“Are My Pants Lowering Your Test Scores?”

When 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.