“Are My Pants Lowering Your Test Scores?”

6816419271_af5bb96d36_zWhen I was a junior in high school, I received my first detention. My offense? Wearing jeans with holes in the knees. I had to, embarrassingly, walk around the rest of the day with duct tape covering them. Seems like a pretty ridiculous reason to be pulled out of school, right?

Well, there’s a similar dress-code war being waged at Haven Middle School in Evanston, Ill.: Administrators want to ban leggings—worn overwhelmingly by girls—but the young women at this school are not giving up their comfy pants without a fight.

More than 500 students signed a petition to remove the ban last month. Then, they showed up to class wearing the banned garments, along with signs reading, “Are my pants lowering your test scores?” Way to go, young feminists!

The school’s administration decided to place a ban on leggings because they felt they were “too distracting for boys.” Instead of teaching boys, at a critical age, to treat women’s bodies with respect, they chose to eliminate the so-called distraction and place the blame on girls.

Sophie Hasty, a 13-year-old Haven student, has taken the lead on speaking out against the ban:

The reason was basically: “boys.” It’s a lot like saying that if guys do something to harass us, it’s our fault for that. We’re the ones being punished for what guys do.

She explains that while enforcing the ban, teachers are telling girls to put shorts over their leggings, which seem counterproductive. She explains:

It’s humiliating to walk around the hallways wearing bright blue shorts [given to girls by the school]. Boys yell “dress code!” when they see you. They act more inappropriate when you’re walking around in blue shorts when you’ve gotten dress-coded than when you’re just wearing leggings. I asked a teacher to tell us about an incident where a girl was wearing leggings and a guy was getting distracted. There hasn’t been one.

The school has come out to say that this is a misunderstanding and they haven’t banned leggings, but they should be worn with a skirt, dress or shirt that reaches to your fingertips.

But even parents are protesting the ban. Kevin Bond, a high-school teacher in another Illinois district, and Juliet Bond, a professor at Columbia College in Chicago, who are parents of a girl currently attending the middle school, wrote a letter to the principal explaining how detrimental the ban can be for every student:

[The] policy clearly shifts the blame for boys’ behavior or lack of academic concentration directly onto the girls. We are frankly shocked at this antiquated and warped message that is being sent to the kids. Under no circumstances should girls be told that their clothing is responsible for boys’ bad behaviors. This kind of message lands itself squarely on a continuum that blames girls and women for assault by men. It also sends the message to boys that their behaviors are excusable, or understandable given what the girls are wearing. And if the sight of a girl’s leg is too much for boys at Haven to handle, then your school has a much bigger problem to deal with.

We really hope that you will consider the impact of these policies and how they contribute to rape culture. Girls should be able to feel safe and unashamed about what they wear. And boys need to be corrected and taught when they harass girls.

If Sophie Hasty and the girls at Haven Middle School are the future leaders of the feminist movement, we’ll  be glad to share our torch.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Nicole Sherwin licensed under Creative Commons 2.0



Lindsey O’Brien is currently studying journalism at Ohio University and interning at Ms. Follow her on Twitter.



  1. The girls and parents are clearly overreacting. While antiquated dress codes that punish girls for boys (and teachers and administrators) being incapable of not sexualizing them are ridiculous and only teaching girls they need to be ashamed of and blamed for negative reactions to their bodies, that is clearly not the issue here and they are unnecessarily pushing that. The school has said that leggings are not banned, they are to be worn under shorts, skirts, or dresses, WHICH IS HOW THEY SHOULD BE WORN. We’ve all seen women of all ages walking around in leggings that are little more than tights and are completely see-through, especially when they are sitting, bending over, etc. LEGGINGS ARE NOT PANTS. These girls need to get over that and buy some freaking tunics to wear with their leggings.

  2. I don’t think the school should have mad it an issue of “distracting the boys”, because many things will distract a child of that age, male or female. However, I do support the leggings ban. I love leggings, I wear leggings all over my house. But a majority of leggings don’t qualify as pants. School is the work environment of the youth. There need to be an outline of rules for appropriate school attire and I don’t think bottoms that are prone to camel toe should make the cut. People wear crop tops, leggings, mini skirts, and sagging pants all the time in public spaces freely because the general public doesn’t have a dress code. But if you’re in school, just like if you were at work, you have to abide by certain rules.

