Let’s Stop Punishing Girls for the Behavior of Men and Boys, M’Kay?

When I was in middle school back in the olden days (hint: it was just after leg warmers went out and hypercolor shirts came in), I had this t-shirt that had a cartoon duck on it. It said “Tall, Duck and Handsome.” I’d done some growing, so it was a little short – it skimmed the top of my jeans, and like an inch of belly was exposed when I raised my arms. This was too much for the puritans of our local school district, who pulled me out of class, called my mom, and told her that such skimpy clothing was not allowed on awkward prepubescent girls.

My mother, who was something of a warrior, read them the riot act. She belted them with facts: we were still little kids. The shirt was cute and funny, not sexy. The shirt covered pretty much everything unless I raised my arms overhead, and if they couldn’t handle that little bit of skin, that was their problem. She had them quaking by the end of her tirade. I think they were about to give up and send me back to class, but she pulled me out of school and took me to have either ice cream or lunch – unfortunately, my memory fades on that point. We had a nice mother-daughter day, and I knew from then onward that my mom would always have my back in battles over dress codes. When they divorced, my dad took over the not giving a shit and expecting other people to accept my sartorial choices. When people would ask him how he could possibly let me wear x, y, or z, he’d calmly explain to them that I was comfortable and creative, and if they had a problem, they’d have to deal with it their own damn selves.

I grew up thinking this was how things should be. But I have discovered that we’ve gone rather backwards. Women’s clothing choices have always been policed, but when schools send girls home for dressing like this:

Image shows a blond girl standing against a tan wall. She's wearing a white shirt with 3/4 inch sleeves, jeans, and a long, wide scarf looped around her neck. A tiny bit of her collar bone is showing, but her outfit would be completely acceptable in a business casual environment.
“So steph got sent home from school for giving the principal an attitude when he told her the scarf I brought her to cover up with was still inappropriate and she needed to fix it! What did he want her to tie it like a noose around her neck!!!!” Image and caption via Stacie Dunn’s Facebook page.

and the principal explains that the boys may get distracted by this tiniest amount of visible collar bone, then we know we have gone right round the bend.

I am so very tired of this shit.

When will we as a society learn that it’s not up to girls and women to control the actions of boys and men? When will we start demanding sexual harassers be held accountable for their actions?

This is the bullshit excuse the principal gives for that creepy-restrictive dress code that demands girls cover even their collar bones:

“In the documentary, Principal Akers cites removing distraction as a motivating factor behind dress codes, though he adds he was not at Woodford County High School when this particular policy was implemented during the 2004-05 school year. In his past experience as an administrator, he says, “issues with sexual harassment” among students prompted stricter dress codes.

“‘Certain outfits that [female students] wore created this situation where guys would make inappropriate statements, and there was a distraction to the learning environment based on what some of the folks were wearing at school,’ he says in the film.”

You know who was causing the distractions, Principal Akers? Hint: IT WASN’T THE GIRLS. Do you know who should have been taught to change their behavior and conform it to reasonable standards for an academic environment? Hint: IT WASN’T THE GIRLS.

You men and boys really need to start handling your own damn issues. Grow up. Get your pants-feels under control, and if you can’t do that, stay home. Stop expecting female-presenting people to make themselves invisible so as not to distract you. We’re no longer living in a world where you’re the supposed default lords and masters. You’re going to have to learn how to behave appropriately around cis and trans women. And if you can’t do that, if that’s really beyond your abilities, then it’s obviously you that needs to be removed from the situation.

My mom and dad expected the people around me, even the kids, to be mature enough to handle themselves no matter what I was wearing. Throughout my high school career, I wore what I wanted, whether that was ripped-up jeans and studded jackets, my black cloak, or pretty skirts and tops. And remarkably enough, the boys and men around me were able to behave themselves no matter what I had on. (Well, aside from that time the school bully decided I couldn’t fight back in a skirt, but I put the fear of Dana in him and we were fine after he got over being terrified of me.) Point is, the vast majority of the people I spent my days with did not use my clothing as an excuse to act like raging jackasses, because no one sent them a message saying, “Hey, boys! If she’s showing some shoulder, you can totes get away with harassing her! And you won’t get in trouble – she will!”

