The freedom to express oneself through clothing is a fundamental aspect of individual liberty, allowing people to convey their personality, culture, and identity. However, the issue of dress codes in schools continues to be up for debate, and cases of girls being forced to go back home and change are far from few. Restrictive and sexist dress codes continue to disproportionately target young women.

Sexist history of dress codes

Historically, dress codes have been used to control and restrict the autonomy of women and girls. Often, these rules target clothing items that are more commonly associated with feminine attire. Skirt lengths, shoulder coverage, and neckline plunges are some common elements in dress codes that have disproportionately affected female students.

Dress codes have been also enforced in a way that objectifies and sexualizes female students. The emphasis on modesty and covering up can inadvertently send the message that a student's worth or professionalism is determined by their attire.

The sexism within these policies is further evident in the disproportionately punitive measures applied to female students. They may face disciplinary actions, like suspension or detention, for perceived dress code violations more frequently than their male counterparts, reinforcing harmful stereotypes and fostering an environment where gender-based discrimination is normalized and learning for female students comes second to the comfort of men.

What is Title IX?

Title IX, a federal civil rights law in the United States, was introduced to address sex-based discrimination in educational programs and activities. While Title IX is primarily associated with equal access to sports and protection against sexual harassment, its reach extends to all aspects of education, including dress codes. Under Title IX, schools are prohibited from enforcing dress codes in a discriminatory manner based on gender. This means that girls and boys should be treated equally when it comes to clothing restrictions.

Despite the valuable role played by Title IX in combating gender discrimination in education, it faces challenges in eliminating sexist dress codes in schools. The variability in its interpretation and enforcement, a lack of specific guidance on dress codes, deeply ingrained societal norms and stereotypes, legal challenges, and resistance to change have hindered its impact. 

Publishing the Equal Rights Amendment will help Title IX fight against these sexist practices and advocate for inclusive dress policies that respect people’s freedom of expression and identity.

The Equal Rights Amendment, an ally for Title IX

The Equal Rights Amendment represents a broader societal commitment to gender equality. When published, it would explicitly guarantee equal protection under the law regardless of sex, further strengthening the legal foundation for gender equality in all aspects of life, including education.

The ERA would play a crucial role in aligning the principles of Title IX with the broader goals of gender equality. It would serve as a reminder that discrimination based on gender, even in matters as seemingly trivial as dress codes, is fundamentally at odds with the principles of justice and equality.

We can create an inclusive environment where all students, regardless of gender, feel free to be themselves and grow without unnecessary constraints. In doing so, we send a powerful message that girls' voices, choices, and individuality matter.

If you want to get involved with an organization fighting back against sexist dress codes in YOUR school, visit our ERA Coalition partner The Ruth Project!

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