#5: We Can’t Ignore The Violence

Love unites people. So cheesy, I know. But I’m not just talking about love for each other. I’m talking about love for an idea, a practice, a thing. Love for a sport unites a team and promises them success. Love for a job creates enthusiasm that accomplishes great things. Love for a person brings people together, whether it’s to celebrate their birthday, marriage, or death.

Of course, the logical statement to follow would be that hate divides us. I disagree. Complacency divides us. It’s like Elie Wiesel’s famous quote, “the opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” When doing a group project, if one person doesn’t care, it puts a heavier burden on the rest of the group members, producing frustration and conflict. When people don’t care enough about the country’s future to vote, it can result in the election of an incompetent or tyrannical leader that will wreak havoc on the citizens. When one person falls out of love, the relationship crumbles, without a drop of hate or anger.

Simon Sinek emphasized the power of reason or desire in terms of creating change. I believe that love has a similar effect, and when we love an idea, such as gender equality, we can achieve amazing things with our work towards it.

The most prominent story about dress code conflict is located at the Woodstock Middle and High School. Student and parent complaints about the dress code, which they considered to be sexist, trans-exclusive, and not accommodate for people of different body types, culminated in a discussion of the issue at a community meeting in May. The administration responded by making progress to update their current dress code, initially established in 1992, but no change has yet occurred.

All over the country, over 3,000 students have started petitions similar to the one in Woodstock, in attempt to make their schools’ dress codes more inclusive and less of an attack on girls’ bodies. However, this produces great conflict, as many administrations reject the idea that girls should be able to wear what they want (to a certain degree). A substantial number of people from the previous generation believe that women should dress “respectfully” and not show off their bodies, because “it’s trashy and no one wants to see all that.” They were raised to accept a  certain amount of skin showing, so it’s difficult for them to look at teenagers showing quite a bit more than that. The truth is, this is how society works. Their parents disapproved at their fashion choices, as did their parents, and we can trace it all the way back to the era where simply showing an ankle was scandalous. This is a perpetual conflict, with the younger generation wanting to show more of their bodies (in general), and the older generation resisting because they consider it offensive.

On the other hand, the fight has evolved. It’s no longer solely about “I want to wear this crop top for attention.” It’s about equality and freedom of expression. It’s about ending the extreme sexualization of women’s bodies. It’s about promoting self love. The conflict is not only more complicated now, but it carries so much more weight, which is why it’s so important that we resolve it.

Okay, I want to make this less abstract. Here are some (not super well incorporated) facts:

-Every year, approximately 288,820 women are raped in the United States.

-1 out of 5 women in America have been raped in the United States.

-Every two minutes, an American is sexually assaulted.

-Over 30 million people in America suffer from an eating disorder.

-Every 62 minutes, a person dies as a result of an eating disorder.

If I had to ask a question, I would ask why. Why do we continue to ignore these serious consequences, so we can make sure “boys aren’t distracted” or “girls are being respectful to their bodies and elders”? Why do we (directly or indirectly) inflict this harm on people we love? Why do we think this is an acceptable world to leave to the next generation?

* I feel like I should clarify this: the featured image isn’t what it looks like. It’s a monk in Peru who jumps off the rock multiple times a day into the water, in remembrance of an old, Romeo-&-Juliet-esque, Peruvian tale. He’s attached to a rope. Don’t worry. He’s fine.

http://digital.vpr.net/post/woodstock-school-district-struggles-update-its-student-dress-code#stream/0

http://www.thevermontstandard.com/2016/06/uniforms-considered-as-dress-code-solution/

http://digital.vpr.net/post/public-forum-middle-school-dress-code-turns-gender-politics-debate#stream/0

https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence

Eating Disorder Statistics

Anna Buteau

6 Responses to “#5: We Can’t Ignore The Violence

  • Anna,

    I really like how you have begun to connect your issue of interest (dress codes in schools) to some larger issues that the country is dealing with (eating disorders, sexism, rape culture, etc.). It makes your topic all the more relevant and important. I think further research to really connect, in a more straightforward manner, dress code to these other topics would be beneficial.

    I also think that trying to generate a larger list of schools in Vermont with on-going dress code discussions would be helpful. Obviously, going nationwide to investigate this issue is not feasible, but adding to your list of local schools (Woodstock, Burlington, MUHS – where you might actually try to effect change) could become quite beneficial for the later stages of this project.

    On the whole, I think you are headed in a great direction. You’ve identified an issue that you have the potential to influence or even change (dress code at MUHS). Judging by the articles you cited here, you have an understanding that dress codes can be complicated. You also have started to connect your issue to some larger national issues, which makes your topic more interesting and more relevant to more people. Keep on investigating, I’m excited to see where this ends up.

    Erik

    • Thank you Erik! I actually just learned today that MUHS has removed the dress code entirely from the school handbook. I guess they wanted to prevent the, for lack of a better word, “slut shaming,” that comes with the dress code. I’m excited about this change, and I hope Middlebury can be a role model for other schools in the state.

