Opinion | We hold these truths

Published by Nina Cipriani, Date: September 20, 2021
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CONTENT WARNING: This article contains mentions of sexual violence.

Editor’s note: The author of this opinion piece, a sophomore at Slippery Rock High School, requested to remain anonymous. 

Dear Slippery Rock High School people, I don’t know your names and you probably don’t know mine.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal…” (from Declaration of Sentiments).

Are dress codes constitutional? Do they protect student’s rights and fight for equality?

Boys will be boys.

A massive but unaddressed problem is that teenage boys are simply allowed to be teenagers, simply allowed to live and laugh and act their age and have reasonable responsibilities, while teenage girls constantly worry about being raped. What’s more disturbing is the issue is never addressed because it’s accepted as normal.

Girls are taught what happens, should they not conform to society’s standards of “decency,” but boys are not. It’s not necessary for them. Boys will never live with that fear, so why should they learn?

For girls, it’s always “don’t wear that,” not “don’t objectify or abuse those who wear that.” It’s always “don’t be a slut,” not “respect people no matter what.” It’s always “if you act that way, you’re asking for it,” not “never violate the safety of others, no exceptions.” That’s the double standard, though, this double standard extends far deeper than that.

I can clearly remember the first time I was catcalled. I was 12 and attending school. I was wearing sweatpants and a baggy T-shirt. I was following the dress code. It still happened.

Since then, the looming threat that it will occur once more hangs over me like an untightened noose. It’s terrifying.

If I speak up, I’ll be told it’s my fault. If I keep my silence, it’s my problem for not saying anything. Why I follow the rules, why I comply, is out of fear.

Wearing what I want is a privilege. Leaving my house to walk outside is a privilege. Not being harassed on the streets, not being talked down to, having my opinion be heard, every word I fight to get out, is a privilege. My safety is a privilege.

School should be a place of safety. So, shouldn’t students be taught to not harm others, rather than telling the harmed to stop being vulnerable? Why is it expected of teenage girls to dress a certain way so they aren’t sexualizing themselves, but it is not expected of teenage boys to stop sexualizing girls? Why are girls alone being disciplined?

A stricter dress code is dehumanizing, disrespectful and degrading. It reduces girls to their bodies, and it pushes the same narrative that boys can’t contain themselves. It’s sexist, misogynistic, and, to put bluntly, punishing the already oppressed for being susceptible to harm, thus further aiding the oppression.

What a girl wears should not reduce her worth, nor should it reduce the productivity of a classroom, though the dress code disagrees. The biological female body has been sexualized to the point where it can no longer exist for any other purpose, and can no longer be thought of in any other light. It’s a tool to use, not a body to value. Those are all ideas the dress code enforces and embodies.

The Slippery Rock Area School District reads as follows:

“The Slippery Rock Area School District recognizes that each student’s mode of dress and grooming is a manifestation of personal style and individual preference. The District will not interfere with the right of students and their parents to make decisions regarding their appearance except when their choices affect the educational program of the schools or the health and safety of others.

The District will enforce regulations prohibiting student dress or grooming practices which:

– Present a hazard to the health or safety of the student him/herself or to others in the school.

– Materially interfere with schoolwork, create disorder, or disrupt the educational program.

– Cause excessive wear or damage to school property.

– Prevent the student from achieving his/her own educational objectives because of blocked vision or restricted movement.”

The dress code can be found on pages 37 and 38 of the student handbook that’s given to every student in the school-issued agendas, with the code applying to all genders. Several school districts, Alameda Unified School District, for example, have reasonable, fair dress codes that allow for freedom of expression while not sexualizing minors or “endangering” and “distracting” students. So, the stricter dress code isn’t inherently the issue.

The issue is the varying degree of enforcement between girls and boys. Girls are being forced to dress modestly to ensure “safety,” but the question of why girls need to do that to be safe is never asked. The issue is that the responsibility of keeping harassers and offenders at bay now falls on the shoulders of the targeted.

If that’s what it takes to remain safe in school, is that true safety? Is that equality?

Though, maybe it should be that way. School is preparing us for the real world. And in the real world, boys will be boys and girls will be the ones who face their consequences, right? In the real world, boys will be boys, and girls will grow used to it. Girls will learn to live with fear.

Wearing what I want is taking back a little bit of that freedom, a little bit of that power, a little bit of my silenced voice. I dress how I dress because I choose to, and no other reason. It’s not my fault, nor should I face the consequences of those who objectify and only see my worth through cup size.

The way I dress is not a justification to touch me, nor should it be used that way.

A school that chooses to limit its dress code while not actively fighting against systematic sexism, but conversely going out of its way to support it is disgusting. That school is imposing the message that the oppressed need to modify their behavior and appearance to prevent their oppressors from hurting them, and that message is far more harmful than any catcall. That school is Slippery Rock High School.

Resentment has replaced pride. Students are craving change, and for the idea of rockets being so progressive, the school seems quite determined in remaining tethered to the ground. Why is freedom of expression and individuality, a symbol of finally breaking past the horrible chains of body image and not achieving perfection, being taken away when, for some people, dressing how they choose is the only freedom they have? Why do this when dressing how they choose is how they love themselves?

Why is the middle-aged male author of the dress code so obsessed with what teenage girls are wearing? Who is it benefiting? Who is it protecting? Or, is it too distracting for male students and teachers alike? Oh well. In that case, I should apologize, along with the rest of the female students, for having a functioning body deemed too sexual for school.

Perhaps the dress code carries no real importance other than reinforcing hundreds of years of sexism, punishing girls for self-empowerment and supporting the still-standing remains of patriarchy, now defended and fortified by a discriminatory school that promised to treat their students equally.

Change will only happen when Slippery Rock High School holds all of its students and teachers accountable and stops placing blame on people, regardless of gender, for having a body in which they exist.

A safe place conducive to a positive learning environment will only be created when schools hold all students to the same standards, with no exceptions. Change exists to serve the needy, to provide a voice to the voiceless, to tear down the walls keeping the oppressed from reaching freedom. This is a call for change.

Hear it.

And until change occurs, Slippery Rock High School has made the active decision to remain complacent in a system that teaches people to use the way others dress as an excuse; in a system that supports abusers and silences victims; in a system that makes it abundantly clear to victims that whatever they do, whatever they say, however they look, it’s their fault; in a system reliant on fear. It’s ugly, it’s sickening, and because of Slippery Rock High School, it’s normal.

All are created equal. I would hope that 200 years later that statement would still stand true and stronger than the injustice and suffering that made those words come to life, though, I’ll apologize once more. Apparently, I missed the part that excluded anyone vaguely resembling traits to femininity. After all, boys will be boys and girls will be raped no matter what they wear.

Thank you,

A 10th grader at Slippery Rock High

Nina is a junior communication major with a concentration in converged journalism. Previously serving as assistant news editor and then news editor, Nina is this year’s editor-in-chief. In her more than two years on staff, Nina has written almost 80 stories. During high school, she was on her school's newspaper staff for four years and was editor-in-chief her senior year. In her spare time, she enjoys listening to music and watching YouTube and Netflix.

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