#2 Dress for the sexist

Over the summer at camp a big problem that our girls camp faced when visiting the boys was our appearance. We would go over to swim with them and we were not aloud to wear two pieces, but when we arrived all the boys were running around with no shirts on. We would also get frequent talks about what the appropriate dress code was because we needed to make sure that it wasn’t to sexual as not to make the boys uncomfortable. Another example is with school dress codes, many of schools have rules about short length. The only problem is women’s shorts are made shorter than mens, so it is much easier for a male to follow this dress code. In my school at least much more girls get dress coded over guys. One thing that really bugs me about this is that there is a stigma that boys can’t control them selfs so to compromise the women have to cover themselves up. That stigma not only makes the women have to compensate for the mans actions but it also diminishes the mans worth. It makes the man out to be an animal who can’t control themselves, and even though that happens sometimes, it should not be the women’s job to stop it and we shouldn’t hold all men to that expectation. I have heard a lot of women’s options on this subject, however I do not get to talk to men about this form of sexism. I wonder if they see any injustice too? Maybe they see it unfair to males, or maybe they are just oblivious to this going on. One really troubling moment at camp last summer was when we had gone over to play on a waterslide that the boys camp had rented. All the boys were at rest hour so we were aloud to wear what we pleased. Everything was fine until the bugle blew for the end of rest hour and the boys started running over to use the waterslide, with no shirts and all. Instead of just having us walk to the vans and returns, the counselors started throwing random towels at us and chanting a song “cover up, cover up” They added on “We don’t want you to get hypothermia” Funny that hypothermia wasn’t a problem until the boys came around. I looked over at the boys and noticed no counselors were telling them to cover up infant most counselors weren’t wearing shirt either. I saw my brother in the crowd and I went to say hi to him since there was no vans here at the minute, as I’m saying hi to my brother I’m physically grabbed and dragged back to the group by a counselor she then said to me “you’re older, start setting an example, put a towel on and stop flirting”. First of all ew, my brother and I might not look alike but ew. It was that moment that opened my eyes to everything that had happened in the last five years I had been at camp. Don’t get me wrong my camp is still amazing and I never want to leave but sexism is something that follows even to the most amazing places in the world, even to your safe place, which camp is to me. I’m am stepping into a counselor position next year and I’m nervous. I know this is some sort of rule at camp but I don’t want to be the one enforcing this unjustness. I really want to make a difference but what am I suppose to do when this happens and its my job to stop it even if I don’t agree with it? One dream I have is to join the police academy, what if I run into the same kind of injustice there? People run into injustice ever day and they judge the people who are part of it, but I always ask myself, well what would I do if I were in that situation? because someday I may be.



Anna McIntosh

5 Responses to “#2 Dress for the sexist

  • Anna,

    Thank you for sharing this powerful story. I should feel shocked, but the kind of unequal treatment you describe is so rampant in our society that I can’t even say I’m surprised to hear it. What I can say is that your response–the desire to do something about it–is admirable, and I hope that, should you decide to pursue this topic through What’s the Story, you find a means to take action.

    “I know this is some sort of rule at camp,” you write, “but I don’t want to be the one enforcing this unjustness. I really want to make a difference but what am I suppose to do when this happens and its my job to stop it even if I don’t agree with it?” This seems to me one of the most important questions you pose here. In becoming part of an establishment that you recognize has sexist policies, you yourself will be expected to perpetuate those policies. I don’t know what the answer is, but I would encourage you to speak to higher-ups at the camp and let them know your concerns. You may find that you have allies willing to help you make a difference.

    Keep up the good work!

