Spring Is Here, and That Means Girls Are ‘Distracting’

Students in New Jersey protested their school’s dress code.
Students protest at Montclair High School. (Photo: Twitter)
May 16, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Spring is in the air. As the weather warms up, teenagers ditch sweaters and long pants for tank tops and shorts—and that’s a big problem for some school officials.

At Montclair High School in Montclair, New Jersey, all “clothing must not be unduly revealing or distracting,” according to the school’s code, posted online. It goes on to list a host of outlawed items. Many students and their families are finding the code and its enforcement sexist.

“When Montclair girls are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!” chanted more than 100 students before the first bell rang on Thursday, NewJersey.com reports.

Both male and female students marched peacefully outside the school carrying signs reading “Fight the sexist dress code,” “I’m comfortable with my body, but my school isn’t,” and “I am not my dress” as they asked school officials to reconsider the school’s policies and enforcement tactics.

It’s that word “distracting” that creates such friction between female students and administrators. Many of the teenage girls feel unjustly punished when male students are “distracted” by bare shoulders and thighs, especially when the girls are trying to stay cool in hot classrooms without air conditioning. What’s more, teachers and security guards have final say over a student’s outfit and can send students home to change even if they’re not wearing any of the banned items.

While some take issue with the code’s particulars—a total ban on sleeveless tops, and shorts and skirts required to reach a girl’s fingertips when standing—students also report feeling humiliated as security guards and teachers target girls who might be showing a bit too much skin.

“I’ve been called out by a male security guard in the middle of a crowded hallway,” junior Kate Brown told NewJersey.com. “Girls are made to stand up in the middle of class to check the length of their shorts. It’s inappropriate.” Students also note that being removed from the classroom because of their neckline takes away from time that should be spent learning.

The New Jersey students’ protest is just the latest example in a long line of school policies that seem to choose sexualization of girls over teaching male students to focus on their studies. Prom season has seen its own set of restrictions, with a school in Connecticut banning backless dresses and a teen in Texas sent home for a long-sleeved gown that the fashion police deemed too low-cut.

Along with their protest, Montclair students have created a Change.org petition. They plan to present it, with more than 1,100 signatures, at the board of education meeting next week.