The emperor has skimpy clothes

Russell Wangersky
Published on June 3, 2014

Well, it’s spring, the weather is warming, and, like most years, female students and clothes (or the lack of them) are making the news again.

In the last week alone, it’s been students sent home from Menihek High (28 girls and two boys) for violating dress codes and showing too much in the way of bra straps and bare shoulders.

This, in the same week that there are news reports about a high school student in the United States being sent home from her prom because chaperoning fathers found her dress too provocative (despite the fact it met prom guidelines), and two different schools (one in Quebec, one in Nova Scotia) sent girls in jean shorts home.

As can be expected, all of the stories went nation-wide (often, of course, with prominent pictures of the various piece of offending garb). And that might make a cynic wonder about who was using what to what end.

But back to the issue at hand.

The Newfoundland and Labrador English School Board had this to say today to the CBC about its dress code and the students sent home: “In essence, the dress code strives to provide an appropriate learning environment for students. As educators we want our students to dress for the occasion. Every person in the school must feel safe and comfortable and attire does play a role.”

The rules are apparently to keep male students and teachers from being critically distracted by skimpy clothing.

At least one of the girls sent home said distraction wasn’t the reason she was dressed the way she was — it had to do with particularly warm temperatures.

But seriously: boys being distracted by girls? If you’re in any way going to be honest, you should drop the attitude and think back to when you were in high school.

I was in a school with uniforms and rules about how they were to be worn — and know what? Despite the uniforms and the rules, the boys were distracted by the girls. And vice-versa. Tremendously distracted — and I imagine we would have continued to be mutually distracted if we were all forced to wear sacks.

And that’s the way it’s going to be. You can be hypocritical and suggest that dress codes will solve the problem of the hyperactive hormonal stew that is late adolescence. It won’t.

You can, however, look in a different direction and ask a more diffcult question, and that’s one that involves the sexualization of female teenagers — whether it’s what happens when men view them in skimpy clothing, or when the media uses photographs or video of their clothing to gain viewers or sell papers.

In the case of the teen sent home from her prom in Richmond, Va., it’s somewhat telling that she and her classmates were talking about being leered at by chaperones before she was tossed out. As she wrote in her blog, “I’m not responsible for some perverted 45-year-old dad lusting after me because I have a sparkly dress on and if you think I am, then maybe you’re part of the problem.”

There will always be young women and young men who push the envelope when it comes to clothing and dress codes — just the way there are teens of both sexes who find different ways to push back at the constraints and rules they chafe within.

In fact, there’s nothing quite like being told what you have to wear to make a teenager hand you more than a little pushback.

Perhaps we should be more concerned about the adults who find themselves worked into a lather by the dress of students — students, by the way, who are not in the least bit interested in that downright creepy attention.

Sometimes, judging the clothing of others should involve a good honest look in the mirror — for everyone involved. And not just for what you’re wearing.

Russell Wangersky is The Telegram’s

news editor. He can be reached by email