As many of you know by now, my husband and I wrote a letter of concern a few weeks back, protesting the dress code at our daughter's middle school. Since then, the letter and the resulting controversy have gone viral.
In most instances, "reporters" have grabbed their information from other sources, compiling a story in a rather haphazard manner. Names are wrong, basic insights are lost, and snarky comments after each story show off the reader-underbelly in their rarest of forms.
A few sturdy, old-fashioned journalist types have actually bothered to interview kids, parents and administrators at the school (special thanks to Jenny Fisher at The Evanston Review who has been right on top of this story and has balanced her reporting by including commentary and discussion by many community members.) I especially appreciated her referencing the parent at our meeting Tuesday night who bravely attempted to figure out what the heck our daughters can wear to school since her sixth grader has been coded for wearing everything from yoga pants to fingertip-length skirts worn over tights. (So how many layers of clothing do our daughters need to wear in order to make adults comfortable with their budding sexuality?)
But most writers are just grabbing at what they can find on the internet, misquoting and misunderstanding the basic issues we are worried about. This has all been an education for me as a writer and an interviewee. How we choose words and attach meaning to them can be insightful, instructive or downright manipulative. For instance, a bias in favor of dress codes seems apparent in this article while this one implies that the whole controversy was based on "unfounded rumors."
And most of what we see on the internet now is, "commentary," which can be confused with actual journalism. When Perez Hilton writes his opinions on the topic, we are all pretty clear as readers that this is one person's opinion. And his inflammatory word choices are expertly utilized to excite the readers, FURIOUS! INSANE! But when Slate.com covers the topic, the "journalism" aspect of the piece is obfuscated and people are more likely to read it as fact-based content.
In the end, I'm learning to be careful about what I say, even in Facebook posts (yipes - "journalists" can snag quotes from my personal Facebook page?) while attempting to be consistent in my message that when we set guidelines of dress for girls that are different for boys, we send a basic message that girl’s bodies need to be covered up. In the case of dress codes that require a second layer of clothing, the message is even clearer, We don’t want to see your bodies. In fact, even the outline of your bodies is offensive.
For me, the bottom line is a basic "Puberty Shaming" of girls at a time when we know that their self-esteem is plummeting anyway. I don't deny the sexualization of young girls is a serious problem. The media highlights bizarre instances of girls as young as three slathered in make up and suggestively dancing in halter-tops.
But I think that is a separate issue. Dress codes like the ones we are objecting to encourage educators to do the sexualizing themselves - telling girls that the (frankly, rather dumpy) clothes that their mothers wear every day (yoga pants and sweatshirts) is somehow "too sexy" for school.
Okay online bloggers, personalities and journalists - have at it.