Shoulder shaming? Yet another WTF moment in sex (mis)education.

Shoulder Shaming

Shoulder shaming? Yet another WTF moment in sex (mis)education.

(Trigger warning: this post touches on abuse.)

My youngest daughter, (15) had to take Speech 101 this year. Her latest assignment was to write a two-minute debate about an issue she felt strongly about.Β  She chose to talk about the strict dress code enforced by her high school. These are her exact words:

When I was only 5 years old, I saw another kindergartner get dress-coded for wearing a top with spaghetti straps. Girls are so over sexualized that we can’t wear certain kinds of clothes because “it will disrupt the learning process.” What are you worried about when we show a little skin? That people will harass us? Why don’t you teach people to control themselves?

I’m also attracted to girls yet somehow I manage to keep my hands to myself. Maybe clothes aren’t the problem.

This issue matters because girls of all ages shouldn’t have to hide their body because people can’t control themselves. Girls shouldn’t be afraid to walk down the street. My clothes aren’t my consent. Respect me, respect my body.

I am proud of my daughter for speaking her mind, not only about her feelings regarding sexism, but her public announcement regarding her gender preference. At fifteen years old, she has more bravery and insight than some people will achieve in a lifetime. The last sentence of her speech buried me.

“My clothes aren’t my consent. Respect me, respect my body.”

At fifteen, she understands this concept. The public school system in my district does not. Let me give you an example of how deep their well of ignorance actually goes: My daughter was reprimanded for wearing a halter top that I, (Her mother!), considered modest. The halter in question is black and barely reveals her midriff, with a shallow neckline that reaches her collarbones. So, why was my daughter forced to keep her jacket on all day? Because the halter top revealed her shoulders.

Her shoulders.

Maybe I’ve been misinformed, but since when are shoulders considered sexually titillating? Back in the 1700’s maybe? Meanwhile, on this very same day, two boys walked into math class with their pants hanging so low, 75% of their boxer shorts were visible, (which incidentally also breaks dress-code). According to my daughter, the teacher laughed and said something like “Oh, you boys and your baggy pants.” Conclusion: when my daughter breaks dress-code – she gets a reprimand. When boys break dress-code – it’s high comedy.

What is really being taught here? The same old same old. Girls are inferior sex objects but boys can do what ever they want. What year is it, again?

And what about sex education?

My older daughter and I wrote a piece about that very subject (and also reviewed Rachel Kramer Bussel’s Sex and Cupcakes together). In our state’s school system basic sex education is touched on, but the majority of schools are preaching abstinence. Does anyone else see the ridiculousness of this? A female is considered so highly sexualized she cannot reveal her shoulders, but our schools preach abstinence. Consent is never mentioned.

My friend Happy Come Lucky wrote a brilliant piece on virginity this week. (The post contains a trigger warning, please use caution if necessary.) In her piece she states the following:

I do strongly believe that active consent is the most important thing that we can teach our young people. We need to stop focusing on the first time and focus on the skills that allow us to make good choices every time.

Eloquently said, Honey, and I could not agree more. From the time our children are old enough to understand the concept we need to teach them the importance of consent instead of abstinence. And I’m talking about all children here – sexual abuse is not gender specific – anyone who has a physical body can suffer abuse. We, as parents and guardians, need to teach our kids to respect others and also themselves.

It’s all about shame.

Children are still being taught that sex is shameful, that their bodies are shameful. This is a notion that carries through to adulthood. Case in point: I used a service that videotapes a random individual critiquing your blog, supposedly to give the blogger insight on what is working or not working in terms of their website. A male critiqued my site from a mobile phone perspective. He said things like “Oh, this person clearly is a writer. Look, here’s a book tab where we can find her books, great.” Next, a female critiqued the web version of my site. At first, she liked the design, and then, she saw my face.

“This looks unprofessional,” she said, moving the cursor around my head shot. “Wow, I’m not sure what she’s trying to convey here. Oh, my.” She was looking at my face. From the neck up. Next she pointed the cursor to my menu. “Dirty? Oh, wow, I’m afraid to click on that. Let’s try ‘about’. What? Selfies? No, I just can’t even, wow. I’m not even sure what I’m looking at here.” Basically, she was implying that I was wrong to show my face. My face. I felt like I was being shamed.

My daughter (15) and I had a discussion about selfies recently. She, like me, loves art and uses self portraits as a mode of self expression. Like I said in an article I wrote last summer, artists have been creating self portraits since mankind first put brush to canvas. Apparently, some of her “friends” have been giving her a hard time about her selfies, in other words, shaming her for creating them. I do not understand this attitude. My daughter photographs her face at various angles and then adds filters, colors and typography – she is creating art.

Why the shame?

It goes back to the beginning – sex is such a dirty, disgusting act, we can’t even discuss the subject. Taking photos of your body, your shameful body? Horrifying! We are fucking up our children and ourselves and it’s time to stop the madness. What can we do as individuals? We can teach our children pride instead of shame, for starters. We can stand up, speak out and (where applicable) use our right to vote.

Does your child’s school have an unfair dress-code policy? Feel free to leave a comment. Want to brag about your kid? Please do!

