These 2018 dress code incidents had teen girls calling out sexism: We are not 'distractions'

·Senior Editor
(Photo: Courtesy of Lizzy Martinez)
(Photo: Courtesy of Lizzy Martinez)

Before sliding into 2019, Yahoo Lifestyle takes a quick look back at some of the year’s biggest stories, and what’s happened since, with Rewind 2018.

If there’s one thing that will never go out of style for teen girls, it’s sexist dress codes. At least that seemed to be the case in 2018, when not one but two braless high schoolers were harassed by administrators at different schools — within just one month of each other.

And that was just the start.

In Alabama, a teenage girl said she was kicked out of a mall because of the shorts she was wearing. In Wisconsin, a girl was so shamed for wearing leggings — leggings! — that the ACLU stepped in. An in Texas, a teen, this time a boy, was suspended for wearing makeup to school.

And the drama doesn’t stop when you leave high school, apparently: On Prince Edward Island, a 22-year-old college student was reprimanded at her gym for working out in a crop top. And in Paris, no less, an Instagram influencer was denied entrance to the Louvre for her low-cut black dress; she announced the situation on Instagram (see post below), noting, “Picasso would have loved my outfit.”

But back to being braless. For Lizzy Martinez, a student at Braden River High in Bradenton, Fla., the trouble went down in April, when she was called into her dean’s office for wearing a T-shirt with no bra underneath (a conscious choice she made, in order to give her sunburned shoulders a break). She tweeted about the interaction, in a post that has since been retweeted more than 13K times and liked more than 48.6K.

Commenters pointed out that it encouraged “rape culture” and that Lizzy should file a “sex discrimination case.” One of the worst details was in what the dean, Violeta Velazquez, proposed as a solution: She had her put on an undershirt and then asked Lizzy to stand up and move around, according to the teen. Dissatisfied, she said the dean asked the nurse to get her four Band-Aids and told her to go to the bathroom and “X-out her nipples.”

The ACLU soon got involved, with Lizzy writing an essay on the site, noting, “When friends and I planned a “Bracott” to support the destigmatization of female bodies, our school threatened to discipline students who participated. We just wanted our school to recognize female students as equal to our male classmates, not as sexual objects that are ‘distractions’ in the classroom.”

The ACLU wrote a letter to the high school, saying, in part, that the school was violating Title IX as well as the Florida Educational Equality Act “by selectively enforcing the dress code against female students in a manner that reinforces sex stereotypes. Accordingly, we urge the Manatee County School District to amend the dress code to remove the vague prohibition on ‘personal attire or grooming [that] distracts the attention of other students or teachers from their school work’ as this provision leads to arbitrary discriminatory enforcement in practice.”

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An Australian witch in Paris 🌙✨

A post shared by Newsha Syeh (@mewsha) on Nov 5, 2018 at 2:23pm PST

Still, Lizzy — who could not be reached for a year-end update from Yahoo Lifestyle — had not technically violated any portion of the school’s dress code. And, thankfully, the school district has admitted that the dean’s way of addressing Martinez was wrong. “It is undisputed that this matter should have been handled differently at the school level, and corrective measures have been taken to prevent a reoccurrence in the way these matters will be addressed in the future,” Mitchell Teitelbaum, the district’s general counsel, told the Bradenton Herald in a prepared statement back in April.

About a month after Lizzy’s situation, Brittney Coelho, arrived at her Harker, Tex., high school to find herself facing similar humiliation. Although she was dressed in an outfit deemed appropriate by her school’s dress code, an assistant principal pulled her aside during the day, to point out the fact that Coelho wasn’t wearing a bra.

“It is not a requirement in the dress code at my school for me to wear a bra,” the student tweeted. “Stop blaming girls’s outfits for boys not being raised right to respect women.”

She then posted a photo of herself in the shirt she wore to school, without a bra, alongside a screen shot of Harker Heights High School’s dress code. The high-necked top seemed to cover up everything that the guidelines restricted, leading the student to conclude that the bra request was rather sexist.

Coelho could not be reached for an update. But it sounds like her school might have also been wading into dangerous territory, according to the ACLU’s dress code guide, and the basics of what schools can and cannot do. Schools must adhere to these guidelines:

Dress codes can’t have dress codes that are explicitly discriminatory. “That means that while dress codes may specify types of attire that are acceptable, these requirements should not differ based on students’ sex or their race, for that matter — though race distinctions in dress codes tend not to be overt.

All students, whether transgender or cisgender, must be allowed to wear clothing consistent with their gender identity and expression. Dress codes that are targeted at or unevenly enforced against particular groups of students may violate laws prohibiting race and sex discrimination. “Dress codes are frequently unevenly enforced against girls for wearing clothing that is considered a ‘distraction’ to boys in the classroom — reinforcing stereotypes about how ‘good girls’ dress and privileging boys’ ability to concentrate over girls’ comfort and ability to learn.”

Only time will tell if schools will learn these rules in 2019…

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