Thursday, December 24, 2015

Dress Codes and Potential Curmie Nominees

Curmie is WAAAAAAYYY behind on his writing, but we’re going to try to play catch-up in the waning days of 2015 so the most deserving of Curmie contenders get their fair shot at that coveted title.

Over the summer, Curmie wrote about stupid dress codes associated with high school proms, and promised a second post about stupid dress codes not associated with prom. Here it is, with six examples that happened to have crossed Curmie’s vision over the past few months. The frightening thing is that there is little doubt that we’re only scratching the surface of this inanity; there are no doubt dozens if not hundreds of idiot administrators enforcing moronic dress codes all over the country. These are just the ones that got written up in a place Curmie happened to see them.

We’re going to take these a little out of chronological order in order to start with the one story that isn’t about double standards for girls and boys, and to conclude with Curmie’s choice for the Ontologically Stupidest Dress Code in the History of Ontologically Stupid Dress Codes. It will almost surely get a Curmie nomination; one or two of the others might, too, and you, Gentle Reader, will get to vote for your… erm… favorite.

Gay O.K. is not O.K.
We start, then, at Faubion Middle School in McKinney, TX, where two 7th-grade students were sent home and a dozen or so others were forced to change clothes or cover up t-shirts that read “Gay O.K.” The students say they were showing support for a classmate who had come out as gay and was being bullied. The school, of course, did nothing about the bullying allegations because, well, Texas.

The students say they were confronted by administrators as soon as they arrived at school, but according to Sammy Heiman, who designed the shirts, “we doing perfectly fine until lunch. And then … [the administration] called us all out, all the people wearing them, called us out of the cafeteria. And people started getting rowdy because they knew what was going on. They were making us take off the shirts.”

I need hardly mention, Gentle Reader, that there was nothing in the school’s dress code that prohibited a political statement of this kind: the district instead relied on a clause reading “any disruptive or distractive mode of clothing or appearance that adversely impacts the educational process is not permitted.” This is, of course, as Curmie has pointed out before (in a very similar case in Ohio three years ago), administrative code for “there’s nothing illegal, unethical, or immoral about what you’re doing, but we don’t like it and we’re going to forbid it because we can.”

By the way, the dress code seems to have been changed over the summer to a more draconian version that outlaws basically everything, including “items that display… slogans, or language that is provocative.” (“Provocative” is another useful word to hide behind for censorious asshats who seek to deny 1st amendment rights.) Nothing like a little ex post facto cover-up to brighten all our days, after all.

Of course, we were subjected to the utterly disingenuous response of the school’s designated talking head, one Cody Cunningham, who self-righteously proclaimed that the school’s “primary obligation is to ensure a safe and productive learning environment.” OK. How is safety an issue here, except by means of a heckler’s veto, and if you were all that interested in productivity and lack of distraction, maybe you shouldn’t have initiated the confrontation? And forgive Curmie the suspicion that if the t-shirts had called President Obama a tyrant, suddenly your hypocritical administration would have been all about free speech.

Anyway, we move on to four—count ‘em, four—instances in which high school girls were subjected to idiotic rules with even more idiotic enforcement for dressing, well, completely appropriately according to any rational standards.

This dress is too short?
We start, then, in Dayton, Idaho, where senior Evette Raye was suspended with only a half hour left in her high school career for wearing a dress that violated West Side High’s dress code. If this incident falls a little short of a Curmie nomination, it will be because the dress really was shorter than the allowable limit. The rule is certainly stupid and probably sexist, but it is at least the rule. And the insubordination charge may actually be legitimate in that manifest defiance of stupid rules administered by puritanical jackasses is still insubordinate.

If the kerfuffle garners a Curmie nod, it will be because of the ham-handed treatment of Ms. Reay by a boatload of school officials. A teacher, Legrand Leavitt, chose the last 30 minutes of a student’s high school experience to be a dick strut his authority enforce the dress code; the school violated their own policy in suspending Ms. Reay: their handbook reads “If a student is inappropriately dressed, he/she will be required to call home to arrange for appropriate clothing, or the school will provide a t-shirt, sweatshirt or sweatpants to be worn that day.” The school didn’t offer to make any such accommodations, nor would they allow Reay’s mother to bring something else for her to wear. (By the time she could have gotten there, the school day—and year—would have been over, and then petty little morons like Leavitt and Principal Tyler Telford wouldn’t have had the chance to feel self-important.)

Shoulders!  Think of the children!
And so we move on to Fort Myers, Florida, where junior Cameron Boland had the audacity to wear a spaghetti-strap sundress to deliver a victory speech after being elected historian for her county’s National Honor Society chapters. Yes, really. A sundress. In Florida. In May. OMG, shoulders! Blindfold the young ‘uns: we can’t have them subjected to this lasciviousness!