This Post Has 20 Comments
  1. Your daughter and my 15 year old daughter would be fantastic friends! She also gets so angry at the ridiculous dress code–same thing, no shoulders–but even more so that it’s not even applied. Boys don’t get told to cover up their shoulders when wearing tank tops. The reason she hears from teachers the most is that the girls are a distraction to boys because they are visual. How about we stop with the fucking heteronormative, and frankly, wrong stereotypes? Girls are visual too. And, as your daughter said, the lesbians don’t get distracted by girls’ shoulders.

    Lately she’s been pushing the boundaries of her dress. I believe that she’s trying to get asked to cover up so she can a first hand example of how it’s unfair when she starts her holy war. πŸ˜‰ I haven’t said anything because I want to see how it plays out. She knows she’ll have my wholehearted support. I’m proud that she’s willing to take a stand for something that matters to her.

    1. I think your daughter and mine would definitely get alone! “Boys are visual”? That’s a new one on me. This a perfect example of the insanity being taught in our schools. Like you said, girls are visual, as well, we all have eyes, after all.

      Glad to hear your daughter is taking a stand. I wish more adults would do the same! πŸ™‚

  2. Another fantastic article. You and your wonderful girls amaze me.
    “My clothes aren’t my consent. Respect me, respect my body”
    I honestly think we’re going backwards. When I was a teen I wore shoulder less, backless, showing midriff with mini skirts and never felt like I was being pointed at for being disrespectful to a bloody dress code. I feel sorry for kids these days. It’s so wonderfully easy to express yourself but even easier to be criticised for it. And that thwarts the creativity of a generation.
    Love you guys x x x

  3. This is so true. Why feel shame of your own body? Shoulders…Pfft. Idiots. Boys wearing pants so low I know their particular brand of underwear, now that is shameful. Get some class or at least buy pants that fit. There is so much wrong with what you’ve said, but what ‘you’ve’ said is just perfect! I taught my daughter to be proud of what she is, what she has. Well, she is! It constantly surprises me that women, mothers, are still teaching their kids boys ‘can get away’ with things, and girls, ‘had better watch what they wear, do, say, act” Time for a change out there moms!

    1. Yes, moms need to think about what they are really teaching their daughters. Especially in my Republican, suburban enclave. Too much importance is placed on appearance – all fluff and no substance. I feel like we’re back in the fifties. That “look pretty, land a man” attitude. Ugh!

  4. Bravo lady!!!! *cheers and claps…. I have a son and a daughter and I have worked very hard to teach them both about consent and respect. What I think many parents miss about teaching this and other sex related stuff to their kids is, it is not something that you just sit down and talk about once, it is a constant ongoing conversation, of an age appropriate manner right from when they are little.

    Mollyxxx

  5. I think the dress code needs to be enforced equally, regardless of gender. However, I do get the need for a dress code. A teacher stands above the students often when they walk around the classroom, and if they need to help a particular student with a problem, they shouldn’t have to worry about looking down someone’s shirt. They can’t go into a different room, or just not get close, they have a job to do so it’s unfair to them.

    Likewise, short shorts and skirts and even baggy pants move when someone sits from standing. The chairs are sat in by many people over the course of the day, and it’s just gross to think about someone’s genitals or wet or soiled clothing being wiped over the chair surface for the next person.

    I don’t think that any teacher should roll their eyes at one gender and police another – but I 100% support a dress code that is equal and fair and necessary (regardless of gender). I also agree with your daughter and yourself that clothing does not represent consent, and people shouldn’t be sexualized.

  6. I have grand daughters who I have to worry about when they get a little older, since the oldest one is eight. I have two boys that are 26 and thirty and they had a dress code about inappropriate shirts. They would have to flip them inside out or go home and change. I bought the clothes for my kids and if I thought they were inappropriate I wouldn’t have said, go wear them to school.

  7. Excellent piece of writing, I feel like I want to stand up and clap. And also heap praise on your daughter for being such a brave young lady and standing up and making herself heard.

    My daughter is 19, and her previous boyfriend had a similar mindset to the one against which your daughter spoke so eloquently. He called her a slut if she dared show any flesh, called her names if she wore make up of any kind, and in the process eroded any confidence in herself she had.
    When they eventually(thank fuck) split up, she said something that chilled me to the bone. She told me she wanted to feel pretty without having to take her clothes off. So this guy who didn’t want her to show any of herself outside was happy to make sure the only way she got any attention was to take her clothes off. He pulled her down and kept her there, a mindfuck which she just couldn’t make any sense of.
    She’s a very pretty girl, and I think he was jealous of the potential of losing her, of someone else giving her the attention he denied her unless she slept with him.

    I do believe he’s(an albeit extreme) product of the kind of attitude against which your daughter speaks, and it is so sad that those who set such ridiculous rules can’t see how damaging the consequences can be xxx

  8. Yes! Oh wow… “My clothes aren’t my consent. Respect me, respect my body.” Proud parenting moment!

    Yes, we need to eradicate shame somehow. I notice it in myself and (seem to?) see more confidence (less shame) in many younger people. I’m simultaneously happy for them and bewildered about my own inhibitions; I’m intertwined in my neuroses.

    Damn the institutions that continue propagating the cycle! And praise to parents like you!

    Oh Captain, my Captain!

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