Are Ann Arbor’s school dress codes out of date and sexist? Two high school students seem to think so.


A couple of weeks ago, Ada Banks, a sixteen year old student at Community High, and her friend Julia Hale, a sophomore at Pioneer, drafted a petition aimed at persuading the administrators of Ann Arbor’s public high schools and middle schools to reconsider their dress codes. “As students who must follow these codes,” the two wrote in their petition, “we are speaking out against their discrimination and shaming against girls for what they wear to school.” To date the petition has well over 1,500 signatures, and there are at least preliminary signs that AAPS administrators are taking notice. (Word is that some of their online dress code related material has already been changed.) I reached out to Banks in hopes of finding out more… You’ll find our interview below.

First, though, by way of background, here’s a clip from the Forsythe Middle School handbook which is somewhat representative of the dress codes found elsewhere around the district:

EXPECTATIONS FOR SCHOOL DRESS: Students are expected to dress appropriately for school. Any clothing or accessories that are considered dangerous, disruptive or potentially dangerous or disruptive to the learning environment are prohibited. Students are not allowed to wear chains as jewelry, as a fashion statement, or to hold wallets since there is a possibility that they may inadvertently cause injury or be used inappropriately. Bandanas may not be worn, gang symbols may not be displayed and clothing that depicts alcohol or drugs may not be worn. Hats, coats and backpacks must be left in lockers during the school day. On colder days, sweaters, sweatshirts and fleece tops may be needed for students to be comfortable in all areas of the school. Shorts and skirts for girls should be no shorter than fingertip length. Leggings must be worn with a fingertip length top. Revealing tops, see through tops, sports tops, plunging necklines, bare midriffs, halter or spaghetti strap tops are not permitted. Undergarments should not be visible. For boys, drooping pants are not permitted and underwear should not be visible. Muscle shirts are not permitted. We ask that parents assist their child in making good decisions about appropriate school attire for academic success. Students who dress inappropriately will be asked to change their clothing.

And here’s the relevant passage from the Pioneer High School handbook:


[note: Ann Arbor public schools each administer their own dress code. Community High, as I understand it, does not have a formal policy.]

MARK: So, I hear that you think Ann Arbor public schools should be clothing optional.

ADA: Despite what you might have heard, no one’s trying to go to school naked. We just want to be able to dress ourselves without trying to meet some of the ridiculous rules set by school administrators… Changes need to be made.

MARK: OK, what is it about the current Ann Arbor Public Schools’ dress code standards that you find objectionable?

ADA: Just to clarify, schools within AAPS set their own individual standards, so it’s hard for me to speak for the whole district. The majority of dress code rules are aimed at female students, though, and have hard-line expectations that are almost impossible to meet. Furthermore, these policies often contradict themselves. And, if anything, they promote the sexualization of young girls by treating them as sexual objects from the age of 11 years old.

Sending a teenage girl home for showing cleavage is telling them their body is more important than their education. It’s really just an unnecessary policy, and Community High proves that, in that they don’t have a dress code.

The administration at Slauson justifies their dress code by saying it’s meant to “comfort” students by shielding them from distracting, disturbing and offensive clothing. When I was at Slauson, I was not comforted by having to sit in class wearing jeans in 80-degree weather. Making a girl sit in the office, missing a test, because her clothing doesn’t fit school code is not providing a less distracting learning environment. Having to go and buy different clothes for school is not less disturbing to a student’s education. Having a 13 year old girl bend over in front of her teacher in the hallway, to demonstrate the conformity of her dress, is not providing a more appropriate or less offensive atmosphere for students.

MARK: What, according to the current dress code standards, is an offense that will get someone pulled from class or sent home? What, in other words, are teachers hoping to discover when forcing girls to bend over in front of them? Can you provide specific examples?

ADA: I’ve talked with students from each school, they say girls are usually sent home for shorts. If they don’t go home, they have to sit in the office until their parents can bring them new clothes. Or they have to change into clothes that the administration provides. “It’s considered punishable,” a friend of mine at Pioneer said, “if your shorts don’t reach your fingertips. It doesn’t matter how long your arms are. And tank tops are against the rules. Straps have to be at least three inches wide. And neither you’re back, or your midriff area can be visible at any time. Shorts, though,” she says, “are the biggest thing.”

Here’s a picture from the Huron High dress code, which I find almost shockingly offensive. Of the example photos, two address male students, whereas nine are directed toward girls.


MARK: Do you acknowledge that there’s a need for dress code? In other words, is it just the parameters that you’re objecting to, or is it the fact that a code exists at all?

ADA: I don’t think a dress code is necessary at all, but I do acknowledge that schools are unlikely to abolish them completely. The rules are what really need to be changed. They’re too specific to be applied to everyone. There’s a difference between preventing students from dressing inappropriately and harassing every girl who’s shorts go past her fingertips. Students are capable of dressing themselves in an appropriate way. A 12 year old girl in a tank top should not be treated like a sexual object.

