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The Dress Code Debate

September 11, AD2015

saint therese, jesus, saint

I came across an article recently condemning a public school’s dress code policy. The school is Woodford County High School, and the article is on the Huffington Post.

This dress code does not allow girls to show their collarbones, thighs, or shoulders at all. The students and parents have been protesting the dress code. Some of the reasons they state in this article is that the dress code is sexist, makes boys look like perverts, and “it sends the message that it’s all girls’ faults, basically.”

I agree that this dress code is over the top and should definitely be changed. I agree that this is too strict (especially the collarbone rule) and I think a better idea would be to have uniforms. It is not designed to help young women dress in a way that is respectful and flattering. However, the thing that concerned me about this article were the reasons being emphasized by the people protesting the dress code. In general, with some exceptions, they were not advocating for a more reasonable dress code, but rather they were emphasizing the idea that calling a girl out who doesn’t comply with dress code is shameful and sexist.

I remember reading a somewhat similar news story last spring about a girl who wasn’t being allowed to graduate because she wore the wrong type of shoes to her graduation. Many people were outraged, and thought it was ridiculous.

I am very familiar with debates over dress codes, modesty, and uniforms. My high school required that our uniform skirts cover our knees, and we had to wear button up blouses with vests on top. I currently attend Christendom college, where we have a professional dress code for class, and a modesty dress code that is always in effect.

Over the years I have heard many parents and peers complain with comments like:

“They act like it’s a sin to wear a skirt an inch above your knees!”

“This is all I have, I’m not going to go buy something I’ll never wear outside of school!”

and “My mom bought these skinny jeans for me, my teacher can’t tell me not to wear them!”

The point I’d like to make is simple. A school that has a dress code has good intentions. The reasoning behind school dress codes is to create a professional, distraction-free environment. Modesty dress codes help the boys but they also benefit the girls. Young women should learn that certain clothing will distract from who they are and what they have to offer, especially in an academic or professional environment. The idea behind having a modesty dress code is to enhance who they are as a whole person and to highlight what they have to offer academically. The idea is that there are certain clothes that are appropriate for the classroom, and certain clothes that are not. These guidelines will be similar to the genre of clothing that many high school students will be expected to wear someday when they enter the workforce. If the school administration comes up with something reasonable, and explains it well, this can give teens good preparation for professional attire.

This is the point of having a dress code. This is what I wish more people realized. If a girl gets a warning or a demerit or even asked to change, that does not mean that whatever teacher does this is judging or attacking her. They are not saying that her outfit is immodest. They are not saying she should never wear it anywhere ever again. All they are doing is enforcing the dress code that is in place at a school that they have chosen to attend.

In my years of attending schools with dress codes, I have encountered abuses of the policy. For example, a teacher telling a student that her pants were immodest. I have also disagreed with some of the specific judgments and skirt lengths of the dress codes I have had to follow at times. For example, I don’t personally see the problem with one-shoulder dresses.

However, I recognize the value of having a dress code. I also recognize that it is 100% impossible to have a dress code that satisfies everyone involved. It is such a subjective thing that has to take into consideration different body types, different backgrounds, different styles and trends, and lots of people’s opinions.

Next spring, I’m going to be an RA at my school. Part of my job will be enforcing dress code. I am dreading it because I know what it’s like to be told to change; it’s not fun. Being a tall girl, I know that it is hard to find dresses that comply with the policy. I know the policy is not perfect. I just hope that the people I may have to ask to change will be understanding, and will recognize that I’m not judging them or picking on them. I’m just enforcing something that though may not seem necessary in every instance, is a good thing to have overall.

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Filed in: Faith & Spirituality • Tags:

About the Author:

Colleen is a Literature major at Christendom College where she enjoys serving as an RA, leading the Students for Life club, writing for the Rambler, and enjoying the beautiful setting of the Blue Ridge mountains.

