I was walking down the hallway of my high school, casually reading the instruction sheet for my upcoming graduation when something stopped me in my tracks. My mouth twisted in outrage and I shook my head silently. What little phrase had caused such utter frustration?
“Females – dress or skirt (no shorts or slacks.)”’
This little pink piece of paper made me angry. Because I was in possession of a vagina, I wasn’t allowed to have material between my legs. Because society labeled me as “female” I wasn’t allowed to make decisions for my own body. Because at my own high school graduation I was going to be defined by my sex organs and not my accomplishments.
As the proud owner of several Hillary Clinton-esque pant suits, I was already planning on wearing formal slacks to graduation. However – because I was not in possession of male genitalia I was going to be denied the privilege to chose what I could and could not use to cover my body.
Time and time again in the patriarchy in which we live, women are being denied the right to make choices for their own body. As I stated to a teacher minutes after receiving the form “It’s the 21st century – you’d think we’d stop corseting women into sexualized roles and clothing.”
I was very vocal that day – expressing my thoughts to anyone who would listen. Several people commented that I chose to wear a dress the day I received the form – and therefore my position was hypocritical. However – they missed a crucial piece of information – wearing a dress had been my personal CHOICE that day- not a preordained and sexist demand of a patriarchal institution.
A few minutes of internet research validated what I had already suspected – the school’s inane “rule” was actually illegal. Title IX forbids public schools from making gender specific dress codes. Forcing young adults to conform to a gender binary is not only close-minded, but highly offensive and inappropriate.
My school isn’t the only place in the country stripping young women of the right to make choices for their own bodies – in fact, it’s not the only place in St. Louis. A number of private schools in the area such as MICDS and Visitation Academy have young women wear floor-length white gowns for graduation – which families purchase at bridal shops, often costing several thousand dollars.
On the day when high school students symbolically pass from childhood to adulthood – we’re telling girls that their “adulthood” or “future” is going to consist of an archaic and oppressive gender schema. We’re labeling them as “brides” and teaching them that it’s not their education that’s valuable – it’s their ability to be a wife.
I’m not opposed to women wearing dresses or being feminine – however, I am diametrically opposed to institutions forcing females to wear bridal gowns. This attitude towards women is something I had hoped our country had outgrown in the 60s and 70s.
Not only was it illegal for my high school to demand that I wear a dress – it was evident of a dangerous attitude towards gender that still permeates our country. The desire to force people into neat little defined boxes implies that gender isn’t fluid – an assertion that flies into the face of modern science and psychology and directly contradicts the general consensuses in those respective fields.
Someone asked me the other day why we still needed feminism. They argued that feminism was “no longer relevant” because women had achieved objective equality in their eyes. However, until a woman is allowed to make choices for her own body – objective equality has not been reached.
Situations such as gender specific dress codes prove to me that feminism is still relevant – and today, society needs it more than ever.