MARK: What kind of response have you gotten thus far to your petition drive?

ADA: We’re currently at 1,614 signatures, with 30+ pages of supportive comments from people all over the country. We’ve gotten support from male and female students of all grades, AAPS graduates, family and friends of students, even one from Australia. People seem to really like it. It kind of affects everyone. Even if it doesn’t make a difference to a specific person, it probably would to one of their friends. The bottom line is it’s just an unnecessary policy that makes the lives of a lot of girls harder.

MARK: You noted that Community High doesn’t have a formal dress code. How do they address dress related issues, and do you think their system could serve as a model for the rest of Ann Arbor’s schools?

ADA: Community has more of an implied dress code, and it works perfectly. It’s true that some clothes are inappropriate for school. At Community if someone wears something inappropriate they’ll either realize it, because they’ll feel uncomfortable, or someone will tell them. Then they just know not to wear it again. We don’t need to be sending girls home for wearing acceptable clothing just because it doesn’t fit a code. Teachers don’t need to be taking time away from their classes to humiliate 12 year old girls by measuring their shorts with rulers. (This happened last year at Slauson.) Community has the highest test scores in the district – no one is distracted because girls are allowed to wear what they want. When you take away the stupid rules, everyone just kind of finds the line for themselves and everyone’s lives become a little bit easier.

MARK: Is there evidence to suggest which system engenders more personal responsibility? In other words, I wonder if the natural consequences that one has to contend with at Community are more likely to result in increased internal regulation and personal responsibility than the alternate top-down enforcement system that we’ve been discussing.

ADA: I’d say Community’s system is definitely more effective than others in preparing students for real life, and that’s kind of the point of school, right? If seeing a girl dressed out of code standards is really that distracting for someone, they need to get over it… In the real world, girls show their shoulders. They definitely shouldn’t be coddled.

MARK: Clearly, as you point out, these current dress code rules seem to target young women, so, at least on the surface, there appears to be a certain degree of sexism. To play Devil’s advocate for a moment, though, isn’t it true that it’s generally young women that are pushing the boundaries of fashion in a high school setting?

ADA: Maybe, but at Community girls aren’t running around in anything scandalous. We dress ourselves, and no one seems offended. Students should be able to wear what they want as long as it’s appropriate, simple as that. Girls aren’t trying to change this policy so they can dress provocatively or get male attention. Here’s a quote from one of the comments on our petition:

We do not wear dresses to distract boys. We do not wear “short” shorts to distract boys. We do not wear tank tops to distract boys. We dress for ourselves, and ourselves only, which is why we are asking for the ability to dress ourselves in the morning. -Kate Vogel, Ann Arbor

If we’re talking about the clothes themselves it’s a much different conversation. You do have a point, and we’re looking at this from two very different perspectives, but, as a teenage girl, I don’t think teenage girls are the problem. It’s true, young women are becoming more and more sexualized and that shows in the way they dress, but to say they’re “pushing the boundaries of fashion” is a stretch. We don’t decide what is and isn’t considered attractive, we don’t control what the stores sell. The only reason we are “pushing boundaries” is because the things we want to wear aren’t actually inappropriate and would be perfectly acceptable anywhere else. It’s unreasonable to tell a girl she has to wear shorts that go halfway down her thighs when there’s nowhere she can buy them. Seriously, go to the mall and try to find store aimed at teenagers that sells shorts with a 3-inch inseam.

MARK: I’m sure the corporations would say that they’re just giving girls the kinds of clothes that they’re demanding. Regardless of the impetus, though, the result is that American girls are becoming sexualized at progressively younger and younger ages. And, you’re right – what we’re seeing play out in school dress codes is a reflection of this disconnect between popular culture and what I guess you could call the traditional American conception of what it means to be a girl. With that said, I’m curious if you’re at all sympathetic to those who see dress codes as a way of pushing back against the hyper sexualization of girls.

ADA: I understand that the codes are directed more towards girls without the intention of discriminating against them, but because they are prone to more revealing dress. Dress codes can be effective in that they generally prevent girls from wearing informal clothing, so I can see why one would think this is desexualizing them. Unfortunately this approach does the opposite. One of the main problems is it starting so early. It teaches girls from a very young age that their bodies are to be viewed in a sexual way. An 11 year old girl does not wear shorts with the intention of being promiscuous. Telling her she can’t wear them because it’s distracting to boys is literally sexualizing her. An 11 year old boy is not so distracted by seeing a girl wear shorts that he loses his ability to focus, and, if he is, that shouldn’t be her problem. By the time these kids even reach the age where this becomes a somewhat relevant problem (adolescence) they’ve already been taught for two or three years that girls are sexual objects and boys are incapable of controlling themselves. This causes huge problems when teens actually start to develop a sexuality. Then the teen boys have been taught they can’t be held accountable for misbehavior if a girl is dressed a certain way. The girls that want male attention think they’re supposed to dress provocatively to be noticed and everyone else thinks they’re supposed to shame them for doing so. This is a dangerous mindset to instill in our children, especially during some of the most developmental years of their lives. These policies are reflective of a society that oppresses women, they sexualize young girls and contribute directly to a culture that blames women for sexual harassment and assault.

