As the kids toddled, schlepped and harrumphed their way back to school this week, it didn’t take long before I saw my first Facebook post about someone’s kid – daughter, of course – being Dress Coded. I’d never heard that term before but of course I knew immediately what it meant.
The outfit in question seemed pretty reasonable for a day that was near record highs. It was a tank top and jeans. The tank had regular straps, not the spaghetti variety, though I am still confused why that makes a difference. Not surprisingly, her fiery redheaded mother did not take this lying down.
The Facebook post that followed produced all manner of righteous indignation but really got ramped up when a retired science teacher from our old high school weighed in on the importance of clothing standards for female students and why they must be maintained. It did not go well for him. He doubled down. It was a mistake. I think a lot of students who had previously held him in high esteem do not feel the same way today.
After some thought, I contributed my own comment, italicised below. I have edited the original comment for flow, context and to correct a few grammatical transitions I noticed after the fact but the heart of it remains a true accounting.
ME: I missed most of this thread last night, only reading it this morning. I have been reticent to weigh in, with the sense that the world does not lack for opinions from middle-aged, pudgy, white males. [Mother of Dress Coded girl] has instead encouraged me to share.
[Retired High School Science Teacher], perhaps this should be viewed as a science experiment. Do your views hold up to scrutiny? Is what was believed by some to be true five, 10, 15 years ago true today? Was it ever true or just accepted wisdom that has since been disproved? Science and our understanding of it evolves so shouldn’t the views of those who observe these changes? Aren’t noting these changes and modifying one’s conclusions not the definition of a good scientific methodology? While I never had you as a science teacher, I had friends who did and thought you were very good. I think your instinct to re-examine some of your beliefs is generally a good one, as it is for each of us from time to time.
I don’t want to pile on to [Retired High School Science Teacher]. Others have taken him to task with much more authority than I ever could. But he did raise the concept of standards on a number of occasions throughout the thread. I have spent most of the last decade and a half working for a standards development organization and I can tell you that standards, as the product of human imaginations, are at times flawed, only reflect a segment of society at a specific time and understanding, that they evolve and they are discarded when they are deemed no longer useful or appropriate.
It used to be the standard that women had long hair and men had short hair. This is no longer the case. It used to be the standard that only sailors, bikers and ex-cons had tattoos. This is no longer the case. It used to be the standard that members of the LGBTQ et al. communities were deemed a threat to public morals and should stay firmly in their respective closets, leading lives of quiet desperation. There is still quite some work to do here but at least for some, this is no longer the case.
There was a time when teachers had to be unmarried, teetotallers who regularly attended the “right” church (not synagogue, not mosque) services. This is no longer the case. There was a time when the legs of tables were considered so risqué that people fashioned coverings so as not to arouse . . . who exactly? Not to be crass but even the most-shapely of table legs has never caused any stirrings for me beyond an appreciation of a craft at which I have never excelled.
Yet these and many others were considered the societal standards at some point in our shared history. And we discarded them because they were silly, destructive and simply poor public policy.
A couple years ago, my oldest daughter was wearing shorts that my wife believed were too short and too revealing. She commented to our daughter that people would be looking at her crotch. Our daughter’s response was, “What do I care what some creepy pervert looks at? That says more about him than it does about me or my shorts.” My wife, a feminist with a capital F, with degrees after her name that look like someone spilled a bowl of Alphaghettis on the ground, was thoroughly owned by a 10-year-old. And she couldn’t have been prouder of our daughter.
This can’t be completely about the exposure of skin, either. From 1984 to 1988-ish, I was on the high school swim team. Our bathing suits were Speedos, yes, the dreaded manties. We wore them proudly and our school lavished praise on us as we challenged for the Ontario provincial championships in each of the years I was there. The school even put our pictures in the yearbook, all of us, female and male, wearing our not-much-left-to-the-imagination bathing suits. Fun fact: chlorinated water degrades a Lycra bathing suit, leaching the colours out, after a few months. Those bathing suits were more or less see-thru. I kid you not.
Both of my daughters have played in the local girls’ softball association for the past few years. They both have raised the same questions and made the same complaints: “Why do the boys get to wear long baseball-style pants but the girls have to wear shorts?” I have no answers and cannot come up with any compelling reason why this should be so.
Given genetics and general feistiness, I can well see that we might one day be on the receiving end of one of these phone calls. I hope it never happens but my wife was suggested that if it should come to pass, I should stop to pick up bail money on the way.