Opinion: Dress codes cause more harm than good.

Kamloops Sexual Assault Counselling Centre weighs in on the most recent public example in the community

NorKam secondary student Karis Wilson in the outfit that got her sent home from school on Feb. 23, 2021.

Dress codes are arbitrary and archaic and are disproportionately directed at female-identifying students. Not only are they misogynistic, but they are also inappropriately based on non-secular understandings of modesty, purity and conservatism.

Dress codes have determined what is considered appropriate in a wide range of settings for hundreds, if not thousands of years. For example, in Ancient Rome, married women were expected, if not required, to wear stolas, a more modest version of the toga, which the Romans apparently reserved for prostitutes and the recently divorced.

In the 12th century, the church barred nuns and other church-going women from wearing silk gowns, fur trims, sandals and patterned habits or veils. Quite sometime later in Victorian England, women were required to adhere to insanely stringent guidelines concerning dress and behaviour in public and private settings up until the 1800s.

Historically, uniforms have been enforced at educational institutions and have traditionally imposed gender bias. For most of the 20th century, schools stipulated that girls wear skirts even though mainstream society recognized that pants were, otherwise, socially acceptable. While dress codes at educational institutions have, in fact, promoted modesty and non-secular values, they were at some point used to equalize students from various socioeconomic backgrounds by way of uniforms (a rare example of inclusivity in dress code history).

With the above being said, I feel it is quite clear dress codes are reasonably arbitrary. Still, some may be shocked to find they perpetuate rape culture if used inappropriately. Dress codes often encourage young women’s over-sexualization and prioritize men’s assumed needs over a women’s right to education. Archaic dress codes suggest that those who do not dress modestly are asking for attention. Dress codes often insinuate that women are defined by what they wear.

After NorKam Grade 12 student, Karis Wilson, was sent home for wearing a knee-length slip and turtleneck, Kamloops Sexual Assault Counselling Centre released a statement saying, “[KSACC] is saddened and frustrated to hear that another Kamloops student has had their access to education compromised by archaic and misogynistic dress code standards. These dress codes disproportionately target Female-identifying students, and it is unacceptable.”

They went on to add, “no student in Kamloops should be barred access to the classroom because teaching staff unfairly decide their clothing is sexually inappropriate. The issue is not with the student’s fashion choices but that school district staff are sexualizing students. If a teacher, or teaching candidate, finds themselves sexually triggered by their students, perhaps they are in the wrong line of work.”

I could not have said it better. KSACC added, “[we] stand with the students speaking out against this harmful misogyny. We urge School District 73 staff to take action in addressing the harm done and work towards creating a school environment that fosters respect, safety, and learning for all students… For any students who have felt unsafe because of these events, we see you, hear you, and believe you. We stand beside you in this fight.”

School District 73 has since announced a revised district-wide dress code policy is in the works.