There is no better phrase synonymous with the word “awkward” than “middle school”. These years span fifth-eighth grade, or, if you are unlucky like some (ahem) eleventh grade. This is a delicate age where our brains are observing every miniscule detail around us and everyone around us. We are a sponge. We know we’re awkward and embarrassing in this phase so that is why we look to everyone else to know how to act.
Stumbling upon this article a few months ago from a Facebook friends’ posting, this article stuck out among the dozens of other pro-woman, feminist supporting, woman power articles because of the brilliance of it’s simplicity. Why? Because everyone, EVERYONE knows what it feels like to be an uncomfortable and self-conscious pre-teen or teenager. The moments spent in those precious years inevitably haunt us forever. Someone made fun of your big toe at age 13? Sandals are now out of the picture for eternity. Why? Because we are vulnerable and therefore we take everything seriously at that age. And we take this with us for the rest of our lives.
Strict school dress codes that start in middle school breed rape culture and a misogynist culture. We decide, as a society, to wait until a child enters middle school (or high school), to wait until their most vulnerable point of existence to say: you should be ashamed of your body! You have absolutely no control over your body and you should be embarrassed of it. In fact, you should just cover it up.
During the recent advocacy for eating disorder awareness and the promotion of self love, girls are taught to “love their body.” First, we tell girls to cover it up. Some boy might look at you funny! Don’t wear a tank top to school. Then we tell them: your body is beautiful! Everyone needs to love themselves! Then: why don’t you love your body? Why do you have such a low self esteem, you look great!
On breeding rape culture, from the original article:
“When you deem a girl’s dress “inappropriate,” you’re also telling her, “Because your body may distract boys, your body is inappropriate. Cover it up.” You recontextualize her body; she now exists through the male gaze.”
In sixth grade, we sit down our hopeful and doe-eyed eleven or twelve year old girl and tell her that although her body is attached to her head, she has no control over it anymore. You need to cover up because a boy won’t be able to stop looking at you. You should now shop in fear of what names you will be called. We are telling these girls, these CHILDREN, that her body only exists for sexual purposes. At a time when you barely own enough acne treatment to last a week, we infuse misogyny. At an age where dressing oneself is a form of expression, we take it away. You better control yourself because men can’t. We regulate women beginning at age eleven. We are teaching: you are a girl and it is your fault and you must be tamed so let me tell you everything you can do starting with what you can wear. And if you get sexually assaulted it’s probably because you missed the lesson on dress codes in 6th grade.
What do we do? The practice of female targeted dress codes are only one grain in a sea of rape culture. An eleven or thirteen year old girl does not know how to drive or write a check, but she is watching everything you are doing. She is a sponge. It is time for female—GIRL empowerment to become proactive not reactive.