The New Age “Sl*t Shaming”: Are School Officials Going Too Far?

BY GREGG STEINMAN – The 1920s sparked a new age for women in the United States.  “Flappers” began to shed the restrictive clothing that women were accustomed to and entered into the party scene.  “The new woman of the ‘20s was totally different from her mother.  She worked and voted.  She smoked, drank and danced.  She dated.  She celebrated her new freedoms in style.”[1] As can be imagined, this newly found freedom for women came with some negative connotations.  “Sl*t shaming” was born.[2]

Sl*t shaming is defined as “[t]he judgment objectifying and passed on the sexuality of woman, often of teenage years, that her choice of revealing or tight apparel is indicative of consent, if not encouragement, to sexual intimacy.” [3]  Sl*t shaming usually results in derogatory remarks made towards women based on their “behavior, sexual promiscuity, and/or how many people they date.”[4]  Since the 1920s, sl*t shaming has become a common bullying tool used against young women by their peers, however recent events around the country expanded this principle.

School officials have been punishing young women for wearing “provocative” clothes at school or at school dances with punishments ranging from dismissal from school to forcing them to wear baggy clothes.[5]  For example, a Florida high school recently forced a student to wear oversized red sweatpants and a neon yellow shirt, each of which had “dress code violation” written on them.[6] Another incident occurred in Utah, where female students were forced to line up against a wall as they arrived at their homecoming dance and were sent home if the school staff determined that their attire showed too much skin.[7]  As a result, these school officials are going further than enforcing dress code restrictions; they are shaming these young women, embarrassing them in front of school staff as well as their peers, and keeping them from participating in school functions.[8]

Additionally, schools have gone further than imposing dress code restrictions on female students.  Some schools have made decisions on dress code based on “what was and was not good taste,”[9] and have expressed concerns that such “bad taste” attire could distract other pupils.[10]  For instance, Tottenville High School, in New York, does not have a uniform requirement but states, “[s]tudents have the right to determine their own dress except where such dress creates a distraction, is dangerous or interferes with the learning process.”[11]  The issue is that the circumstances surrounding these incidents concern school officials arbitrarily punishing young women, but not young men, for wearing things that are not against school policy but are still viewed as distracting male students.  Rather than teaching young men to respect women, school officials have instead punished women for their natural development based on arbitrary opinions.  These instances of punishment reinforce archaic principles that women are beneath men and should not act in a way that could provoke them.  Thus, the schools have created a distinct gender imbalance by punishing women for their development.

Due to this imbalance, there may be a violation of federal law at hand.[12]  While rules for young men generally prohibit hair length, jewelry, hoodies, etc. they have nothing to do with their sexuality, whereas rules for women are directly related to sexuality.[13]  This inequality may be in violation of Title IX, which ensures non-discrimination in educational environments.[14]  These young women can raise an argument that they are being targeted because of their gender, thus creating a hostile environment at their educational institutions.

Yet, there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel for these gender inequality implications.  Students are beginning to stand up to the school dress codes and punishments.  There have been staged walkouts, peaceful protests, and  viral internet movements (such as the popular hashtag #iammorethanadistraction).[15]  Hopefully, schools will make changes to these policies promoting equality and respect, regardless of gender, which will lead to a less shameful way of handling their dress codes before these peaceful protests develop into legal ramifications.

 

[1] Ariana Anthony, Dating in the 1920s: Lipstick, Booze, and the Origins of Slut-Shaming, The Date Report, (May 8, 2013), http://www.thedatereport.com/dating/modern-love/lipstick-booze-and-the-origins-of-slut-shaming-dating-in-the-1920s/.

[2] See id. (“Some parents nearly exploded with outrage over whose fault it was that their well-brought-up daughters were leaving home, dressing provocatively, and acting so unladylike. There was plenty of public shame heaped on flappers, who were labelled ‘the saddest type of all.’”).

[3] Slut-Shaming Legal Definition,Duhaime Learn Law, http://www.duhaime.org/LegalDictionary/S/Slut-Shaming.aspx.

[4] Ana Bellow & Kienna Kulzer, ‘Slut Shaming’ Impacts Foothill Students at School and Online, Survey Shows, The Foothill Dragon Press, (Nov 13, 2013) http://foothilldragonpress.org/slut-shaming-impacts-students/.

[5] Rory Carroll, Students Protect ‘Slut Shaming’ High School Dress Codes with Mass Walkouts, The Guardian, (Sep. 24, 2014), http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/sep/24/us-high-schools-dress-codes-protest-sexism-hemline.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] See id. (“‘It was embarrassing and degrading to them. It was shaming. She came home very upset,’ said Chad Perhson, whose teenage daughter, Tayler Gillespie, was among those refused entry.”).

[9] See id. (“There were laws against indecent exposure but some schools went further by decreeing what was and was not good taste, said Robson. ‘Just because someone wears something that we consider bad taste doesn’t mean the state should mandate.’”).

[10] See id. (“Schools have expressed concern such attire could ‘distract’ other pupils and responded by sending students home or obliging them to wear oversized, baggy ‘shame suits’.”).

[11] Jessica Valenti, How Many Young Women Can a School Legally Punish for Dress Code Violations?, The Guardian, (Sep. 17, 2014), http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/17/women-school-dress-code-violations-legal.

[12] See id. (“Because while these school dress codes are supposed to address both female and male students, it’s predominantly girls who are targeted as ‘violators’ – and that could be a violation of federal law.”).

[13] See id. (“[R]ules for boys that prohibit certain kinds of jewelry or hoodies have nothing to do with their sexuality, whereas rules that seek to literally cover women’s bodies absolutely do.”).

[14] Id.

[15] Supra note 5.

 

Gregg Steinman is a 2016 Staff Editor of the Race & Social Justice Law Review.

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EDITOR’S NOTE:  Facebook policies prohibit us from using “profanity.”  In order to comply with that policies, I have replaced the word “slut” with “sl*t.”  – Michael Bolling, Business & Online Managing Editor

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