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How 'I Am More Than A Distraction' Is A Bit Distracting

Marisa Zocco |
October 3, 2014 | 12:45 p.m. PDT



“Hold on to your butts” may be my favorite line from Jurassic Park. It is also a command that increasingly applies to tensions and protests surrounding dress code enforcement. As young women at some schools in the United States are asked to bend over to test the lengths of their skirts and forced to wear "shame suits," public outrage is demanding a change. But unless much larger issues than tiny skirts are addressed, the road to change could be a bumpy one.

At the beginning of the school year, communities around the United States began to demonstrate a need for non-abusive enforcement of dress codes, claiming that slut-shaming and humiliation were being used in discriminatory application of dress codes unequally targeting young women.

When dealing with issues such as body image and sexuality in teens, it is never okay to shame or name-call for such a harmless personal preference as clothing. When a school superintendent in Oklahoma stepped in to enforce dress code rules and allegedly called several of the school’s students “skanks” because of the length of their skirts, the community responded with a petition 800 signatures strong, requesting her removal from the position. Her last day will be Oct. 15. 

Amidst all the harsh dress code enforcement occurring around the nation, public dialog has now formed between students, parents and supporters using the social media hashtag #IamMoreThanADistraction. The tag is raising awareness for what author and City University of New York law professor, Ruthann Robson says is a problem of “state power getting confused with matters of good taste.” 

READ MORE: Students Protest 'Slut Shaming' Dress Codes With Mass Walkouts

Indeed, it is not the responsibility of an educational institution to decide what a teen should or should not wear to class. It is a personal and family decision. But to boil this down, it isn’t about good taste; it’s about sexism and gender inequality.

As a woman who was molested in her early teens, I remember questioning my own role in attracting the verbal and physical harassment that I had received. As a response, a feminist friend of the family explained to me that it does not matter if a woman parades around a man naked, the action does not warrant a male saying or doing anything that is unwanted. I believe this fully. That said, what I am about to say next may not be as popular amidst the #IamMoreThanADistraction clan.

What is all too visible to me right now is a lot of finger-pointing — at “boys” to be precise. And this issue is bigger than boys. It is part of a much larger societal construction in which blame cannot be unfairly placed upon the shoulders of men.

Emma Watson has been scrutinized for the well-intentioned #HeForShe campaign not quite hitting the mark that was intended. Time magazine points out that feminism has long ignored sexist biases against men and has even re-enforced them at times. When we look at the #IAmMoreThanADistraction campaign, a common thread of complaint is that society should not shame the female form, but should instead teach boys not to view it as a sexual object. This effectively removes the blame from girls, but places it upon a great many innocent boys.

READ MORE: How Men Can Aid Feminism (Hint: It's Not Taking The #HeForShe Pledge)

Here’s the thing: For thousands of years humanity has been hard-wired to mate. While not all men are sexually attracted to women, in one study, men were shown to psychologically respond to a woman's body in motion. To say that men need to learn not to view the body—especially a female one—as an object related to sex is like telling a woman she needs to learn not to care for her young. These are biological instincts that are, at the very least, extremely difficult to overcome. 

So what are some solutions? A first step to avoiding female students feeling singled out, humiliated and shamed by schools could be to strip away specifics within the dress code. For example, simply state that breasts, behinds and underwear (including boxers) must not be visible while standing. Take out the extras that focus on specific hem lengths while seated or, as is the case in some schools, bans on logos and particular prints. Allow families to decide with their children what is or is not appropriate for school days. 

That solution, however, is merely equivalent to shoveling buckets of water out of a sinking boat. As one article pointed out, it isn’t the dress codes themselves creating the problem, but the harsh methods being used to enforce them mainly upon women.

We need our young women to understand—not just be told by their elders—how our young men operate. Similarly, our young men need to see more of our young women than the surface that glares at them beneath sheer tops—they need to see a woman’s struggles first hand. There is no better way to inform than to educate. 

Because of the success of sexual education, the development of a mandatory class to be taken in the beginning of the high school experience could be a good starting point in beginning to combat the issue of sexism toward both men and women, which lies beneath and is the real culprit in the dress code issue.

A program similar to but more interactive and in depth than sexual education could introduce the science of attraction to young men and women and establish a dialogue between them. Topics of discussion, relying heavily on sharing personal experiences, could include sexism, biases and harassment to facilitate students switching into another paradigm—namely that of the opposite sex.

It is important to acknowledge a common thread between the #YesAllWomen, #IamMoreThanADistraction, #HeForShe and #YesMeansYes issues that are ever-present in the media today as they are all involved within the dress code issue.

READ MORE: I <3 Feminists Who Critique Other Feminists

In constructing and implementing a program that seeks to educate and establish an open dialogue on such issues as sexism, biases, masculinism, feminism and harassment, we also encourage communication to continue as young men and women begin to engage in the sexual activity that these dress code issues seem to be avoiding. 

We cannot expect that banning leggings and yoga pants and the subsequent discouragement of our young women’s personal comfort and active lifestyles will keep young boys who are approaching their sexual peaks from noticing their female peers. 

What we can do is establish a way that young women can come to understand the way in which femininity and feminism affect men, without being publicly degraded for having confidence in their own skin. 

What we can do is find a way for young men to come to appreciate the struggles that young women go through in trying to stand out and exert themselves in a world that seems to constantly be trying to keep them hidden physically and professionally.

But we cannot succeed in these things while we continue to place the blame on women’s bodies and men’s minds.

Contact Contributor Marisa Zocco here.



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