Opinion: Girls shouldn’t wear leggings to school -- and progressive parents should agree

Haven Middle School in Illinois has faced backlash for banning leggings and yoga pants.
(Los Angeles Times)

A middle school in Evanston, Ill., has issued a new dress code barring girls from wearing shorts, leggings and yoga pants to school, on the grounds that the leg-displaying garments are “distracting” to boys.

Well, yeah. Google “leggings images” or, especially, “yoga pants images,” and you’ll see exactly what I mean. Especially if you have ever been — or been around — a boy between the ages of 11 and 14, the usual age range for middle school.

But judging from the reaction of the feminist media — and here’s what’s really surprising, some parents of the kids in question — you’d think that the school, Haven Middle School, had decided to require head-to-toe burkas.

The idea seems to be that the Haven dress code is sexist because it makes the girls stop wearing skin-clinging, butt-hugging outerwear instead of making the boys stop looking at and thinking about the girls wearing skin-clinging, butt-hugging outwear. Indeed, the very idea of having a school dress code for girls is supposed to promote “rape culture.”


Seriously! That’s what they’re saying! Here’s Tara Culp-Ressler at Think Progress:

“Targeting tight pants rests on the assumption that girls must work to prevent themselves from being ogled, rather than teaching boys they should work to avoid objectifying their female peers. The policy also links girls’ clothing to boys’ inability to control themselves.”

And here’s Eliana Dockterman in a piece for Time bearing the lurid title “When Enforcing Dress Codes Turns into Slut-Shaming”:

“[B]y implying that boys simply can’t control themselves around girls’ bodies, administrators are pandering to a culture that too often transfers blame from men to their female victims. They risk encouraging young, impressionable minds, both male and female, that women are in some way responsible because of their ‘suggestive’ clothing and their behavior for sexual crimes and transgressions, rather than making clear that each individual is responsible for his or her own actions.”

And as I said above, even some of the parents at Haven — supposedly mature people who you’d think ought to be telling their daughters to save the yoga pants for yoga class — have gotten into the outrage act. The Evanston Patch quoted a parents’ email sent to Haven Principal Kathy Roberson (a woman, you’ll note):

“We are frankly shocked at this antiquated and warped message that is being sent to the kids. Under no circumstances should girls be told that their clothing is responsible for boys’ bad behaviors. This kind of message lands itself squarely on a continuum that blames girls and women for assault by men. It also sends the message to boys that their behaviors are excusable, or understandable given what the girls are wearing. And if the sight of a girl’s leg is too much for boys at Haven to handle, then your school has a much bigger problem to deal with.

“We really hope that you will consider the impact of these policies and how they contribute to rape culture. Girls should be able to feel safe and unashamed about what they wear. And boys need to be corrected and taught when they harass girls.”

Time for a reality check.

First of all, the Haven dress code isn’t unlike the dress codes that many public schools have enacted to promote clothing appropriate for a learning environment. Kenilworth Junior High in Petaluma banned leggings last year, to a similar outcry in feminist circles.

Second, the issue isn’t about rape culture or even boys harassing girls. It’s about, as the Haven dress code says, distraction. Adolescent heterosexual boys think about girls a lot. Make that almost all the time. And because human males of any age are visually oriented in their sexual attraction (it’s why the porn industry caters chiefly to men), they have a radar-like capacity for spotting and looking at attractive females. Adolescent heterosexual girls, for their part, are just about as boy crazy as the boys are girl crazy, and they have a complementary desire to show off as much of themselves to the opposite sex as they can get away with. Add to that mix a) a media culture that celebrates baring just about everything in public, and b) the runaway hormones and extreme immaturity of early adolescence, and you have a school scene that’s, uh, rather more exciting than it is conducive to studying the quadratic formula.

Of course schools should insist that boys be polite and should punish harassment of girls severely. But there’s nothing wrong with telling girls to tone it down on their end. For one thing, school is supposed to be a serious environment. Just as we deem shorts and leggings in lieu of pants — perfectly fine in some recreational settings — to be inappropriate wear for most offices, we’re entitled to deem them inappropriate for school, especially middle school.

One thing that beats me about progressive parents is that so many of them want their daughters to become scientists and college presidents, but they don’t want them to dress or act appropriately in the educational settings that will prepare them for those intellectual professions. They don’t want boys treating their daughters like sex objects, but they don’t mind their daughters turning themselves into sex objects.

I can understand why the girls who go to Haven wish the dress code would go away so they can dress whichever way they feel like. What I can’t understand is why their parents are egging them on.


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Charlotte Allen writes frequently about feminism, politics and religion. Follow her on Twitter @MeanCharlotte.