    • Thank you, Sarah, for making such a strong case for school dress codes. I’ve always had trouble supporting movements like this one against a ban on leggings because I wouldn’t want to deny people the privilege of wearing what they wish but also understand that a school occasionally needs to set limits. You’ve helped me identify why fights against school dress rules don’t often elicit my support (though in this case, the alleged reason for the school’s ‘ban’ is ridiculous). You’re exactly right. In our society there are guidelines we follow when getting dressed; we are expected to wear something appropriate to the occasion. This is the argument schools should be using. School is a learning environment, not a leisure environment. So students shouldn’t expect to enjoy the same sartorial freedom they do in less structured environments.

      • Could not agree more. Clearly the reasoning behind this leggings ban is asinine, but the leggings ban in and of itself is not. Leggings =/= pants. And even if they did, the school has a right to decide what clothing it deems appropriate and what clothing it does not.

    • Dana K. says:

      I think there’s a really important distinction that needs to be made between the work environment that a free-to-choose adult finds her/himself in, and that of a public school. As a working adult, you conform to rules and restrictions such as dress codes at your place of employment because you are free to make this choice and you’re being paid – you are also free to work somewhere else (lot’s of employers have no dress code). In this situation you’re willingly entering into agreement: I’ll work for you (follow your rules, do what you ask) and you will pay me. If the deal stops working for you you get to to quit and look for work elsewhere. A person in K-12 public school, however, has agreed to no such thing, has little choice in the matter of attending school (or how time is spent there), and rarely has the option of “quitting” and trying out a different school.

      If we’re really concerned with preparing people for the “real world”, then rather than saying “wear this and not this” and training them to conform to the status quo and subvert their individuality, sexuality (and all the other stuff teenagers are dealing with), schools should be engaging them in real issues and the decision-making process. If t-shirts display language that offends us or leggings are “too sexy”, then we need to get students in on the process of figuring out what’s not working and how can we address it. Not only is this more respectful, but it’s also so much more effective in the long run if we want to create students who can be sane and helpful members of a democratic society.

  3. However, I will add that in some cases the dress code is absolutely out of line (for example, when forcing people to remove or conceal clothing or accessories that demonstrate religious affiliation in public buildings, or when the dress code polices hair in such a way that Black people are discriminated against if they choose to wear their hair naturally rather than having it relaxed or worn in a specific style).

  4. Jo Oppenheimer says:

    This isn’t really about a dress code but rather attitudes expressed by the administration that leggings would distract boys therefore the girls are responsible for the boys’ behavior. I am reminded of the Jewish Orthodox males who insist that women’s bare arms will somehow create a sexual response by men. It’s really the same thing only the ban on the girls’ legging allegedly happens to a younger group. Since when are women responsible for male behavior be they children or adults?

    • Interesting you brought that up. I once worked at a conservative financial company run by orthodox men. I was told by the co-worker training me that women were not allowed to wear shirts that show shoulders (such as a sleeveless collared blouse) because “they believe the skin distracts men”. If this had just been a normal part of the dress code based on a professional appearance, I wouldn’t have been offended or questioned it at all, but I was horrified at the stated reason for the rule. Like – THANK YOU for reminding me that I’m female and my body is therefore naturally sinful and must be shrouded.

  5. Brendan S says:

    If the school really wants to make a point about how inappropriate the attire is they could have all teachers and school employees wear leggings to work for one week.

  6. Dyanna Neal says:

    Yet no one said this about boys wearing their pants further & further down their butts. Give me a break.

  7. Madeleine says:

    Why can’t we let them be kids and wear leggings? When jeans are so tight you can see the same shape of body as in a legging, where is the problem? oh, I’m sorry, the shape of my thigh is offensive to you? Shall I don my finger length shroud? It makes sense for skirts and shorts to have a minimum length, they can show a LOT of skin, but to be told that your thighs have to be shrouded under 2 layers of cloth? Come on! The 1950’s wants it sexism back, please.