As usual, the dress code is a grammatical and syntactical nightmare as well as a sexist manifesto, essentially blaming girls for boys’ distractedness. (Curmie does like the injunction against “tub tops,” though.) To be fair, spaghetti straps are indeed forbidden. In school. This is an extracurricular activity, and the event was held at another school. It’s reasonable to suggest (though obviously not certain) that Ms. Boland really didn’t know she was breaking any rules. Technically, of course, she was, and she should have known that if she didn’t. But it is beyond question that she didn’t violate any rational standards of decency.

Once again, the manner of enforcement of what is already a stupid rule is the real problem. First off, the voters in the election in question were presumably students, so the district’s over-riding of the results translates into a usurpation of students’ (honor students’), authority. And notice that the speech was allowed to happen. You can’t stand by and watch what Pompous Twatwaffle of the Year School Board Vice Chairman Steven Teuber, in a predictably ungrammatical and boorish screed in the local newspaper (so much for FERPA, right?) calls “a flagrant violation” of the rules, and then decide 45 minutes later that the results of a free and fair election must be overturned. Cameron Boland may or may not be a trouble-maker and a provocateur. But two things are eminently clear: The NHS advisors who made the initial call are buffoons or hypocrites or both. And Steven Teuber is an ass, and apparently a creepy one, at that. Sending a Facebook friend request to a 17-year-old girl you’ve never met? Ewwwww.

Apparently cooler heads have prevailed, and Ms. Boland has been duly installed as co-historian of the county’s NHS chapters. The “co-“ part is a compromise position enacted by Superintendent Nancy Graham, who, unlike Mr. Teuber, seems to have an intellect superior to that of a pile of rotting leaves.

OMG, this girl has a collarbone.
Next up in our tour around the country: Woodford County High School in Kentucky. Because if you thought shoulders were over-stimulating, you should look at (Curmie blushes to even type the word)… collarbones. Once again, there is technically a violation at play here: yes, the dress code says that necklines can’t extend below the collarbone. Well, actually, it was written by the usual pack of illiterate butt-scratchers, so what it really says is that the shirt can’t do so—that really would cause some distraction! But we know what the censorious asshats meant. They meant that Stephanie Hughes was in violation for the outfit you see here. Curmie, who is not a collarbone fetishist, honestly couldn’t figure out what the problem was until he read the article.

The dress code had been the subject of no little debate before this year, largely because of a Youtube video created by a student named Maggie Sunseri. In it, girls describe how virtually all of them have been found in violation of the dress code at one time or another. They complain that even if the majority of teachers have no problem with a student’s apparel, “one person can call it inappropriate and make us miss class.” Curmie didn’t watch the whole thing, but was caught by this thoughtful response, obviously to a question about why there is a dress code at all: “…to give everyone a good learning environment, but honestly, it distracts from it. If you’re worried about, hey, am I going to get caught for dress code today because I couldn’t find a shirt that I could wear that was in dress code, “am I going to get caught for dress code today,” not “what’s the lesson on today.” Curmie suspects that the girls in question probably could indeed have found such a shirt… but also notes that the dress code applies almost exclusively to girls, and thereby privileges the “good learning environment” for boys—wouldn’t want them to be led astray by those collarbones, after all--at the expense of fostering such an environment for girls. “It sends a message to boys that’s it’s all girls’ fault,” says another girl. Precisely.

And, of course, we also get the platitudes from the principal about getting students “college and career ready” and similar bovine feces. As one of the girls points out, “college doesn’t have a dress code, so it’s not really preparing us for college.” Curmie can attest to the validity of that point. But the other thing is… sometimes someone wears something inappropriate once or twice, and then they don’t anymore. These things tend to sort themselves out if you let them.

The good news is that Ms. Hughes and her mom, Stacie Dunn, seem little interested in suffering fools, so when Stephanie was busted for clavicular revelation, not only was a social media campaign born; it went viral... and by “viral” I mean 46,000+ shares. Curmie heard about it at the time, for example, even if he’s only writing about it now. Ultimately, the mobilization of dozens of students and parents (and a healthy dollop of international embarrassment) proved sufficient: the new standard (to be implemented in January, apparently) is still written by someone who shouldn’t have been let out of 6th grade, let alone a college-level Freshman Comp course. But it says that necklines can now extend 2 ¼” below the base of the collarbone—a not unreasonable criterion. If only the powers that be had listened years ago.

Not really a violation at all, but we’ll pretend it is.
Finally… well, finally before the grand finale… there’s this from Huntsville, Alabama’s Grissom High School, where Josefina Thompson was punished for wearing leggings, despite the fact that her outfit seemed to be acceptable under a provision that “Students may wear yoga pants, tights, leggings, or jeggings as long as they are used as an undergarment covered by shorts, skirts, or dresses that are at least no higher than three inches above the bend of the back of the knee.” Is the problem that she was wearing a sweatshirt instead of a dress over the leggings? Curmie doubts it.