  • Andrea Lunsford
    4 years ago

    Dear Anna: Thanks for another very thought provoking piece of writing. I LOVE what you say about love and its ability to bring people together, whether it’s love of a job, a sport, or a person. So I’m with you all the way so far. But I began to get confused a bit further on. You argue that young people have always wanted to wear less/show more skin than their elders and you give good examples (those Victorians and their hidden ankles, for example: and did you know that they covered the legs of pianos because they didn’t want to be risque?!). But by that logic, wouldn’t we eventually all just be walking around naked? Why not just show everything? For me, choice of dress like just about everything else is a matter of what’s appropriate in what context and what choices I want to make to express myself. I think you’d go along with that, right?
    I’m also confused, though, about what connection you see between dress codes and the incidence of rapes and sexual assault. I’m lost there. So I’d like to hear more.
    In the meantime, though I am discouraged at the very low level of discourse about women in the Presidential race right now, I am hoping that it will lead to thoughtful discussions and to change in ways of thinking.
    Seding all best wishes, Abdrea

    • Hi Andrea, thank you for your response! I believe that the historical trend predicts that someday, yes, we may devolve into a society that accepts nudity. However, I definitely agree that it’s important to dress appropriately for certain contexts. For instance, if I’m going to a job interview, I’ll wear clothes that appear professional, such as a nice shirt and jeans. If I’m going to dinner at my grandmother’s house, I’ll take extra care not to show bra straps or my torso, not simply to respect her opinions, but also because that’s not the person I want to present to her. Contrarily, I’m not going to wear a fitted sweater and slacks to go to the beach with my friends. Context plays a big role in our choices, but the key is that it’s our choice. I *could* wear a crop top and short shorts to a college interview, but most likely I would get rejected. I think that we, as teenagers and adults, understand what’s appropriate for a certain situation and choose to dress in a certain way, considering the inevitable consequences of whatever attire we wear. We’re smart enough to make appropriate choices. And maybe in high school, we’re still learning what’s okay and what’s not, so we need to experiment with outfits to see what we feel comfortable in. If we’re restricted, we never develop that natural intuition, so we’re more likely to dress inappropriately in higher stakes situations.

      As for the connection between sexual assault and dress codes, it’s more about rape culture. In other words, by restricting the way girls dress in order to prevent the boys from being distracted, we’re putting the responsibility on girls, when it’s the boys who “can’t focus” (sidenote: I don’t believe that boys will get distracted by seeing bra straps, legs, or even midriffs. I have a whole anecdote about this but I don’t want to make this too long…). We’re telling girls it’s up to them. Just as we tell girls that they must cover up in order to prevent being catcalled or sexually assaulted. It’s the classic “she was asking for it.” In both cases, we’re manipulating female behavior, when we should be teaching men to deal with their distraction, or keep their hands to themselves. I feel like I’m not making much sense here… Okay, so starting in middle school, girls are asked to change, because “boys can’t control themselves,” but the boys aren’t told to control themselves, because “boys will be boys.” This tells girls that they have the responsibility to keep the boys’ behavior at bay, and tells boys that they can behave how they wish, without consequence. Years pass like this, and now they’re in high school. Suddenly people are thinking about sex, but the ideas that have been drilled into their heads from the beginning don’t disappear. Boys, never having learned the importance of self control, still think they can do whatever they want. So if they want to have sex, they do. Obviously, most men will never rape someone, but the culture is there. The ideas are there. And when it happens? Women blame themselves, because they’ve forever been taught that they need to protect themselves by wearing appropriate clothing, staying sober, etc. This is just a long winded way to say that dress codes are placing the blame on girls and absolving boys from all responsibility, which translates into rape culture as we grow up.

      Rape culture means that rapists have less responsibility than the victims. Rape culture is victim blaming. Rape culture is making sexual comments/advances on a woman who doesn’t want to receive those comments. And I’m glad you brought up the issue of the Presidential race, because there’s a perfect example of rape culture. The fact that obscene, sexual comments about women are viewed as “locker room talk” is a huge problem. It means that we’re normalizing sexual assault, because whether it’s verbal or physical, it’s still. Sexual. Assault. And I’m going to try and abstain from offering up political opinions, but the fact that one of our presidential candidates has repeatedly sexually assaulted women, at least verbally if not physically, and is still being considered in the race, indicates something extremely negative about our country. This normalization of violence towards women needs to end. Right now.

      Ahh sorry I wrote way too much and got off topic. I have so many opinions… I know I wasn’t very clear in my explanations but I hope that gives you at least some clarification…?

  • Hey Anna,
    Congrats on another job well done! Your first two paragraphs on love are very strong, and applicable to your topic. Speaking of your topic, your posts are making my desire to help you fight even stronger! You are very persuasive with your facts and logic.

    I was wondering… I know at my school, there is a dress code for girls, but it’s not as restrictive as, say Woodstock. Is your school’s dress code similar to Woodstock, worse, or better? I do not recall you mentioning the specific details of your dress code (or maybe that’s just my bad memory).

    Like I said earlier, your facts are very strong. I’m glad you used those. I also like that you mentioned that this issue has had some trouble the past. It could make the demand for social change higher. It’s appalling that you see how much society has really changed since 1992, but this hasn’t been a top priority. Like I said, that will just mean a higher demand for social change.

    I think you could get a lot of people behind you with this. Keep up the good and hard work! Until next time.

    -Bryce

    • Hey Bryce, thanks for your thoughts! I’m glad my posts are inspiring to you, and I hope other people are responding similarly. It’s actually interesting that you ask about my school, as just recently (like, within a week ago), I learned that my school has completely removed the dress code from the code of conduct. I’m not clear on all the details, but they had become aware of its sexism, and, realizing that they hardly enforced it anyway, got rid of it. I’m pretty excited about this development, and I hope Middlebury can serve as a driving force for other schools in the state to make beneficial change.

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