects, said Huffman. “It perpetuates the idea that girls need to conform to satisfy the males. If girls are getting harassed, we should blame the boys, not the girls.”

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