By Shei Yu (Grade 11)
Let’s talk about the dress code. In the past few weeks of school, teachers and administrative staff members have explicitly expressed this same sentiment by calling brief fifteen minute morning assemblies among the middle school and high school students to discuss possibly reforming the current dress code. Not to be excluded, the rest of the Green School community soon became involved as well. On their part, parents have sent emails to the staff to argue against or in support of the current dress code. Despite good intentions, the community’s efforts have only resulted in massive miscommunication.
If for some reason, you’ve had the misfortune to miss the many reminders of what constitutes proper and improper attire here at Green School—once again, special thanks to Ibu Leslie and Pak Shawn for their demonstrations—the current dress code is as follows:
Excerpted from the Green School Policy Statement:
- Shorts or skirts cannot be see-through or shorter than your finger tip when holding your arms down at your sides
- No tops that show midriffs or are see-through; no tops that show the chest or torso area
- No spaghetti straps on tops, shoulders should be covered
- No T-Shirts that reference sex, drugs, alcohol, show nudity, or contain swear words
Similar to dress codes at other schools, no? Even yet, these four guidelines have sparked annoyance, discomfort, and disagreement among students, teachers, and parents. The arguments made repetitively address a few recurring subjects: expressing individuality, the sexualization of the female figure, and having respect for local culture. While each of these topics should be thoroughly considered—and could be discussed at length as separate issues—small compromises in the community will be needed to change our current situation and reach a clear consensus. The dress code in place today is both gender neutral and reasonable to ask of Green School members, however, changes must be made in how the dress code is communicated to students by staff and how it is discussed by the community.
Teachers have increasingly found that many middle school and high school students fail to abide by the dress code because they deem it to be an unreasonable burden. More often than not, real resistance to the dress code can be attributed to modern fashion trends and what is popular, and not popular, among today’s youth. Others argue that students in an environment as unique as Green School should have the right and freedom to express themselves during the ripe age of adolescence. Yes, true, but at what and whose cost? Still, the argument—on the side advocating for a reformed dress code—that held the most weight was the one claiming that censoring certain articles of clothing essentially perpetuates the objectification of women. Without fully understanding what this accusation implicates, many students used this argument to justify continuously breaking dress code.
Before claiming that enforcing more conservative dress means that the school and its staff are attempting to sexualize and objectify young women by equivocating bare skin with inappropriateness, it is important to note that the dress code is gender neutral and applies to both sexes equally. Members of the community often have a skewed perspective concerning this because students called out in violation of dress code are most commonly middle school and high school females. Another common misconception is that the dress code applies to primary students although it does not. With good reason, the dress code policy only applies to middle and high school students. Having entered middle school, teachers ask more and require more of students not because they have reached the fragile period of puberty and can then be objectified, students are asked to abide by more guidelines because they have become mature enough to understand and respect why those policies are in place. In order for more students to recognize that their rights are not being purposely stripped away from them, teachers and staff have to change how they choose to enforce the dress code.
Last Friday, I sat with several other high school students and talked about the dress code (this article is a byproduct of that conversation). We found that almost everyone there had previously, in some way, violated the dress code. Some had been called out by teachers and some had not. Our conversation shifted from a broad focus on the reasoning behind having a dress code to particular instances of dress code violation at Green School that seemed problematic. Sofi Le Berre, grade twelve, recounted being sheepishly told by a staff member that “guys at [her]age are more hormonal,” so she had to dress more appropriately. Even if that is factually, scientifically, and biologically correct, that explanation should never be given as a reason to have to change one’s clothing. Statements like that are what incite accusations of objectification. Instead, teachers should privately remind students of the values of community and respect to encourage a change in behavior and attire.
The dress code was not designed to objectify Green School’s students. It was not designed to purposely take away a medium of creativity and expression. It was put in place to ensure that the entire community, not just the expatriate community, felt comfortable cohabitating at Green School. Having a close-knit collective of families and staff means that it can be easy to forget that we are still in a professional learning environment situated in non-Western culture. If this conversation about appropriate dress included only Westerners and only considered Western values, the decision and outcome would undoubtedly be very different. However, since the Green School community is fortunate enough to host a union of Indonesian, local Balinese, and Western members, there must exist a delicate balance between having empathy and respect versus advocating for social justice. In order to achieve that balance, every member of the community must participate in discussion and add their voices to the conversation.