  • Anna,
    The story you told me shook me. You were told to cover yourself up and it’s just messed up we just assume that people can’t control themselves every time they see someone’s stomach or shoulders. I’ve seen related similar things happen at my school, we have girls who wear spaghetti straps and tank tops and they get repeatedly told to go put a jacket on. It infuriates some students, that they just can’t show their shoulder. That fact that your camp counselors attempt to humor the hidden sexism in trying to make up cover yourself up. I have been going to an all girls camp for the past 6 years, and it’s enforced that we have to wear a one-piece bathing suit, and they say “modest is the new hottest”, and I just find that it’s really interesting because it’s just girls.
    As a side note, I love the image you chose for the cover!

  • Stacy Raphael
    4 years ago

    Hi Anna, I couldn’t resist responding to your post because it has so many seeds of powerful thought in it, I can almost see your brain churning and grappling with this thorny, multifaceted issue. I, too, was a bit horrified at the picture you painted of the double standards and the implicit messaging in the counselors’ words and actions. There are so many things there to push against, to question, to explore. There is no pat answer, either, because it emerges from a complex ecosystem of long-term gender inequality in our society. It also has teeth because you place yourself directly in the problem–first as a camper and then second as a future counselor. You are thinking about your present-self and future-self in the same moment, encapsulating so precisely why change feels so necessary to bring systems into better alignment with your own beliefs and values.

    One other angle that you only lightly touch on is the sexualized nature of the clothing industry itself. Yes, of course, there’s the fairness or lack thereof of enforcing dress code unevenly along gender lines. But there is also a disproportionate ratio of clothing designed to reveal the body that is easily available to women. “What I want to wear” in high school is often dictated by what is *available* to buy and what society is saying is fashionable. That is dictated higher up the chain in our society and is worth looking at, too.

    And finally, yes, a picture is worth a thousand words and your choice of image gets to the heart of your story about what happened at camp this summer–the onus of responsibility does not ultimately or properly belong on females to make members of the opposite sex behave in respectful and consensual ways that do not violate another person’s individual liberties. WAY more needs to be done to shift this conversation to one of male accountability and raising the bar for ways that women are discussed and dissected (as objects rather than subjects).

    For another recent bit that I feel connects to your image, see Maura Quint’s spot-on twitter thread here: https://www.good.is/articles/maura-quint-twitter-sexual-assault It captures some of what I inferred from your blog in a way that I’ve never seen done quite so well. And yes, I know you’re not talking explicitly about sexual assault, but what you experienced on the dock this summer is the cultural trappings that cloud and confuse our conversations about assault, so there’s a trail of breadcrumbs here for you, if you’re looking.

    In this #metoo moment, this feels relevant globally–but it strikes a chord for me most especially because it felt personally meaningful to you. Thank you for reflecting in your blog about this. I’d like to hear more of your thinking as WTS progresses. Really nice job!

  • Allison Stebe
    4 years ago

    Hi Anna,
    I really appreciated reading your blog post. Similarly, I was talking to a student this week who was upset over the inconsistencies with the dress code. Her perception is that different student groups are “targeted” with dress code violations. She was sitting at the table in the guidance office highlighting the student handbook and planned to meet with Mr. Farrell. This slightly varies from your post but shares a common message of inequality. Your experience at camp seems extremely biased but it is also an opportunity for conversation and shared understanding of why the current “rule” is not acceptable. As a rising counselor, you can certainly make a difference, even if it is how you connect with and empower each of your campers. As you mentioned, “camp is amazing”-as it often is. But I encourage you to voice your concerns to make it (even more) amazing for younger campers-both female and male.

  • Anna,
    I 100% understand where you’re coming from. My middle school had a strict and sexist dress code last year, and I spearheaded a petition to change it. The petition was successful in changing the dress code, but from what I’ve heard from seventh and eighth graders, it’s still unfairly enforced. I remember being outraged during my time there when my friend was dress coded for shorts that didn’t quite meet her fingertips, while a boy walked around is a t-shirt with cutoff sleeves which showed so much skin as he may as well have not worn a shirt at all. We need to stop labeling girls as objects-and stop degrading boys by assuming that seeing a girl’s shoulder will distract them.

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