North Dakota School’s Dress Code Is Rotten For So Many Reasons

A controversial change in the dress code at Dickinson High School, N.D., has sparked heated debate and outrage from students, parents and the public.

Parents of students, along with unrelated adults, wrote hundreds of comments arguing for and against an updated DHS policy concerning the wearing of leggings and yoga pants, both popular articles of clothing for girls and women.

According to the article, the school is claiming the dress code is intended to “help students feel comfortable in school.” But of course, what students have actually heard from adults is that those clothes are “distracting to the guys.”

Let’s take a look at what all this actually means, and why policies against leggings and yoga pants are such a bad idea.

  1. The fact that yoga pants and leggings aren’t allowed is itself a demonstration that the policy is very clearly not about student comfort at all, as leggings are in fact extremely comfortable for the wearer. So if the policy is about comfort, it’s certainly not about the comfort of the girls wearing the pants, but perhaps the comfort of those not wearing them. Right there you’re privileging some students’ “comfort” over that of other students.
  2. The policy is sexist, although probably not on purpose. Technically, the policy is likely gender-neutral, but in actuality, it disproportionately affects girls. Most people who wear yoga pants and leggings are female. Let’s look at another example: What if the school decided to limit bathroom breaks to 5 minutes for all students? This would technically be gender-neutral, but would disproportionately affect girls, who typically have to take a little bit longer for various biological reasons. Yes, some boys would also be hurt by this, and yes, the policy is technically gender neutral–but it would still be incredibly biased against girls. Another example a little closer to the situation might be banning hair ties for all students–sure, it would hit a few long-haired boys, but the vast majority of those affected would be girls, even though it is technically gender-neutral.
  3. It denigrates boys. Yes, you read that right. Boys aren’t rape monsters who will go berserk and start hurting women if they see a girl wearing tight pants. Boys are people. Yes, even hormone-crazed teen boys. Truly. Teen boys do great things all over the country every day! They win competitions, they work hard to excel in school, they hold down jobs, they help out at home. Boys aren’t bad people, and most of them have self-control that is just fine, thank you. Boys aren’t going to start fainting in the aisles at the sight of tight pants, and if they do do something untoward, or if they make inappropriate remarks about it, that’s what we call a teaching moment. That’s when the teacher has to show them why it’s wrong to do that. But seriously, most boys aren’t that fragile. They’ll be fine.
  4. It’s unrealistic. Boys are going to see women in tight pants everywhere else, because leggings and yoga pants are commonly worn in public virtually everywhere by adult women as well as girls. You are not going to stop women from wearing yoga pants in public. Maybe you should be teaching boys that this is okay and normal (because it is) and that they need to learn to deal with this. Although the vast majority of boys won’t need to be taught this because they already know it.
  5. Most people can’t even distinguish between yoga pants and normal pants. Yep, true fact. Yoga pants, like all other pants, come in varying levels of tightness. Many sets of yoga pants cannot be distinguished from ordinary pants by someone who is not wearing them. The policy may not actually specify yoga pants or leggings, to be totally fair–it might just say “tight pants.” In which case this argument isn’t really relevant.
  6. It denigrates girls, by teaching girls that their bodies are inherently sexual. Sometimes a butt is just a butt, folks. It’s not inherently sexual; we need it to sit on and eliminate waste and connect our torsos to our legs.
  7. Past generations have worn leggings and it was somehow not that distracting anyway. In fact, we were fine. That was the 80s and the 90s, when stirrup pants reigned and were later overthrown by leggings. We all wore leggings, guys. It was normal. Boys didn’t have seizures or start frothing in the aisles. They didn’t even notice, because it was normal and everyone wore them. And a few years later, they still didn’t collapse when we showed them our bra straps every day because spaghetti straps were in style. If they noticed or cared, they were polite enough to not mention it.
  8. It doesn’t make any sense paired with other school policies. According to its website, Dickinson High School has gymnastics and swimming, both of which tend to utilize tight or scanty clothing. Do students swim in bathrobes? Do the gymnasts wear loose jeans and blouses with jackets? Before you say “You need scanty clothing for those sports!” let me remind you that no, you actually don’t.

Dump the policy, folks. It’s not a good one.

11 Responses

    1. Not everyone is religious, and it is wrong to force people into religious customs they do not share. I would not take kindly to being forced into an abaya, though some people do consider them “modest,” and I do not think that should be enforced at public schools either.

      That said, you can be perfectly modest while wearing leggings. They are commonly worn at offices, to the grocery store and everywhere else on a daily basis.

    2. cbline

      But modesty is culturally defined. The school where I work has quite a number of refugee students of African descent. Those girls (who are completely covered head-to-toe with only their faces and hands exposed) may think that an American girl in a typical t-shirt and shorts, or in a one-piece bathing suit, is being VERY immodest. Eternal Life, are you them implying that t-shirts and shorts are immodest, since that is how they would be judged by another culture?

  1. Andy

    Without condoning the exact reasons for the policy, I will agree with the rule – from a point of experience – I teach high school in North Dakota.

    I will attest that it is distracting – but that males should be able to function with the attire present.

    However, school is intended to lead students to success and professionalism. This attire does not suggest that on a wide scale.

    I also believe that, yoga pants in particular, are functional sportswear. In my school, there’s no “yoga club”. In addition, the swimmers and gymnasts do not wear their form-fitting clothing in the halls.

    What I am encouraging you to do is experience the situation before you become outraged at it. I understand your arguments and even agree with most of them, however it’s evident that you haven’t tried to understand the dynamic environment and goals of public schools. It would be interesting for you to do so – I mean that – I think the public would be on the school’s side.

    Thanks for the read.

    1. Actually, I did go to a public school, so I do feel like I have enough experience with them to have a good opinion. And of course, leggings were commonly worn at my public school, as I also noted in the article. And I’m pretty well up on school policy as well, as a reporter who has covered education pretty extensively.

      Yoga pants and leggings are actually worn in many white-collar settings. You may not realize that, though, because as I noted in the article, most people actually can’t distinguish between yoga pants/leggings and other pants. They’re very much not sportswear, and they haven’t been for a long time, if they ever were.

  2. McFly

    Actually, I’m more offended by the nickname. It is offensive to vertically challenged individuals. I’m surprised no one else has complained yet in this overly PC world we live in!!!

  3. Matt Noah

    Rotten? No.

    Sexist? No.

    Denigrating to boys or girls? No.

    Unrealistic? No.

    Nonsensical? No.

    A simple dress code such as that in place is appropriate. It seems like the author of this blog and other certain young ladies like the clothes competition with certain other young ladies. They also seem to enjoy sexualizing their bodies through their selection of clothes. School is a place for education; not other agendas. Respect the authority of the school as it certainly appears you have enough freedom to express yourselves, be comfortable and get an education.

    1. I’m not young, and I’m not a lady, but thank you, I suppose, for assuming either? I’m a little less thankful for you outright telling me I’m sexualizing my body, but then, anyone who has seen me or even seen pictures of me will probably laugh pretty hard at that. There are few things I hate more than clothes shopping.

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