You may think you’re doing your students a favor by having your girls cover up more and more, but that’s not how this works. You tell a boy he can’t control himself around an inch of flesh, he’ll act out if he can see so much as a fraction. You haven’t taught anyone anything other than how to act like an asshole and get someone else punished for it. Keep going down this road, and soon the girls will be in shapeless sacks head to toe, and you’ll still have out-of-control boys, because they won’t have been taught how to comport themselves.

On the other hand, if you firmly expect the boys to behave even if the girls walk in buck naked, and make the boys bear the consequences for their own actions when they act like fools, then you’ll soon have boys who can concentrate just fine no matter how much skin they’re exposed to.

And I’m sorry, Mr. Principal, if your society didn’t raise you right. I’m sorry if you lose all self-control in the face of a little flesh. If that’s the case, you should probably find a job working by yourself in the middle of nowhere, because you are not fit for civilization. You sure as shit need to get away from children.

Same goes for the women who enable this fuckery believing men have no self-control. It’s time you start expecting more from the men, and stop enforcing this patriarchal bullshit on girls. Are we clear?

Let’s Stop Punishing Girls for the Behavior of Men and Boys, M’Kay?

18 thoughts on “Let’s Stop Punishing Girls for the Behavior of Men and Boys, M’Kay?

  1. rq

    You may think you’re doing your students a favor by having your girls cover up more and more

    Ah, but which students? I’m a-thinkin’ there’s a strange prioritization going on here. Having girls dressed for the weather be forced to put on more layers is not doing those particular students any favour at all. Having girls change into gym clothes or otherwise clothes they do not wish to wear among the general academic public is not creating a comfortable learning environment for those particular students, either. The shame and ridicule by public exposure of the sneering type does not a supportive atmosphere make for the particular students thus exposed.
    So it might, in the short run, seem like a good idea to ask girls to cover up, but as a long-term strategy, it sucks major ass.

    Also, for the record, I had to stare at her chest area a good long while before I could spot the offending millimeters of collarbone in the shade of the scarf. And that is just creepy as all fuck.

  2. 4

    Ugh. I was having this conversation with my coworkers the other day, both female, who totally agree that young girls should put on more clothes because boys can’t handle themselves. When I said that’s sexist they protested that ‘it’s just the way it is’. Which of course I told them was BS. Boys should be capable of handling themselves around girls even if they’re naked. Most would be if people stopped being so willing to let them get away with anything. They can learn social skills, including how not to ogle or harass girls, if just given the chance. If they can’t, there’s always homeschooling…

  3. 5

    Sili: I suggest we outfit all the guys with a VR rig that covers their eyes completely. It would have a built-in radar that would identify obstacles (including other people) and give a very rough indication of where they are (but not so defined as to indicate gender or physical appearance), so that the dear lads could make it through the day without tripping. During lessons, the information would be projected on the rig itself–no reason to risk distraction by letting them remove the rig during class. Hm… The only downside is that the boys would still be able to identify feminine voices, or ‘siren’s calls’ as the puritan league will doubtless consider them. We’ll need to add earphones that can detect voices and replay them as simple mechanical words. Oh, and a rebreather that keeps the boy from smelling any perfume.

  4. rq

    Sadly, until they get out into the real world and are unable to function without said blinders at all.
    Maybe courses on how to comport oneself in the company of other humans? Start with the blinders and slowly condition them to concentrate without the blinders.

  5. rq

    And I’m constantly amazed at the number of people (somehow, esp. parents) who don’t believe that boys are capable of learning manners or respect towards girls. Like it’s somehow unteachable, they’re born that way, what is one to do, haha, right?
    It’s not necessarily easy to teach them (I have three), but then, parenting in general is not easy (except to super-genius energy-filled untireable ultra-resourced and -resourceful parents, which are like unicorns, I’m sure), and considering that, it shouldn’t be any sweat to add this one more thing to the pile – “Oh hey, and you know, girls? Learn to talk to them as human beings.”
    I figure a bit of effort now, it’ll save me a ton of worry later.

