This is my son’s last year in elementary school. Next year he’ll start the big bad preteen world of middle school. Next year he’ll see his girl classmates pulled out of class and told their outfits are distracting him. Next year he’ll be told that his education matters, and that the education of girls doesn’t. Next year school professionals will behave most unprofessionally when it comes to the bodies and clothes of young girls.
But I look at him and I don’t see a teenage boy bubbling over with hormones and toxic masculinity. I see my baby, a child. And I think the girls his age must be babies and children too. Their bodies are children’s bodies. Their clothes are children’s clothes. But that’s not how they’ll be treated. School officials will teach all the students that how a girl looks matters more than how she learns, that she must earn an education through dress, while my son only has to show up to deserve his.
Girls who are still very much children will be told to cover their shoulders so as not to entice boys who are also still very much children. And boys will be told nothing about attracting or distracting girls. Dress code rules tend to either address everyone (no drug messages or imagery on t-shirts) or address girls and popular girls fashion styles only. I don’t want children to be taught that their bodies are sexual and consumed by an outside gaze. I want them to be taught science and writing and history. But all too often when a school staff member decides a girl student’s clothes distract them, that student is removed from class for a time. The teacher and the rest of the class move on with the lesson while the girl student is sent to call her parents or go change into her gym clothes or sit through in-school suspension. The boys who were theoretically distracted are not admonished to pay more attention or keep their eyes on their books. The girls are sent away. This tells every student that a girl’s education is worth less than a boy’s, and that his should take priority.
I don’t want this for the girls my son’s age and I don’t want it for him either. I don’t want him to believe these terrible messages. I don’t want him to think a girl or young woman who is showing skin is disrespecting herself or asking others to do it for her. I don’t want him to learn that his education matters while the education of a girl in a tank top doesn’t. I don’t want him sexualizing the knees and shoulders of his female classmates and objectifying the people those knees and shoulders belong to. I want my son to respect girls and women, but I am fighting against the wolrd for that goal. So many people and institutions want him to know how valued he is, by making sure he knows how valued girls aren’t.