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  • The Little Flower

    I would like to support Miss McCrum’s position on dress code. I attended a public high school and later a private catholic college that had a professional dress code. I found the professional dress code extremely beneficial and I appreciated it very much in the time I was there. As persons, we are both body and soul and what we do with our bodies affects our soul. In dressing up for class it signifies to the student that he/she is doing something important and worthy. A professional dress code teaches the students that they are pursuing something noble. Dressing up for class shows the student’s respect for the professor, their fellow students and also for themselves. Walking to class and seeing men in shirt in tie and the women in professional dress, remind the student that this community is in pursuit of goodness and truth and each one is taking it seriously. On the same token, if one dresses as if he/she is going to the beach, what message is that sending? It is not showing respect for the time and talent of the professor, nor is the student taking his learning seriously. I grew to the love the professional dress code. As Miss McCrum already stated, the professional dress code also prepares the student for the work world upon graduation. After graduation, my friends and I were grateful that we already had a professional wardrobe and did not have to build it in a hurry from the quick time between graduation and starting a job.
    I hesitate to make my next point, but as I read the comments on the article I was struck by the spite and malice of some of those who commented on the article. As brothers and sisters in Christ shouldn’t we seek to help and aid one another in our weaknesses, rather than push it off on one another as simply “your problem?” A typical weakness for women is gossip and idle chatter. Let’s imagine for a moment that a young teenage boy decides it would be fun to tease the girls. He went around whispering pieces of gossip to a particular girl. This girl is a good Christian and knows she shouldn’t spread what is being told to her. Each day, however, she gets new and different pieces of information. Each day she is more and more tempted to tell her friends. She tries desperately not to share the information and guard her thoughts against all the ill thoughts that are forming against those who are being gossiped about. Each day her resolve is weakened…..is it kind for that young boy to put that girl through such an ordeal? Wouldn’t it be better if he sought to aid his sister, rather than torment her? So too with women helping their brothers. While a woman is not responsible for thoughts that men may have, in Christian charity she should seek to help, rather than torment her brother. I know countless Catholic women who are beautiful and stylish. They don’t have to sacrifice their style and expression for modesty. They are able to have both. Personally, it is the greatest complement when a man can see and appreciate my modesty. When my husband and I had just recently started dating, he told me that I was always dressed so well, stylishly and modestly, and he shared with me his appreciation that the way I dressed did not tempt him.
    I share these thoughts in the the hopes that women can come to see this issue not as sexist, but rather simply as a way to help one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.

    • Francesco

      Spot on!

  • lroy77

    One solution would be to have the classes segregated so that the boys and girls don’t fraternize with each other (at least on school grounds). I went to an all girls high school. We wore uniforms and even on dress up days we weren’t allowed to wear jeans of any kind.

    However, twice a year we WERE allowed to wear jeans IF we gave a dollar to the missions (usually Maryknoll) and I can tell you some of the more daring girls wore the tightest hip huggers (remember, it was the mid 70s) that they could get away with.

    The other reason for uniforms (and that was the policy where I went to school) was that there was no status quo between the girls who had more money and the girls who had less.

  • cheeriosinmypocket

    Colleen, you’re going to do great as an RA…it is a humbling service. As for only one shoulder covered, I am married to the man that God intended for me (and vice versa). Whenever I wear a top that doesn’t quite stay on both shoulders, tilting off of one, if he is in the room, he immediately makes a romantic comment as he walks over to softly kiss the slightly exposed shoulder. (We are in our late 50s.) I am grateful for my husband and his sexuality…it is a gift (yes, and the fall as well); but I know he, too is grateful for my sexuality…a gift. You are serving those lovely ladies helping them to know and to come to love virtue! God bless you for your sharing!

    • PM

      Eh…yes. I believe this makes the point , indirectly, that an exposed shoulder is less than appropriate outside a marital context.

