Thursday, March 20, 2014


My thirteen-year-old daughter has been down lately.  Between the stress of middle school and this never-ending midwestern snowmagedden, she's come home grey and tired for weeks.  I tried to cheer her up with a little retail shopping last week but all she wanted to buy were sweat pants.

"Why sweatpants?" I asked.

"Because I can wear them at school."


But for whatever reason, it's currently impossible to find old-fashioned sweatpants in our town.  We went from store to store and all they had were yoga pants or yoga pants made from sweatpant material. Lilly refused those but, at the time, I figured it was just some kind of mystical middle-school fashion choice.

Last Monday, she came home totally frustrated.

At the end of the day, all of the homeroom classes had spent the last ten minutes of the day listening to their teachers explain the new dress code policy.  As my daughters and her three friends explained it, they would no longer be allowed to wear leggings or yoga pants because these items are, "distracting to boys."  I flared up, lecturing the girls about how ridiculous it is to ask girls to cover up in order to make boys behave.

Then I made dinner.

In the morning, my quiet, I-don't-like-to-rock-the-boat daughter asked, "Mom, can you write a letter about the new dress code policy?"

So I was like...

My husband and I wrote a letter. (The entire letter can be read on Evanston Patch or Girl with Pen.)

Lilly's principal called later that day and we had a very nice conversation where she expressed her (vary valid) concerns about the sexualization of young girls, and I agreed but held firm that a dress code for girls with the aim of curbing boys behavior was a warped message to all of the kids.  Let me stress here that nothing girls wear is ultimately responsible for boy's behaviors.   
I'd copied the letter to a few parents when I sent it to the principal and one of them sent it to a local online news source.  Since then, articles about the school dress code have been written by Jezebel, The Huffington Post and The Chicago Tribune. CBS News sent cameras to interview kids and parents after school today and I did an interview with The Evanston Review tonight.

And the kids?

The kids have done some amazing things in response to the dress code.  They put up posters about sexism in the girl's bathrooms, created a petition and have come up with their own (awesome) slogan, Wx4 (Wear What We Want).

When I got home from work today, I found my daughter curled up on the couch with a friend.  She was laughing.

"Mom!" She said.  "Look at the news!"

After we watched the clip, the girls chattered on about all of the comments kids were making on Instagram, the kind of fantastic things boys were saying to stick up for the girls, and what they planned to do going forward.  They clearly felt empowered.

And I realized that my quiet daughter, while desperately flying under the radar, had been watching her friends get "dress coded" for months.

And, the girls explained, it was really only the "developed" girls that were getting in trouble.  Girls who still had the bodies of children were allowed to wear the same clothing without consequence.  One teacher told a friend of Lilly's, "I have to code you for that outfit.  Another girl could get away with that but you can't."

No wonder Lilly wanted old-fashioned sweat-pants.  She just wanted to avoid body-shaming by a teacher.

And while I understand the school's concerns about protecting the kids, shaming or covering up the girl's isn't the answer.

As my friend Jorie said, ""You can't dress code respect between people or erase sexuality with it either" 

As for my daughter, she's looking a little bit cheerier tonight.


  1. Juliet: You're my hero. I'll be laughing about "Release the Kraken" all day.

  2. The dress code when I was in school had nothing to do with the clothing's affect on boys. In fact I went to an all-girls school. It was about discouraging the "haves" from wearing clothes that "have-nots" couldn't afford. Times have changed.

  3. The RoundTable's asked for official comment; hadn't heard anything when I was in last. It's pretty appalling. You'd think that, even if that's what the school administrators really think, they would have couched it diplomatically.