  8. Lucinda says:

    I want to know where I can buy them!

  9. Lizbaby4 says:

    My daughter wears leggings every day. She has some physical deficits and cannot manage zippers and buttons. Until a manufacturer makes elastic waist pants in another fabric, she is limited in her choices. I can tell you from experience, if you are wearing leggings and have camel toe, the pants are too small.

    If the school wants such a restrictive dress code, they should consider a school uniform.

    • Agree with you Lizbaby4… I know several young ladies who cannot manage zippers and snaps, for various reasons. Leggings are comfy, easy to pull on, and I sure like the pattern of the ones pictured in this article!

    • Yes, leggings are easy to wear. And yes those that are stretched so tight that they become sheer or show a “camel toe” are too small but the reality is that young women DO wear clothing that is too small in many instances. I am a teacher and am in fact very liberal, but I enforce my school rules of no leggings, no sagging pants for boys, no hats inside, no clothing that supports violence or illegal behavior, no”beaters” on the boys, no lingerie showing on the girls. This is a matter of respecting themselves and others. It also is meant to help them differentiate between what is appropriate from one setting to another. I am sure that the folks commenting here supervise what their children are wearing, but this is not always the case. Walk through a school that does not have/enforce a dress code and then decide how outrageous this ban on uncovered leggings is. The administration chose a weak argument and one that stupidly blames females for anticipated bad male behavior. The justification is flawed but the rule is actually appropriate.

  10. Rosaleeee says:

    This reminds me of the dress code of my high school back in the mid 60s that banned girls from wearing colored tights because “the boys would wonder how far up they went.” Never mind that they were far less revealing than sheer panty hose (which were acceptable) nor that they covered more skin than knee highs (also acceptable). No, once again, it was all about what the boys “might” do (based upon some Dean of Girls strange imaginings). First of course there’s the matter of females being responsible for what males do. But then there is also the matter of – really? Did boys REALLY spend any time wondering how far up they went, trying to figure out whether they were tights or just thigh high socks?

    I think the school administrators have dirtier minds than the boys do. Truly. This is more about what the adult male administrators are being distracted by, not what distracts the boys. And you really have to wonder about what they are thinking, don’t you?

    I mean, if you insist on banning girls’ clothing that is purportedly “distracting” for boys you should ban skirts and dresses altogether. If you aren’t going to do that, your whole reasoning goes straight out the window (never mind that it is victim-blaming). If uncovered leggings are distracting to boys, what do you think skirts are?

    I can see having dress codes that determine what is appropriate for school wear and what is not. I can understand wanting to have the girls’ butts covered by a shirt or a skirt/dress. NOT for the reason given, but rather because it’s neater, less casual. Like the rule we had in school that boys had to tuck their shirts into their pants and wear belts or suspenders. I have to ask, what is the dress code for boys?

    Dress codes should be about neatness and about recognizing that dressing for school should be different from dressing for the weekend playground. How about EVERYONE wear slacks with shirts tucked in and belts to keep the pants up at an appropriate location on the hips or higher?

    • Rosaleeee, I agree with almost all of what you say, except “Dress codes should be about neatness and about recognizing that dressing for school should be different from dressing for the weekend playground. How about EVERYONE wear slacks with shirts tucked in and belts to keep the pants up at an appropriate location on the hips or higher?”
      I objected to this rule when it was imposed at my son’s middle school many years ago. My son WAS dressed neatly (although I see no logical reason why “neatness” should be a requirement for students–how did the author’s holey jeans keep anybody from learning?); he was rudely told by a teacher to tuck his neat polo-style shirt with a banded bottom into his pants. Not only is that style shirt not designed to be tucked in, but additionally, students have varying body types; why should they be required to conform to a one-size-fits-all style of dress? Is it right (or cruel) to force chubby students to wear their shirts tucked in instead of allowing them to dress in a way that does not accentuate their stomachs or butts? Which is more distracting to a student–being allowed to dress in a way that expresses his or her personal style and covers the body (what clothing is designed to do, after all) appropriately for the particular student or being forced to fit into a mold that will never be right for everybody?