Rather, it’s all about that “distracting” thing. Ms. Thompson, by the way, was stopped not by a teacher or administrator, but by a security officer, whose business ought, in any sane universe, to be, well, security, and not to interpret the dress code. This isn’t Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle, where a comely young woman’s backside is determined by the drunken but just (or just but drunken, depending on your point of view) judge Azdak to be a deadly weapon. This is an average high school girl whose choice of apparel would be acceptable to any rational being even if the sweatshirt was too short, which it doesn’t appear to be.

Like Stephanie Thompson, Ms. Thompson has a mom who cuts to the central argument in a hurry. In a Facebook post, shared over 2000 times (!), Deanna Wolf writes:
Huntsville City Schools, I would like to ask a question. What are you teaching our children about their bodies and their minds? My daughter was not allowed to go to class, and was held in ILC for an entire class period because she wore this outfit to school. She would have been held even longer had someone not been able to bring her more “appropriate” clothing. I would like someone to please explain to me how this is justified. Why single a student out, put her in a locked room and inhibit her learning because of one faculty member’s INTERPRETATION of her clothing? It boils down to the claim that girls’ “revealing” clothing is a distraction to male students. That the mere idea of a girl even HAVING a derriere (or, heaven forbid, shoulders) is so scandalous that we must stop everything and hide her away. I am sick to death of the public shaming of the female form. You are telling girls that their bodies are to be hidden, and that boys cannot control their minds if they see the basic female figure. It’s disgusting and it belittles both sexes. Not to mention that this whole situation clearly states that a girl’s education has less importance than a boy’s education, and that her right to said education is secondary to providing a distraction free learning environment for the opposite sex. Your misguided attempt at disciplining my child has only succeeded in giving an example of the skewed gender bias perpetuated by society. The lesson she learned today was NOT that her clothes were inappropriate, but rather that the behavior of the school was inappropriate. It’s asinine things like this which push more and more parents to homeschool their children.
Yes. What she said.

Curmie is also, by the way, particularly impressed (notice he didn’t say “positively”) with Keith Ward, communications director for the system, who tried valiantly to convince us that “the dress code applies to everyone.” This is an all too common avoidance of responsibility, akin to “no, it isn’t sexist to tax tampons; men who buy them have to pay the tax, too.” Ward also professed ignorance as to whether students are allowed to, say, wear cheerleading uniforms to class. Way to know your job, there, Keith. For the record, cheerleaders were required to wear their uniforms to class on game days, skirts in general were shorter then, and we all managed to survive and even get diplomas. Either the adolescent libido or the inanity of school administrators has increased exponentially in the intervening years. Curmie’s money is on the latter.

And so we move on to the incident Curmie regards as the most ridiculous of them all… Drumroll. A couple hours down the road from Curmie is the Cypress-Fairbanks School District in greater Houston. Cy-Fair, as it is commonly known, is a well-respected school system; at least three of Curmie’s former students teach there (or did). But it is also home to a certain Curmie contender.

The perp and the offending dress.  Be afraid.  Be very afraid.
Here’s the story. Parent Jef Rouner wondered why his daughter was wearing a shirt over the sundress she wore to school. Was she cold? “No… I had to change because spaghetti straps are against the rules.” Rouner’s daughter has also had to change into jeans despite the fact that her dress went all the way to the floor. Did Curmie mention that she’s five, and we’re talking about kindergarten, here?

In Rouner’s words:
Five. You get me? She's five. Cut her hair and put her next to a boy with no shirt on and she is fundamentally identical. I guess you could argue that a boy would not be allowed to wear a shirt with spaghetti straps either, but the day they sell anything like that in the boys section of a Target I will happily withdraw my objections.
Yes, there is a specific injunction against spaghetti straps (Rouner rightly notes that there is nary a male-specific rule in the list, but plenty of female-specific ones), but surely any rational person would link that prohibition to the writers’ palpable terror of breasts and cleavage, right? Well, apparently not. Because… she’s five, remember?

Rouner again:
Make no mistake; every school dress code that is not a set uniform is about policing girls and girls alone. The only time I've ever seen it go the other way around was when I was fighting the battle for my long hair throughout middle and high school. That was last century, but I had a friend go through the same thing with Needville ISD less than a decade ago with her son. And why? Because long hair belongs on girls. There's literally no other possible reason to force a boy to cut his hair if he doesn't want to.
Let’s hear it for parents worthy of the name. But stupid, senseless, draconian, body-shaming, sexist, and otherwise despicable dress codes can teach only two things, both of them bad: patriarchic bullshit or contempt for legitimate laws. The perpetrators are probably so insensate that they fail to realize the harm they cause. But we must not look away. We must not be silent. We must not fail.

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