When Lydia Cleveland started seeing young women at her school being shamed for their clothes, she decided to speak out.
According to the 17-year-old senior at James River High School in Midlothian, Virginia, the enforcement of dress code at her school is unbalanced and targets the young women more often than the young men.
Cleveland told The Huffington Post she has seen many girls at her school wearing a sweatshirt or sweatpants with the words “dress code” written on them if their clothes do not adhere to the dress code, which prohibits see-through clothing, backless blouses, sagging pants and other clothing. The teen said she hand-delivered a letter to her school’s administration on Sept. 18, in which she requested a clearer dress code, equal enforcement and a replacement for the sweatsuit.
Cleveland told HuffPost that students can either sit in detention or wear the sweatsuit if their parents are unavailable to bring them a change of clothes. She sees the second option as a tactic to shame students and finds the punishment “incredibly unreasonable.”
“If we think shaming someone is OK, how long before they bring back a dunce cap or something because this is basically what that is,” she said.
According to Yahoo Parenting, a PowerPoint presentation that all James River High School students received about dress code violations featured nine photos of examples of what girls could and could not wear and two photos of what boys could and could not wear. Cleveland told HuffPost she met with her school district a few weeks ago to discuss the dress code’s inconsistency and alternatives for the sweatsuit. She also has a meeting with her principal and school administration planned for Oct. 7.
Though Cleveland has received feedback from people claiming she simply wants to get rid of the dress code, she said she does recognize the need for it. She explained that she thinks plain sweatpants would be “more than enough” and would factor out the shaming element. She told HuffPost the county claims the words “dress code” are written on the clothes because students were not returning them before, though Cleveland finds that to be a “lame excuse.”
The high school senior also explained that the way her school’s dress code is enforced speaks to a bigger conflict.
“The fact that they’re just enforcing the dress code so fiercely against young women is telling them that their education comes second to the education of boys at my school,” she said. “Whether they mean to send that message or not, that’s part of the message they’re sending.”
As for the message it sends to the young men at her school, Cleveland told HuffPost it contributes to a major problem in our society today.
“And I think to young men, it’s sending the message that young women and their bodies are distracting and that you can’t help but be distracted,” she said. “It’s not your fault, it’s their responsibility to cover up. And I think to an extent that’s promoting rape culture and victim blaming in our society.”
The Huffington Post has reached out to Chesterfield County Public Schools for comment. We will update this story if we hear back.
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