In case you weren't already convinced that most high school dress codes are sexist bulldust meant to police young women's behavior along totally arbitrary guidelines, this story should do it for you: a 17-year-old girl was publicly chastised and kicked out of a homeschool prom in Virginia because several dads in attendance were unable to stop ogling her from a balcony overlooking the event.
In a blog post at HannahEttinger.com — titled, aptly, "f word the Patriarchy" — Clare, the young woman in question, wrote about her experience. According to her, she attended the Richmond Homeschool Prom with her boyfriend; the event's only dress code stipulation was that her dress be fingertip length or longer. With that in mind, she'd purchased a below-fingertip-length dress with her own money — so, by the criterion specifically stated on the event registration, Clare was not dressed inappropriately.
When she arrived at the event, she was told by an event chaperone that her dress was too short. She protested, stating that she had made sure it wasn't, and the chaperone begrudgingly allowed her in. Once inside, she met up with her friends and writes that they were all "appalled" that she'd been stopped, "especially considering we've been attending this prom all four years of high school and usually wore much shorter dresses." She also notes that "We were... a little grossed out by all the dads on the balcony above the dance floor, ogling and talking amongst themselves."
It was then that the event chaperone, a woman, approached her again. Writes Clare:
Despite her protests, Clare was made to leave, along with five other friends she'd carpooled with. Which makes sense, you know, because the nebulous menace of "impure thoughts" is so obviously dangerous to young men that it justifies kicking six teenagers out of an event they'd paid for!
This whole thing is infuriating, particularly because it so well encapsulates the absurdity inherent in how our culture conceptualizes propriety. We're taught to think that women's bodies are by definition impure and that displaying them is automatically salacious and obscene. And we localize that "obscenity" in women's behavior, which is patently ridiculous. In this situation, a bunch of fully-grown men were gawking at a teenager's body, and she's the one accused of being "inappropriate"? Seriously?
Furthermore, "impropriety" is always defined from a male perspective: the "below the fingertip" length stipulation was merely a stand-in for the real, tacit dress code, which is "Don't wear anything that a dude might find 'distracting,' i.e., boner-inducing." Implicit in this logic is the idea that women don't have any ownership over their bodies or any control over how they're read — in short, that if men deem something "provocative," it's automatically harlot-garb. It doesn't matter if it's an event-appropriate dress or leggings, which are what I like to wear when I've given up on the week: if some phantom man might find your clothing inappropriately sexual, it's by definition inappropriately sexual.
On the bright side, the event's Facebook page was shut down after an outpouring of criticism for its organizers and support for Clare. Turns out that being a big, sexist hypocrite is never a good look.
I was a home schooled kid attending church as a teen with two other home school girls. I wore a skirt that was knee length but had a bit of a slit, boots up to my calves and a sweater top that hugged. I was later accused by the girls for my apparent lack of modesty and that it had caused me to be leered at by old men at the church. It was "my fault" for being provocative. My sweater top was not inappropriately tight or the skirt slit slutty, but I was slut shamed anyway! This story really resonates with me, and makes me angry that these things still happen even ten years after my own incident. We have not out grown this as a culture and its sad. And it really does affect girls in the worst way. I've never really gotten over it, and am still worried about showing too much skin.