MARK: When you say that we should change dress codes because stores in the mall just don’t sell clothes for girls that aren’t, for lack of a better word, “sexy,” it sounds as though you’re just accepting the sexualization of girls. I’m wondering if perhaps, in addition to going after the school system, you might also be inclined to focus some attention on the other side, and call out these companies that are ramping up the sexualization of girls.

ADA: I don’t accept it, but I also don’t oppose women showing skin or dressing “sexy” in the right setting (not at school). By taking that stance I wanted to emphasize that girls aren’t necessarily trying to be promiscuous – they’re wearing what’s in style and it’s considered acceptable everywhere else. What’s considered acceptable is determined by what the stores are selling, what the world’s standards are, etc. Girls can’t be held accountable if what is considered normal doesn’t match school dress code, and they shouldn’t have to go buy different clothes for school. I do feel strongly about the influence corporations (as well as social media and widespread technology) have on the younger generation, and I’d love to make a difference there, but I’m also supposed to be studying for finals right now…

MARK: I know it’s hard to answer, but, in your opinion, do teen girls have better or worse body self-image now than they did a generation previously? Does comfort in wearing these types of clothes, in other words, reflect increased self-respect or lack there of?

ADA: I think it’s really dependent on the person. I think the ability to dress more and more provocatively in public can have both negative and positive effects on a person’s self-respect. It’s really a hard question to answer, especially if you factor in social media, which is new to this generation and has a huge impact on girls’ self-image. I guess I’d say overall it’s probably worsened, but I’d credit that mostly to social media and new technology making it easier and easier to compare oneself to others.

MARK: I guess I can appreciate the arguments on both sides. On one side, it shouldn’t matter at all what a young woman wears to school, right? And it’s offensive that administrators employ arguments about how certain outfits worn by young women are “distracting.” The feminist in me says, “If something’s distracting to the point that boys can’t concentrate, you should be counseling the boys, and not criminalizing the activities of the girls.” It comes very close to the “blame the victim” kind of stuff we often see in rape cases, where people suggest that women were “asking for it” because of the way they were dressed, etc. And that, I think, we all can agree, is reprehensible. On the other side of the coin, though, I’m sympathetic to administrators and their desire to ensure that the environment is one in which education can happen. Regardless of where people fall on that continuum, my hope would be that most folks would acknowledge that there’s a need for open, honest debate on the subject, which includes not just the voices of adults, but also of students.

lessdistractingADA: I do see where administration is coming from and what they are trying to accomplish, but It’s really just not working. The fundamental reasoning for a school dress code makes sense, students should be dressed appropriately for school. Students should be able to focus on their work. That makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is how the administration tries to accomplish that. It’s just plain contradictory. How can female students focus on their work when they’re taken out of class for dressing out of code? It’s really hard for me to imagine a scenario where someone’s outfit is so distracting that other students cannot learn. Teenage boys are not lewd mad men incapable of controlling themselves. Teenage girls are not attempting to lure male students away from their studies with tank tops. I don’t know what people are afraid will happen without a dress code. To a certain extent, girls will always distract boys and boys will always distract girls, regardless of dress. [The image to the right shows a female AAPS student’s response to being forced to wear “the shirt of shame” given to young women who come to school wearing tank tops.]

MARK: Granted, it’s completely different, but it brings to mind recent well publicized cases where kids have been sent home or expelled for bringing nail clippers and aspirin with them into school. Administrators were, no doubt, reacting to something that’s very real in both cases – school violence and drug use – but they’re pursuing enforcement in such a way as to seem almost laughable. Clearly there needs to be flexibility, but you’re dealing with a system where flexibility isn’t encouraged… a system where, perhaps because they’re fearful of lawsuits, they strive for consistency across the board.

ADA: I’m not sure what people are so scared of. There’s already a district-wide standard that says students may not dress in a distracting or inappropriate way, so no one is actually allowed to come to school naked, or in some sort of legitimately distracting apparel, regardless of the school’s specific dress code.

MARK: I’m curious to know your thoughts on boys, and how they fit into this conversation. Has anyone, for instance, asked them how they feel about how young women dress and the pervasive idea that they can’t control their own behavior? Also… and I know it’s likely hard for you to say, as you weren’t around a generation ago… but I wonder how the ready availability of hardcore pornography might have changed this dynamic. Does it make boys more sexually aggressive, or does it perhaps exhaust their interest?

