Short Shorts and School

Recently in Montreal, Canada, an 11th grade girl named Lindsey Stocker was suspended after her teacher enforced the school rule about her shorts being too short and she refused to comply with it. After she was suspended she posted flyers around the school that read:

Don’t humiliate her because she is wearing short. It’s hot outside. Instead of shaming girls for their bodies, teach boys that girls are not sexual objects.

A photo of Lindsey Stocker in the offending shorts.

This story is very interesting to me because people have taken it in a variety of directions. There are people who support her and feel that she was brave for standing up for herself. There are people who think she’s a spoiled brat teenager who needs to follow the rules. There are people who agree with her but also understand the idea of saving the short shorts for places where it’s more appropriate. There are people who feel that this type of school policy feeds into the rape culture of today. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

As a SAHD dad of six children and a former 7th grade teacher I can understand and appreciate many sides of this complex issue. I have five daughters. The older three, now 19, 14 and 12, all have their own sense of style and fashion that I, a 41 year old dad, don’t always understand. I have encouraged each of them to dress how they want as long as it’s appropriate for the situation. That gives them a lot of power and control over their wardrobe choices but also places some responsibility on them as well. Just because they could wear something doesn’t mean that they should. I was able to relate to them many instances from my short five year career as a 7th grade teacher when the wardrobe choices of students, both girls and boys, interfered with their education. If a girl is constantly tugging on her skirt or shorts to pull them down then she’s being distracted from concentrating on her studies just like if a boy is pulling up his pants so they don’t show his boxers. I want them to dress comfortably so that they can focus on their education and not their clothing.

Fair or not, another reality of school, and life in general, is that people will judge you by what you wear. Sure, there’s a wonderful saying to not judge a book by its cover and it’s true. Yet, at the same time, people all have their own preconceived notions and life experiences and they use those things to interpret what they see every day. It’s not always fair or accurate but it happens. I tried to dress professionally when I was teaching. Sure, I could wear jeans and a t-shirt every day, but I chose to wear khakis and a collared shirt and often a tie. Did that make me a better teacher than those that didn’t dress up? Certainly not. But it worked for me. I guess my former students would have to weigh in if they felt the appearance of their teachers made any difference in the quality of the education they received. Back in the 80s and early 90s I don’t recall any of my teachers wearing jeans or t-shirts. But by the late 90s and early 2000s that was more the norm at my school in Wisconsin. What’s it like now? My limited experiences in my kids’ schools shows a variety of attire among the staff, some that I would consider professional and some that are borderline unprofessional, if not downright sloppy.

While I appreciate that this young lady is trying to fight for her right to wear whatever she wants I think that she’s misguided in her efforts. A lot in life is about timing. It seems like she chose the wrong time and place to express her displeasure with the school’s dress code. Instead of disrespecting the teacher and administrator by refusing to comply with the established code she could have voiced her displeasure before it got warm and she wanted to wear the short shorts. It seems as though she was prepared to go into battle over this issue because she printed and posted the signs quickly after the initial confrontation. Instead of going into this with a mindset of I’ll show them she could’ve asked for an appointment with the administrator at her school and had a legitimate discussion. It wouldn’t have made for such a sensational story or gotten her the 15 minutes of fame with the media, but maybe it would’ve helped foster some actual policy change. Or at least saved her the humiliation of being on the wrong side of the dress code.

And speaking of the school’s dress code, I was reminded of a very heated staff meeting we had at my school when the principal dared to bring up the topic of the student dress code. People that I respected and considered friends were on opposite sides of the spectrum. Some felt that kids should be able to wear whatever they wanted while others felt that there was need for some modesty and consideration for others. After about 10 minutes it was obvious that there was little common ground and the issue was basically left unresolved. What that experience taught me was that even though there was a dress code in the student handbook, there were plenty of teachers who would refuse to enforce it and simply look the other way. Why did that matter? Imagine if a student came to my class in 4th period and I noticed that the shirt had something inappropriate on it that violated the dress code. If I bust that kid for not complying and he tells me that the teachers in his first three classes didn’t care…what kind of a message does that send the students? It’s confusing at best and downright impossible to follow at worst. As a teacher and as a parent, I’ve learned that my kids will thrive when I’m consistent with discipline and clearly communicate my expectations. When I fail to do those two things then I’m inviting trouble.

Finally, while I can appreciate that this young lady wants to make this suspension about rape culture in school and how this needs to be turned into a discussion about how to educate boys to not sexualize girls, I think she’s wrong. I agree that those are huge problems in our society that need to be dealt with immediately. But that’s unrelated to her suspension. She was suspended for not complying with the school’s established rules and disrespectfully disobeying when given the chance to make it right. It’s unfortunate, because those issues are important and must be dealt with sooner than later. The recent killing spree that left seven people dead in California should serve as a wake up call about how important it is to deal with misogyny in our society. Women are too often devalued and looked at only as sexual objects, a message that is promoted through television, movies, magazines, video games, the porn industry and many online groups. That thinking must change. But I don’t see how a high schooler defiantly wearing short shorts to school promotes that change.

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5 thoughts on “Short Shorts and School

  1. I like your nuanced reaction to this. It’s not a simple issue. Generally agree wit you and do appreciate her taking a stand and speaking out for herself even if I am not sure that I agree. It’s okay to disagree and sometimes that means obeying rules you don’t care for.

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    • Are you a teacher as well? Thought I read that on your blog. It’s a fine line for the students and teachers to walk when dealing with dress codes. Especially when it’s not consistently enforced.

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  2. This is a very complicated because it involves so many issues. I agree that she should obey school rules, but who set the standard for what is too short? I have seen young ladies wearing shorts that would make hers look like slacks. I have raised a daughter, so I understand the struggle with how they dress and how society will see them, fair or unfair.

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    • Good point about there being much shorter shorts out there. But, I still believe that this isn’t a hard rule to obey. It’s a code set by the district done in what they determine is the best interest of the students. What she described as being singled out and humiliated in front of her peers could be a dramatic interpretation of what really happened. Unless someone recorded it we won’t know. But that’s not even the point. There’s a way to protest the perceived injustice of the rule without causing a scene. I guess I don’t consider a dress code like the one described in the article to be worthy of such a protest. It’s not close to being on par with issues like racism, homophobia, gender bias/discrimination, and others raft still plague our schools. We had to go through this exact conversation with my oldest daughter who wanted to wear shorts that didn’t comply with the school code. Why? Because she’s tall and has long arms. She didn’t like it but she adjusted.

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  3. Good points! I think that her issue could be a catalyst for change or at least discussion. It probably won’t change the issue of inappropriate behavior on the part of young boys, rape culture, etc. but it’s a start. Also, I’m a chick with daughters. The main point of her suspension is not following the dress code. My kids can’t wear flip-flops or short-shorts so they don’t wear them to school. (I can’t wear short-shorts to work either.) There are rules for a reason.

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