  • mrpkguy

    One thing I have found is that most females, young or old, have yet to understand. Straight males have this proclivity hard-wired into their very physique. Call it the animal instinct, whatever. We have to fight this throughout our whole lives! Some of us are able to maintain our restraint others not. Thus the scantier the female attire the harder it is to maintain.
    Ever wonder why older guys are called “dirty old men”? It’s because as they age they have tired of having to resist this animal instinct over all the years and many just relax their vigilance, others simply give up, feeling that society will give them a break because of their age or they just don’t give a damn anymore. Come on ladies, it’s time to realize that men still have a long way to go before they become “civilized”. (Some one in an earlier comment mentioned “original sin” as to being at fault, they are on to a at the very least a half truth). Society is at fault……and it’s going to get worse, you can count on it!

    • PM

      mrpkguy: O.K., you’re right. But trust in our Lady, and keep up a prayerful fight.

  • PM

    Colleen, I appreciate your overall point. But your waaaayyyy… underestimating the sexual distraction caused by female dress — as even Dr. Susan Fisked has pointed out. It’s not just about professionalism. If you don’t yet understand the point about what’s wrong with an off-the-shoulder dress…You may like to read the anonymous comments collated from male colleagues from workplaces, or boys from Catholic schools. (I suspect you’d be shocked.) The Vatican has great norms. St. Pio of Pietrelcina had great norms. St. Jacinta had great norms, relaying from our Lady of Fatima: ‘those who serve God must not wear’ certain fashions.

  • Rclifton

    If you dress like a thug…you are a thug!
    If you dress like a slut…you are a slut!

    • james

      And if you dress up in an American flag you could be the biggest jerk in town.

    • Marion (Mael Muire)

      . . . or you could be a terrific guy, who’s a pro-life American!

      Without a crystal ball, who’s to know which?

      Let’s see, Rclifton wrote:

      If you dress like a thug…you are a thug!
      If you dress like a slut…you are a slut!

      Sounds about right to me!

    • james

      Any man who would call a woman a slut is not a role model for anyone.

    • Marion (Mael Muire)

      Not so if the woman meets the criteria!

    • james

      ” Without a crystal ball, who’s to know which? “

    • Marion (Mael Muire)

      [Sound effect: Back-up beepers] This exchange has been getting into uncharitable and mischievous territory – at least on my part – for a while now. This is not how I want to spend the remaining time the good God may vouchsafe to give me. How about for the love of God, I take it all back and cry “uncle!”. . . ?

      May God bless, protect, and watch over us, every one!

    • james

      It takes a good Christian to do that – and by this fruit we all know you. Peace

    • MarylandBill

      I have to object to this. People dress as they do for many reasons. I do believe that women who dress in clothing that pushes the limits of modesty send signals to men, but I also think they may not fully realize that they are doing so. Also, our culture is such, that dressing modestly can paradoxically draw more attention to a woman or girl than dressing in short skirts and the attention drawn might be much less welcome than the apparently admiring eye of men.

      I also must object to the reduction of people to a single trait in any case. If we label someone a slut or a thug, we have reduced them to that… and indeed judged them, not their actions.

    • Rclifton

      Are you for real?????
      Oh…you’ve drunk the kool-aid of “Who am I to judge”

    • MarylandBill

      In the sense of judging a person’s moral compass based simply on the way they dress? You bet I have.

  • MarylandBill

    Nothing is sure to raise a tempest in a teapot more than dress codes :). And since i love a good one, here I go. :).

    1. Standards of dress are definitely culturally defined. What is considered appropriate dress now would have been scandalous 100 years ago… and unless you think I am talking about women only, 100 years ago a man in shorts would have drawn quite a lot of attention as well (heck, even taking your jacket off so people could see your suspenders would have drawn comment). So, when judging dress we need to always take time and place into consideration.

    2. Men and women are responsible for their own virtue (with God’s aid), but at the same time, it is also virtuous to help others be virtuous. Dressing in a manner that draws undue attention to oneself and thus tempt others to sin (whether that sin be lust, gossip, or even uncharitable thoughts) is never a good thing. This does not mean we can’t express ourselves through dress, but dressing to provoke reaction is something different entirely.

    3. In a way women are victims of choice. Dress codes for men are easy since we essentially have a very limited set of wardrobe options once you limit us to dress or business casual dress. Women on the other hand still have a huge array of wardrobe options that in the hands of a teenager almost invites pushing the envelope.