ADA: I think the policy is incredibly condescending to male students. They are not lust-fueled monsters lacking self control around women. I think that as porn is made more and more accessible it has many major effects on society, especially the younger generations. Because it’s staged it really alters some people’s expectations of sex and disconnects them in a way. Other than numbing them to seeing girls with skin exposed, I don’t think it has much of a real effect on dealing with dress codes.

MARK: So, what are the next steps with your campaign? Is there a plan to deliver the petition to administrators, and request specific reforms?

ADA: I’ve been communicating with the AAPS superintendent Jeanice Swift, and she’s been incredibly helpful and supportive. She’s decided to start a Student Advisory group next fall with representatives from each of the high schools, and to make student dress code a priority for work in that group.

Along with that, several other students and I have been collecting stories from students, recording comments from the petition, discussing possible compromises, and raising awareness. Finals are coming up, so we’re all a little stressed, but we’re working as much as we can to get this done, and its moving in a very promising direction.

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  1. Jennifer Scroggins
    Posted May 27, 2014 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

    Those crochet shorts violate common sense at least… my ass itches just looking at them.

  2. Topher
    Posted May 27, 2014 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Mark and Ada for this interview. As an AAPS teacher, it made me think about the issue from multiple perspectives. There is a lot to consider and to have a continuing conversation on this topic – thank you!

  3. Anonymous
    Posted May 27, 2014 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

    The last thing on my mind when I was 16 was leading a campaign like this one and I very much appreciate the efforts of Ms. Banks. At the same time, though, I have problems with a few of her arguments. For instance, when she says that the current dress code forces girls to wear jeans on hot days, that isn’t true. They can wear dresses, or shorts of an “acceptable” length. No one is forcing them to suffer in jeans. Furthermore, I don’t buy the “they don’t make clothes for young people that aren’t revealing” argument. You may not like them, but companies do make shirts with buttons, and shorts that extend beyond the tips of the fingers. I happen to be on the side of the students in this. I just don’t think it helps the cause to exaggerate. It’s not necessary.

  4. Jcp2
    Posted May 27, 2014 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

    The simplest way to deal with this is a school uniform policy.

  5. RealWorld
    Posted May 27, 2014 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    First, ADA is an articulate and impressive young woman. As the father of a 10-year-old girl, I find myself very sympathetic to ADA’s points on gender discrimination in the policies and the hyper-sexualization of young girls/women. I also find myself hoping that my daughter is as thoughtful and socially active/adept as ADA when she’s ADA’s age.

    I do have one main point of disagreement, though. ADA says:

    “In the real world, girls show their shoulders.”

    That’s true. In the “real world” lots of people wear lots of things (or don’t). But, in the real world, people dress to the occasion.

    In the real work world (at least most of the work world that requires a higher-level education) women don’t show their shoulders. Men don’t show their panties.

    I buy work clothes that I don’t really like. I come home and change into something comfortable. (Mostly rags.)

    If I wore my rags to work, I’d lose my job.

    Telling students what they wear matters is preparing them for the real world … at least the one we currently live in.

    If I were a teacher at one of the schools ADA is protesting, I’d organize a counter demonstration.

    Teachers should show up in short-shorts and bearing shoulders and midriffs. Then a real discussion about what is appropriate for the workplace that is school could ensue.

    Note to students: Your teachers also are following a dress code. So are your parents. Why should you be the exception?

  6. Ada Banks
    Posted May 27, 2014 at 11:27 pm | Permalink

    In response to the comment from “Anonymous” I’d like to clarify that my intent was not to exaggerate the dress code’s parameters but to draw attention to it’s effects and unreasonable standards. I did not say AAPS forces students to wear jeans on hot days, I was recalling an unpleasant experience I and many of my friends regularly dealt with during our time at Slauson. Personally I can recall several instances in which I, lacking enough pairs of “appropriate shorts”, and the funds/will to buy more, had to wear jeans on hot days. I am and was on the taller side of my age group, and was usually called out more for the length of my shorts and dresses, so I understand that I cannot speak everyone. However, I do think that since it was such a large problem for me and many other girls, it is not an overly dramatic thing to bring up. Being taller, I had a much harder time finding clothes that teachers would let me wear. I couldn’t get away with wearing the clothes that were in style like other girls. Their arms are shorter, they reach less far down their thighs. Their legs are shorter, it’s less noticeable when their shorts and skirts aren’t of “appropriate length”. Maybe this doesn’t matter to you, and in the bigger picture maybe it doesn’t seem important, but on a day to day basis it was an extremely inconvenient and embarrassing thing for me. I had to think about my appearance all the time in a period that is self-conscious already. I never had to think about clothes in this way before. Secondly, I never said they don’t make clothes for young people that aren’t revealing, and that is not my argument. There is a significant difference between “revealing” and up to school code. Personally, I had a very hard time finding clothes that met their standards for me. I did not want to wear them because they were “revealing” I wanted to wear them because that’s what all the other girls were allowed to wear, and that’s what was considered attractive. Maybe I could have found a store that sold clothes that school would allow me to wear, but they would have been a very different store than the ones other girls could shop at. Please consider the effect this can have on a young girl, especially considering the way teens consider certain brands better than others. I can guarantee none of the boys had to think this much about what they wore or work hard to find dress code appropriate clothing. I guess I’d ask if you believe this is a legitimate focus for schools.

