These High School Activists Protested A Harsh Dress Code With ‘Slutty Wednesday’

Oh the high school dress code. Like my wonderful colleague has written before, these “Appropriate Attire Guidelines” seem to be constantly used to call teenage girls harlots. Or sluts. Well one group of high schoolers from New York is not taking the rules or the punishments quietly.

Stuyvesant, one of Manhattan’s most prestigious public schools, has finally pushed its female student population a little too far. This fall, the school began to strictly enforce a dress code that demanded students cover their shoulders, undergarments, midriffs and lower backs at all times. It also states that students’ shorts, dresses and skirts must meet the end of your fingertips. Oh the fingertips rule, right moms?

Well as the weather got hotter, and the school’s air conditioning got less reliable, enforcement of the dress code has gotten serious, though a little sporadic. Students claim that their “curvier” classmates receive the brunt of the regulation.

And what does the school do if ladies, because it’s always ladies, are inappropriately dressed? They give them enormous gray t-shirts to wear in shame.

In response to the crackdown, fired up students decided to wear tank tops and short en masse to show the school that exposed shoulders and thighs really did little to hinder anyone’s education. Of the 3000+ students who attend the high school, hundreds came to school in strapless sundresses or tank tops. Male students even rolled up their shorts in solidarity.

Reading about the protest makes me wish that my friends and I had been a little more organized in school. As a girl who hit 5’8” in 8th grade, I completely understand where some of these kids are coming from. Finding shorts that met school regulations was literally impossible. My mom and I basically gave up. I sweat through school whenever it got too warm. What is it about public schools that makes their air conditioning constantly broken?

Like the students at Stuyvesant, my friends and I were well aware that certain body types were more closely watched than others. Being tall and thin, but with decent-sized hips, I was a prime target for anything that involved length. Just like my shorts, it was impossible to find shirts long enough to make sure that you couldn’t see my lower back when I bent over or my stomach when I reached up.

I wish I would’ve taken a stand back then and insisted that the school get realistic about what kids are going to wear when its 90 degrees outside. I’m happy to see that students somewhere are making their voices heard.

Yes, I realize why dress codes are in place. But like plenty of things that parents and teachers attempt to regulate, I think that if we backed up and let teens make responsible choices on their own, they would surprise us. The more adults fixate on appropriate attire, the more teens are going to try to defy them. It’s a part of being a teenager.

I have no idea what “Slutty Wednesday” will accomplish for the students at Stuyvesant. But it’s nice to see kids getting worked up about something they feel passionate about. It’s nice to see teens organize and stand up for a principle. And hopefully it can create some thoughtful dialogue with the school administration.

What do you think? What would you say if your teens participated in “Slutty Wednesday”? Did the kids have a right to protest the dress code?

(Photo: New York Times)

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