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Dress code comes with unintended consequences

It is often said that girls worry too much about how they look and the clothes they wear.

Truthfully, I can say that I find great pleasure in creating my own unique “look,” and maybe spend a little more time in front of the mirror than necessary. However, the headaches don’t end there.

Women and girls are constantly judged based on their appearance. When I go out, I have to think: Am I too sexy? Too chaste? Too boring? Will my running shorts get crude slurs yelled at me from passing cars? The easiest solution is not to care. We aren’t living under Sharia law, after all. There will be no violent punishment if my calves show. But it’s tiring to be judged on how much skin I’m showing rather than who I am. Sometimes I just want to wander around in a garbage bag.

Unfortunately, the dress codes put in place by Forest Grove High School to prevent unwanted attention are exacerbating the issue. I ran into this recently as a member of the cross country team. Our practice starts in mid-August, which, we all know, can get unbearably hot. In these moments of sweaty misery, shirts are shed. Well, not all shirts, not anymore. This year, we were informed that, although boys can practice shirtless, girls are no longer allowed to show their sports-bra-clad torsos.

Some may say this rule is reasonable enough, considering the presence of hormonal high school boys. We are all changing at this age and adapting to our new selves. Yes, some teenage boys can be gross, crude and horny. Trust me, I know. But they don’t have to be. I have witnessed three years of shirtless cross country practice without hearing one crude comment or seeing any pawing or grabbing. No girl has reported any form of harassment that I am aware of. The change in rules, then, is serving no purpose other than to perpetuate the belief that a girl in a sports bra is indecent.

So why are we encouraging this sort of sexism? Instead of keeping girls or boys “safe,” the results are harmful. Girls are taught their bodies are innately provocative and must be hidden. Boys learn they should be provoked by any uncovered body part; that it is natural to revert to caveman mode at the sight of two bouncy balls of glandular tissue.

When in college, my mother remembers asking a friend about a party where a girl was raped. “Well, if you’d seen what she was wearing,” he said, using the victim’s apparel to justify sexual assault.

This is exactly where society’s written and unwritten dress codes lead many young men: a place where they truly believe a woman in skimpy clothes is asking to be abused. There is no human in that short skirt, no eyes behind that eyeliner, and no heart under that cleavage. Just a toy.

So, am I going to go officially complain about the new no-practicing-in-sports-bras rule or the old school dress codes? Probably not. I really don’t want all of the guys to hate me when they find out that, for the sake of equality, they have to wear shirts too. Likewise, I’m not yearning to be glared at for the rest of the year by the school administration.

However, I will urge everyone who reads this to reconsider how they think and treat the female body. Think about what dress codes you are imposing on the women in your life. Think about what it is doing to them and to the men around them. Rewriting a high school’s dress code would do close to nothing to fight the rampant sexism that has infected our society.

Getting out of this vicious cycle will require a change in mentality, not a change in legislation. For the girls and the boys, please try.

Rubi Vergara-Grindell is a senior at Forest Grove High School.

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