  7. John Galt
    Posted May 28, 2014 at 6:20 am | Permalink

    No, the simplest way is disbanding public schools and going to an all virtual for-profit charter school system where kids stay home, wear what they want and receive instruction via computer terminal.

  8. Kate
    Posted May 28, 2014 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    National support for what these two students are doing:

  9. Rick Cronn
    Posted May 28, 2014 at 9:18 am | Permalink

    Having endured high school in the deep south during the 60’s when the dress code didn’t allow hair longer than the shirt collar, no sideburns lower than mid ear and only at the knee dresses for girls, I have no sympathy for their whiny complaints.

    If you want to fight injustice, fight for something bigger than yourself. You’d think that these young women would have more pressing issues to deal with instead of their appearance.

  10. Mr. Y
    Posted May 28, 2014 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    I don’t suspect either of these young women will stop here, Rick. This, I’m pretty sure, is just their first endeavor into a world of activism. And I appreciate that. I like seeing young people take a stand, whatever the cause. It gives me hope. Sure, there are other issues that might be more weighty, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a discussion worth having.

    And I’m very sorry that you weren’t able to have sideburns in the 60s. That sounds tragic. Maybe if you’d stood up and fought against it, you could have changed the system.

  11. Eel
    Posted May 28, 2014 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Nothing sexier that macramé hot pants exists on earth.

  12. Jean Henry
    Posted May 28, 2014 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Rick– Ada now attends Community High School which does not have a dress code. She has nothing personally to gain from this endeavor, but, perhaps, the flip dismissal of commenters like you. She and her friends find the dress code language and implementation to be sexist and discriminatory. They also point out that how young women dress does not cause or excuse the irresponsible actions of boys and men– and that to set up a pattern of such thinking contributes to rape culture. What?!! Gendered dress codes contribute to sexism which contributes to easy excuses for harassment and rape. Yep. Read the papers lately if you think that’s inflammatory… or just re-read the article and the linked petition. You seem to not be hearing what these students– male and female– are saying.

  13. maryd
    Posted May 28, 2014 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    I completely support Ada and I signed the petition. 2 of my own daughters are tall and could not find skirts, dresses or shorts that met the fingertip rule. Absurd judgments and the very idea that they would have a child sit in an office rather than class for this is ludicrous. Skin happens on all of us and more of it shows in hot weather. Deal with it.

  14. deleuzean
    Posted May 28, 2014 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    It seems to me that the protest here needs to be focused on enforcement issues rather than on the dress code itself. It’s my understanding that Community is more homogeneous in its culture, and relatively anti-authoritarian by it’s nature. So it doesn’t surprise me that a dress code is unnecessary there. Total enrollment at Community is also drastically lower than any of Ann Arbor’s other schools.

    In most large enrollment public schools, though, it’s likely good to have guidelines so that young people can learn about appropriateness of dress in large-group institutional settings. The key is flexible guidance taking precedence over crass, rigid and authoritarian “shaming and blaming” of students in the “that’ll teach you to disobey us” mode.

    Very few people learn good lessons from being made to feel bad about themselves.

    We need teachers and school administrators who are interested in fostering critical thinking skills rather than blind obedience to rigidly enforced rules.

  15. Heidi
    Posted May 28, 2014 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    On the fence with this one..I can see both sides..Here’s my questions.

    Biology, can it be changed? Can we all be gender neutral and not see each other as something to mate with? especially when hormones are rampant?

    What about girls that are “bigger”? Maybe if all the thin girls are wearing short shorts, will the normal sized girls have even lower self esteem? thank you media for that one…

    Uniforms anyone?

    If your shorts are short enough for a butt cheek or a ballsac to be poking though the bottom, maybe you should rethink you clothing choices?

    I personally like to wear garter belts and corsets, can I start wearing them to work? I do work with a number of homeless, prison parolees, and recovery addicts… do you think this would be distracting?

    School like it or not, is the first step to the oh so lovely authoritarian world of work, unless you pick a sub-culture for a career.

    Seriously though, back to the top question.. we have a long way to go before we just look at each other as humans without attaching a gender to it.

  16. Anonymous
    Posted May 28, 2014 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    In response to what a few commenters are saying, the point of the dress code removal is to give students the choice of what to wear. Teachers show up to school in tube tops and spandex is obviously inappropriate, as it would be for a student as well. I’m sure work policies do not explicitly state “no corsets or garter belts”, but you know that those are things you should not wear in a work environment. Students need to learn and experience on their own what is and is not appropriate. There’s no dress code in the “real world”, which is why young adults need to begin learning what limits to set for themselves. We as students are not abolishing dress code to be able to wear “revealing” clothing- we just want to be able to decide what we wear and determine what is appropriate ourselves.

