Graduation rules for girls: Another reason for feminist outrage

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.)”’

femaledresscodeThis 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.

Mary Di Valerio (9 Posts)

"Mary Di Valerio is an active feminist and student at Truman State University. She is passionate about human rights and hopes to go into law and politics.


  • Jeane Vogel

    Outstanding. Our future is in good hands. Brava to the wonderful women and men in your life who taught you to think and speak and be brave.

  • bethvonbehren

    So did the writer refuse to wear a dress? I hope so!!

  • My school requires the same thing; equally outraged, I also wrote an article on these preposterous notions our antediluvian educational institutions have on dress code. Needless to say, I too will NOT be wearing a dress on graduation. Great article, Mary!

  • Mary, I agree with you whole-heartedly! I am pleased that young women understand that feminism is still a necessary force in retraining our society–a society that is still flawed in many ways (gender bias and discrimination being just one of those ways).

    Whenever the subject of feminism is broached, however, I do like to point out that partly why feminism never really achieved it’s goals is that there is an associated liberation that needs to happen–men’s liberation. While I am fully aware that a patriarchal society bestows privilege and entitlements to men–it is still an unhappy and imbalanced role that they must serve in order for the patriarchy to continue in it’s oppression of (really, if you think about it) all people. Take note of all the creative, sensitive young men you know that get pushed and molded into an acceptable form for this society later in life (ok, you may be too young to notice this, but you will notice it later, I guarantee). I often see lovely 20 something men who, in their 30s, felt they had to buckle down into the pressure of male conformity and lose their outward sensitivity and expressiveness in order to “succeed” or survive in this patriarchal society. At least the idea of you wearing pants is not abhorrent to most modern teens and adults–but if you were a man and it was a dress (or even the color pink); there’s a lot more gender bias at stake. And that’s just the tip of the double-standard iceberg of which most men themselves are not yet fully aware. If men were to reach true liberation, female liberation would be a more complete and sustainable reality and not something that constantly needs justification. Because yes, you are right, feminism is still very necessary.

  • I Dominguez-Urban

    When I graduated many, many years ago in south Florida we all wore white. Thus it was somewhat of a shock to find out that in the 21st Century my son’s high school had binary graduation robes. (I didn’t know there was a name for this practice.) What was more troubling was finding out that no one saw a problem with this practice. I’m glad to learn there is outrage about this out there. It’s true that we should stop thinking that gender is 100% binary, but it’s past time that we stopped treating students differently based on their genders.

  • I Dominguez-Urban