  11. Barbara Mor says:

    There’s a Biblical ban, both Old & Nw Testaments I think, against women going bare-headed into a synagogue
    or a church…because it will distract the Angels, & perhaps even God. This has amplified into a tradition of all 3 Abrahamic religions, eventuating in the claustrophic full bodybag worn under pain of death in extreme Muslim cultures. When a religion is based on erasing female anatomy & biology in order not to ‘distract’ or ‘offend’ men & their idea of God, what can we say? We should say: if there’s a problem, it exists in the minds of the religious beholders.

  12. Codi Michel Johnson says:

    I believe there’s two ways dress codes should be handled. The first (and the one I’d go with) is: clothes must be worn at all times except for the showers. In other words, public nudity is out, but everything else is acceptable. The second is the school uniform, but with the major difference that instead of shirts and slacks for boys, and shirts and short skirts for girls, it’s one or the other for everyone. Logically, this would mean shirts and slacks for BOTH boys and girls. Who thought up this crap with girls having to wear short skirts as part of their uniform? There’s no doubt in my mind this comes from old male administrators and their school girl fantasies. As for bans on ‘offensive words’ or ‘religious symbols’, those are ridiculous as well. Like I said, the dress code should be either absolutely minimalist or the exact same uniform for everyone.

  13. Dress codes are good, but need to be carefully thought through so they can be applicable to both boys and girls and ideally the same language should be used for both. For example: many schools have a maximum hair length for boys and not girls–something like it should not extend below the collar. Why should this be a double standard? Long hair on boys should not be objectionable as long as it is neat and clean–so alter the dress code using language that is easily applicable to both. Most boys don’t wear skirts, but they do wear shorts: why shouldn’t there be the same minimum length requirements for shorts and skirts, if thigh exposure is the identified problem? Now they have “meggings”–leggings for men–have they adjusted the dress code to require a mid-thigh shirt to cover boys’ legs too? Or simply say to everyone, “don’t wear anything that would be inappropriate in a fancy restaurant.” Or, depending on the environment, to church or synagogue. This would let out holey jeans, sweats, leggings, meggings, saggy pants, T-shirts with obnoxious or obscene sayings, plunging necklines, baseball caps, or insane amounts of Axe body spray. Or do what the public school system in my city did: require, of everyone, collared shirts in white, red or navy blue; trouser-style pants or shorts in khaki or navy blue, no visible labels or logos on anything, and no jewelry except earrings that don’t dangle. Equally applicable to both boys and girls and stated in gender-neutral language. The idea is not only to enforce a respectful environment in school, but to discourage clothes competition and gang colors within the school.

  14. I’m not sure that the message sent was appropriate. It should not have been said that wearing leggings is too distracting for boys. The message that should be sent is that leggings that become sheer from behind during movement or bending over and clearly show your thing and or your vagina (which is sadly very visible through stretched out leggings) is inappropriate and unacceptable. Teachers, friends it boys should not be forced to look away in embarrassment when this occurs. It is likely that girls may not be aware of how much they are showing off and it is their parents who should be explaining this, not a school board who while trying to send the message gently, ended up infuriating people. They should try being more direct. I believe this equates to making men wear shirts. No shirt, no shoes, no service. No one wants to see your lady parts!

  15. I think these stupid rules are inspired by a desire to teach women obedience. Get used to others telling you what to do, and being less free than men and boys.

    So glad the young women are speaking out!

  16. I apologies in advance for punctuation but I think we’re missing something important here and had to say something. It’s science and biology, men/ boys always see woman sexually it’s natural and normal the more they see the more sexually they see them and the more distracted they get. Studies have shown that just bringing a girl that the male finds attractive into the same room raises his testosterone levels dramatically and that will inevitably lead toward poor behavior in boys. It will make them more confrontational and looking to stand out as a alpha male. The studies also show that the same does not hold to females who when presented with the same situation actually become more helpful and less confrontational. This is a problem and does not bode well for men and I don’t see any easy solutions to it.

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