  6. 8

    Oh, and to be clear–I’d still consider my absurdist proposal to be more sensible than the current crop of modesty-based dress-codes for girls.

  7. rq

    The trouble is, it’s still not teaching boys how to interact normally with girls. It’s just taking away the distraction in another manner, this one rather oppressive to the boys themselves. What happens when they get out of the school environment? Can’t keep them in VR glasses forever. (Dystopian story premise right here.)
    And I’m not even going to say ‘unfortunately’, because it would be a damn shame for them to have to go through their school years missing the vast majority of external stimuli around them. I know, I know, it’s an absurdist proposal, but still… You’re proposing to put strict limitations on the other half of the population, which in the end will resolve nothing if they aren’t actually taught that women are not objects. In other words, no, this proposal is not any more sensible than modesty-based dress-codes for girls.

    What might be more sensible? Classes in civility and respect towards other human beings (at worst – you know, with included ‘this is where the eyes are located’ practice sessions), but let’s start with encouraging normal, platonically friendly interaction between all children, less gender-based toys and enforcement of social codes, less adherence to the gender binary as such, acceptance of a variety of interests in all children. The more all children understand that other children are also children and humans and autonomous and worthy of respect, the less clothedness will be an issue.
    Oh, and proper sex-ed and less sex-oriented shaming. Teach it as something natural (as in: it happens), but also culturally controlled (you are not a wild animal and consent is a Thing). <- Not really sure how to word that differently, current wording seems awkward. In other words, teach about sex safely and biologically correctly, risks and consequences and positive aspects and all. I could probably say more about the over-sexualization of pretty much everything women and girls do, but that goes with the objectification, I suppose.

    Frankly, I'm rather appalled (at your proposal). But then, I do have a personal stake in this. So forgive me if I couldn't take the joke, it's hard to laugh while I imagine my boys imprisoned in a poorly-reconstructed VR world for several years of their lives simply because they're boys.

  8. 11

    rq: I did call my proposal ‘absurdist’ for a reason–it’s not remotely connected to the real world nor would it actually solve anything. I agree with your entire serious proposal, and commend you for it. Sorry that I offended with my joke, which was mainly meant to focus on how wrong-headed it is to expect girls to not ‘tempt’ boys, rather than teaching boys how to deal with temptation–because there will always be a new, higher threshold for the latter.

  9. rq

    No harm done. You’re absolutely correct, too:

    how wrong-headed it is to expect girls to not ‘tempt’ boys, rather than teaching boys how to deal with temptation–because there will always be a new, higher threshold for the latter

    Sadly enough. You did, however, inspire a second rather jarring lightbulb moment for me tonight – because my offense at your joke? That’s probably a daily occurrence to liberal-minded parents faced with the suspension of their daughters for wearing normal, teenaged clothing. But it was a new thing for me. So an educational moment all-round. Thank you, I guess? :)

  10. 13

    There is another problem with assuming all men, or a group of men can’t be raised to not be a threat.
    Today is the 60th anniversary of Emmit Till reportedly whistling at that white woman.

  11. 17

    I don’t understand this idea that if only girls wore more clothes, boys wouldn’t be distracted. As I remember, girls were constantly distracting, no matter what they wore. Years back I was in a class with a young muslim woman who wore a hijab with loose clothes; only her face and hands were visible. She was still totally cute.

    Teenagers are easily aroused. It just doesn’t take all that much. This isn’t something we should try to prevent, because it can’t be done. Rather, we should teach them how to deal with it so they learn how to behave despite being aroused. Indeed, I think there maybe some connection between boys not learning these skills in their teenage years and them behaving badly when they grow up.
    If everybody constantly tells you that you can’t possibly control yourself, what’s your motivation to learn how?

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