  17. gary
    Posted May 28, 2014 at 11:46 am | Permalink

    Good for Ada and friends.
    I have two points. 1, School is a place for education primarily. Let’s focus on that. Many of today’s problems are better solved through education than banning behavior, laws, and violence. Case in point: if you bring a knife to an airport or school you will be treated as a terrorist. If you don’t bring a knife on a boy scout campout you are unprepared. What is the difference? Scouts teach proper use of knives. Likewise, responsible hunters take safety classes to use their tools properly and safely.
    Sex is a major driving force in human interaction. Banning it does not help. Banning it’s expression does not help. Far better it would be to educate students toward a responsible attitude toward sexual expression, including clothing, language, and other interactions.
    2, Let’s also address the consequences/punishments handed down by the administration for minor infractions such as dress code. As Ada points out, it is far more disruptive to be singled out, measured, sent to the principal’s office, sent home, forced to wear a ‘shirt of shame’, etc. There should be tighter limits as to what administrators and teachers can do about dress code violations than the dress code itself.

  18. Elf
    Posted May 28, 2014 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    I realize I may be in the minority but As a kid I would have found school uniforms a hell of a lot more distracting than anything else noted in these dress codes.

  19. Maria Huffman
    Posted May 28, 2014 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    Oh, that Jeanice Swift….There’s already a student group and they can report to the Board of Ed… doesn’t she know that?

  20. Lynne
    Posted May 28, 2014 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    Oh man, the idea that we need to force children to endure a dress code so that they can understand when they are older that they might have to endure dress codes at work really bothers me. For one thing, not everyone is going to have a job as an adult that requires a dress code. I work in a company without one and there are many others that don’t. Interestingly, it is usually the companies that like to hire creative types that don’t have dress codes because really creative people tend to chafe against such rules. When people say that we need dress codes to prepare children for their employment future, I hear “we must train them to tow the line and do what they are told. There is no room for stepping outside of the box” and that makes me very sad.

    That the dress codes are very sexist and frankly racist too is a whole ‘nuther problem as far as I can concerned. The ONLY male fashion choices addressed seem to be one associated with young black men. I would say that I am against dress codes in general but for goodness sakes, if a dress code is going to be in place, can we please make it more gender neutral and less racist!

  21. Linh Song
    Posted May 28, 2014 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    When I was at UM and ran Model UN for a year, we had a rule for high school participants to wear slacks or skirts with dress shirts. The Community High kids always did well, really getting into their roles and I think, frightening the private school kids. The kicker was that the young men from “Commie High” would wear skirts. I thought it was a brilliant response to our rule.

  22. Ian
    Posted May 28, 2014 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    Ada rocks!


  23. dan gillotte
    Posted May 28, 2014 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    When showing cleavage is outlawed only outlaws will show cleavage.

  24. TM
    Posted May 28, 2014 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    When I was in high school we had a rule about “showing cleavage.” Guess what? young women who were well-endowed (like me) were constantly singled out, even though what we were wearing was appropriate. One time, a vice principal told me not to wear button up shirts because they “might come unbuttoned.”

    It made me self-conscious to the extreme and made me feel like there was something wrong with my body.

  25. Rick Cronn
    Posted May 28, 2014 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    Mr Y and others, I did stand up to fight the system and change it. Along the way I took a few lumps for it including a federal felony for failure to report for induction. All part of the public record if you care to talk about it. I lived in Ypsi at the time.

  26. Rick Cronn
    Posted May 28, 2014 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    Jean Henry, We know each other. I respect you. I get the whole thing about gender/sex/sexism/personal ID, etc. I experienced much of the roots of this and am not blind to the path of gender politics. I find the current mini explosion of feminist thought, for good and bad, to be a media construct influenced the pop culture language of Beyonce.

    I guess I could better say is that I would respect her politics more if she used her energy and leadership capability to excel in a male dominated trade like motorcycle maintenance or coding. To say nothing of the possibility of the Supreme Court. She may have much to say, but I find dress code to be more like what I did in HS. And I did the exact same thing and suffered consequences for it.

    Then I try to imagine what a young woman her age might have to put up with at her school in Detroit. Or S Arizona. Or Kabul.

  27. Dirtgrain
    Posted May 28, 2014 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    TM: “. . . young women who were well-endowed (like me) were constantly singled out.”

    From Jane Eyre:
    “Julia Severn, ma’am! And why has she, or any other, curled hair? Why, in defiance of every precept and principle of this house, does she conform to the world so openly—here in an evangelical, charitable establishment—as to wear her hair one mass of curls?”

    “Julia’s hair curls naturally,” returned Miss Temple, still more quietly.

