Middle school skirt check resonates years later

A lot of the time I spend on the internet is purely for entertainment. I go from Twitter to Netflix to Buzzfeed to Facebook and back again.

Even so, I manage to stumble across videos and written pieces that really make me think. Most recently, it was an article on ThinkProgress.org titled “5 Ways Our Society Unfairly Punishes Women For Their Sexuality.”

No. 3 explained how and why women are made to feel responsible for avoiding men’s gaze by covering up their bodies. Oddly enough, it reminded me of an incident in seventh grade.

At my parochial school, we adhered to a dress code. For girls, it was a yellow polo, plaid skirt, knee socks and dress shoes. (We were allowed to wear pants like the boys, but no one did, if only because they were hideously unflattering.)

One afternoon while in the library, all the girls were instructed to kneel for our first skirt check. If a skirt didn’t touch the floor, it was, according to our teachers, not long enough.

Mine didn’t quite make the cut.

Here’s the thing: I wore the skirt the way it came from the manufacturer. Because I was a couple inches taller than average, it only brushed the top of my kneecap. I wasn’t trying to rebel, but that didn’t matter.

When I asked why my skirt length was suddenly such a pressing concern, the teacher responded, “Boys are starting to look at you differently,” or something to that effect.

I was annoyed for all the wrong reasons. For one, it just wasn’t cool to wear a skirt that was either too “Mary” or too “Mary Magdalene.” It also wasn’t cool to agree with teachers.

Even though I rolled my eyes, I accepted what she said as true. It was my responsibility to keep boys from looking at me the wrong way.

Only now, years later, do I realize how absolutely absurd that is.

The author of the ThinkProgress article, Tara Culp-Ressler, pointed out that young women are instructed not to “distract the boys,” but the boys are never taught to, you know, keep their eyes north. And she makes a good point.

Where were the boys while we were being lectured on the dangers of short skirts? On the other side of the room, probably talking about Halo or whatever video game was a big deal at the time. I know for a fact they weren’t receiving a tongue lashing on the impropriety of “revealing clothing.”

“That attitude forces women to work at preventing themselves from being ogled, rather than teaching men to avoid ogling in the first place,” Culp-Ressler explained. “This dynamic persists into adulthood, too, as women are simultaneously encouraged to present themselves as objects of men’s desire and condemned when they look too ‘slutty.’”

It’s a tricky subject. My personal style is conservative by the usual standards, but not because I feel the need to conform to some ridiculous patriarchal or religious guidelines. It’s just what I’m comfortable in. I shouldn’t be shamed for that, just like I shouldn’t be shamed if I ever change my mind.



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