School dress codes: opportunity for discussion on respect
With summer upon us, the familiar debate emerges about appropriate clothing, namely for girls. Are they showing too much skin and "giving the wrong impression"? I believe we are addressing the wrong issue.
One only has to look at the fetishising of school uniforms or of conservative business suits to realize that it's all about the fact that a girl/woman is wearing it and very little about the actual outfit. So empowerment, to me, doesn't come from the clothing choices but from the social interaction choices we provide. Do we, as a society, tell girls that they get to play an equal part in the interpersonal interactions they play or do we place them in a "recipient" role, where they will respond to the whims of the people who interact with them?
Society isn't perfect and social interactions are complicated - we can't trust everyone to use good judgement or be kind or reasonable or ethical. People who don't respect a girl in short shorts are unlikely to respect a girl in long ones, because their respect is based on arbitrary variables like clothing length. How about we create a real social discussion that allows women and girls to be perceived as physically attractive while still being respected and taken seriously?
We shoot ourselves in the foot by making respect and sexuality mutually exclusive categories. It prevents us from having a real discussion about what we're supposed to do about sexual attraction when it comes up, how we negotiate those interactions and how we navigate consent. And how we go about other business, whether there is sexual attraction or not, or should it not be mutual. Civility, respect and equality have nothing to do with the length of shorts or the visibility of shoulders.
As a mother, what I try to convey to my kids is that they are worthy of respect no matter what they are wearing, and that they can demand that respect in any interaction with any person, peer or superior. As I believe I am just as worthy of respect fully naked as when I am wearing a parka.