    “Naturally! Yes, but we are not to conform to nature; I wish these girls to be the children of Grace: and why that abundance? I have again and again intimated that I desire the hair to be arranged closely, modestly, plainly. Miss Temple, that girl’s hair must be cut off entirely; I will send a barber to-morrow: and I see others who have far too much of the excrescence—that tall girl, tell her to turn round. Tell all the first form to rise up and direct their faces to the wall.”

  28. Chaely Chartier
    Posted May 28, 2014 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

    When I was in high school, our dress code was altered at some point during my tenure to exclude us from being able to wear tank tops (any sleeveless shirt, not just spaghetti straps), which had previously been ok. The reason they offered was seriously, “shoulders remind boys of boobs and it’s distracting.” I don’t know exactly what transpired during the year 2000 that caused shoulders to turn into low-rent titties, but I found it pretty sexist & insulting, in spite of the fact that it affected everyone, just for the simple fact that they seemed to be slut-shaming girls into sounding like deviant jezebels who came to school dressed to screw up the boys education.

    A few years later my sister was suspended for several days for wearing a long sleeved shirt that exposed about an inch of skin when she raised her hand to ask a question in class. We called Fox 2 & ended up on the news about it.

  29. Jean Henry
    Posted May 28, 2014 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    Hey Rick– Sounds like we disagree on rape culture and Beyonce but I’m ok with that. You seem to assume that your privilege extends to women. But in a country in which 1 in 4 women are sexually assaulted before age 24 (and this number id down from decades past), I’d dispute that notion. Ada and friends have a voice and a belief that they must change the culture by raising awareness. It seems very wise rather than foolish to me that they have chosen to be active in an area in which they may actually have an impact, rather than taking on, sat Disney, in an attempt to address the cultural sexualization of young girls. These kids learn what a ‘creeper’ is at age 12– an quickly learn how to defend themselves from public advances by older men and high school boys. It’s ugly out there for a pre-teen girl and, in high school, they have grown into a consciousness that does not accept this scenario for the next group of girls– not selfish. So go ahead and dismiss it as trivial. Time will tell.

  30. koosh
    Posted May 28, 2014 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    That’s what I love about these high school girls, man.

    I get older, they stay the same age.

  31. RealWorld
    Posted May 28, 2014 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    I’ve spent a couple decades working in office spaces, including “creative” spaces.

    I’ve seen my female coworkers bare legs (mostly below the knee), full arms (up to shoulders), and chest area (up to cleavage).

    I’ve never seen any male coworker’s bare legs, full arms, or upper chest. And they haven’t seen mine.

    I want to wear shorts and a tank to work in summer. You think I’m kidding, but, really, why do men have to cover up more than women?

    While we’re discussing gender discrimination, can we also say that men can wear shorts to work and expose chest hair without being viewed as predators?

  32. Jean Henry
    Posted May 29, 2014 at 6:36 am | Permalink

    Is it ever possible for women or girls (or any minority) to advocate for fair treatment without a some man whining and implying that he is equally oppressed? The petition advocates for change that would take gender out of the dress code.

  33. Rick Cronn
    Posted May 29, 2014 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    If we’re going to talk about high school dress codes as part of a “rape culture” (I find the phrase to be useful only for shock value) let’s talk about white privilege culture, or minority poverty culture or something that means a whole lot more to a whole lot more people.

    I’d be more impressed if young people today were more interested in a bigger picture than a high school dress code issue blown out of proportion and used as a publicity campaign to show how deeply political and committed they are to their provincial and privileged ideals.

    I was thrown out of high school for printing a prohibited underground newspaper, wearing a black armband and organizing sit-downs during the Vietnam war. I was also suspended for long hair and not tucking in my shirt. Then I was arrested for dodging the draft and a bunch of other stuff in between.

    I see this incident as little more than privileged children trying to recreate the 60’s. They’re pawns of the media. Yes, we shall see where their politics are in a decade or two.

  34. Jean Henry
    Posted May 29, 2014 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    Rick– Rape culture is a way of talking about male privilege, and in that, follows the same template as the other issues to which you give more weight. They are all part of a larger structural inequity which it seems you don’t believe applies to women and young girls. The use of the term rape is not for shock but to increase awareness that sexual assault is and has been at epidemic proportions in this culture. I’m glad you worked to change systemic inequities and sacrificed for your principles. You have a right to be proud. I’m not sure why that would lead you to dismiss the burgeoning activism of young women and men. It feels deeply cynical. I’m sorry you seem to have given up, but I’m glad these kids haven’t yet. Check out the stories in Twitter under #yesallwomen. Women want to voice their experience. That is what this petition and this cultural moment is about. The idea that they lack empathy for other movements is no where evident in their speech. It is, however, evident in yours.

  35. Rick Cronn
    Posted May 29, 2014 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    Is it really necessary for the ad hominems and to call out my personal political actions even after recognizing them ?? I’ve paid my dues and put my time in. You?

    I contend that we don’t live in a rape culture. That term is hyperbole that stops any relevant discussion. Particularly from men (as the primary perpetrators of that violent act) who might agree with you politically. The same thing happened in the early days of neo feminism (40 or so years ago) I was there. I was there when you couldn’t say “that sucks” because it demeaned homosexuals. And when almost everyone was opening up to their sexual nature. And when almost everyone was confused by that and saw oppression everywhere even from people who agreed with them.

    I’d also suggest that locations around the world where religious fundamentalism and a historically mandated male dominated culture exists are far more “rape culture” than here in privileged Ann Arbor.

    Where we do live, is in a sexist, ageist, white privileged, economic privileged, imperfect but generally open society. Violence is a fact of life here. Rape is a violent act. Preventing young people from getting an education could be described as an act of violence against their future. Guns and economic and social injustice are bigger threats than a penis. “Rape culture” is a media construct because anything to do with sex makes headlines. Especially when privileged media stars make headlines that feed their popularity at the expense of a serious issue. Hot button issues take precedence over less flashy concerns like social and economic justice. Or getting young people to vote and not just protest high school dress codes because of “rape culture.”

    I’d be more impressed with high schoolers protesting violence against everyone or seeking economic justice thru their education and hard work instead of a gender based squeal for those who are different genetically. But then that’s coming from someone with broken chromosomes (that do not in any way lessen the value of my experience, observations and gender.)

    I just find it kind of a letdown when privileged kids born with advantages that a big majority will never have, think it’s about their little world.

  36. Dirtgrain
    Posted May 29, 2014 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    “I was thrown out of high school for printing a prohibited underground newspaper, wearing a black armband and organizing sit-downs during the Vietnam war. I was also suspended for long hair and not tucking in my shirt. Then I was arrested for dodging the draft and a bunch of other stuff in between.”

    Cardboard box?
    You were lucky.

  37. jcp2
    Posted May 29, 2014 at 4:25 pm | Permalink–abc-news-parenting.html?vp=1

    Now they can apply the dress code retrospectively as well!

  38. Ari
    Posted May 30, 2014 at 3:52 am | Permalink

    Nude body suits at graduation.

  39. Posted May 30, 2014 at 4:21 am | Permalink


  40. Dot
    Posted May 30, 2014 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    If administrators were truly sexist, wouldn’t they encourage young women to dress like sex objects? This whole thing seems backwards to me, like women who argue that porn actresses are somehow the suffragettes of our generation.

  41. Lynne
    Posted May 30, 2014 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    Re: “rape culture”

    Personally, I don’t believe that “But it will make men feel bad — whaaaa” is a good reason to stop talking about how the threat of rape and the acceptance of sexual assault in our culture harms women (and men too). I get that a lot of men don’t see this as a thing. I suggest you go read the #yesallwomen tweets and the horrible responses too.

  42. Frosted Flakes
    Posted May 30, 2014 at 7:49 pm | Permalink


    I am similarly confused by all of this.

    Are we supposed to reject the Huron High pictured examples of dress code violations as being too strict and support the knitted shorts at the top of the page as appropriate apparel? I don’t get this.

  43. Elijah Cox
    Posted June 2, 2014 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    Dot and Frosted Flakes-

    The problem here is that the administrators are treating the girls like sex objects not by telling them what to wear, but by telling them what not to wear. Telling a girl she isn’t allowed to wear tank tops to school is telling her that her body is not her own.

    On another note, this notion that some attire will be distracting to boys is utterly ridiculous (at least to me). I recently completed my third year at the Early College Alliance at EMU, allowing me to take classes at EMU during my sophomore-senior years of high school. EMU, of course, has no dress code, and during my three years there, I was not once distracted from class by any woman’s choice of attire.

  44. dot dot dash
    Posted April 17, 2015 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    According to a friend, yoga pants are being banned in A2 public schools.

  45. Angela
    Posted May 28, 2015 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    I go to AAPS and today a girl got dress coded by a teacher who was BREAKIN THE SRESS CODE. The girl who got dress coded was wearing thick black leggings under her skirt. She was wearin a t-shirt that was very high cut and a cardigan over that. The teacher however, wears sports leggings with a t-shirt that was not fingertip length.

  46. Posted June 9, 2015 at 9:03 pm | Permalink


  47. Abigail
    Posted September 10, 2022 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    this is outrageous. our body’s are OUR BODYS NOT YOURS!! we are not trying to distract the boys. they aren’t even distracted most of them think the dress code is sexist and stupid too. we aren’t trying to dress sluty, we are trying to dress as normal teenage girls do. crop tops that aren’t too short, shorts that don’t have to be at our knees, and hoods with our hoodies, there is absolutely no problem with hoods. no matter what you make the dress code, there’s always gonna be someone not following it.

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