    Final thought, many here seem to think that dress codes are targeted at women, but I attended a boys only high school that was pretty zealous about its dress code. Dress shirt, slacks and a tie were required, as was a neat haircut… and yes, boys did push the limits, and they were often punished for going too far.

    • PM

      Dear Maryland Bill. I like your post. But we’re failing to make a distinction here. There’s a “variability” in dress that’s cultural, yes. But as Pius XII pointed out, there’s still a definitive “limit” (“modus” — from which we get the WORD “modesty.”) Does God himself not set precisely such a “limit” in Genesis chapter 3. This objection of cultural norms is centuries old — and was rightly rejected by Aquinas in his Summa. Because there comes a point where male psychobiology hits “fertility” trackers in a mature female — e.g., hips, chest, biceps, shoulders, back. And has the Vatican has determined for entry into church basilicas — or even the Vatican post office or pharmacy, THAT’S where the “limit” is.

    • MarylandBill

      There may well be a limit.. I am not entirely sure where it is compared to what is culturally defined. That being said, I think it is perfectly appropriate, and indeed necessary, for churches, schools and work places to establish a dress code that ensures that dress does not become a distraction. High school students are most likely to hit this limit because they are most likely to push limits. When a boy gets sent home for wearing an inappropriate T-shirt nobody really pays attention, when a girl gets sent home because her skirt is too short… suddenly things go crazy.

    • Can you point to where the rules set by Vatican officials regarding proper dress have the binding force of natural law? Or where it was said that this is *the* limit for all times and all peoples?

  • Suzettte Vallieres

    No one enforces this any more. At Mass ladies come in and you can see through their dresses because they are not wearing slip’s, you drive by the Catholic high school and the girls dress’s/ uniform is not only an inch above their knee’s but right under their privates…it seems like women come in to seduce men …those girls were young and gorgeous but those leggings might have well been a second skin they could have walked in in panties alone and been more clothed. It went right up the crack of their bottoms…I wish ladies would wear dresses that came close to their knee’s….It is not the example to set for the people of G-d. She is right leave a little to the imagination…people can see your a beauty..you don’t have to put it out on jump street. Professional world will not respect you at all if you come in half naked and that is the truth.

  • Suzettte Vallieres

    I don’t think dressing modestly is at all saying that boys are animals who are uncontrollable or that girls are asking for it by the way they are dressed….I think women have gone way to far…way tooo far. in the way I see mothers and daughters show up for church is disgusting….I had three girls in front of me and they had these skin tight legging’s on that went up the crack of their bottoms…I had two teen boys standing next to me…we all had to look at the ceiling all through Mass…It was terrible and so disrespectful of their neighbors and the sacrifice that Jesus was making for them….I was ashamed that any one would walk into my church and judge us by these girls…short shorts and short skirts are for the night club or the beach…not for church…I think not showing your collar bone, and deep cut blouses and the rest would be obvious…no class…gross and inappropriate

    • PM

      Thank you, Suzette.

  • Marion (Mael Muire)

    Where I work – a Fortune 500 multinational headquarters – the women who dress in a way that widely varies from the dress codes described in the article (showing cleavage; skirts short enough to reveal considerable thigh; tops, pants, or skirts so tight that they are reveal the outlines of the individual anatomical structures of the chest or of the “derriere”) are nearly always in the low-end positions: admin assistant (junior). They rarely advance to senior admin asst or executive asst (who work for the higher level executive, and have higher wages, more interesting and varied work, and greater opportunities for promotion.) The women who are known to dress in what is considered a provocative way, habitually, are not taken seriously as professionals. They’re looked upon as having little to offer in the workplace besides reminding the men of the delights of Eros.

    The young women who move up professionally dress professionally, in the manner exactly described in the article. Either they come in from university, presenting themselves professionally in every way, or they start out as a junior admin, present themselves professionally in every way, and move up and into sales and/or management positions.

    Professional qualifications, communications skills and demeanor, of course, matter, but those women who customarily dress noticeably revealingly are sure to go absolutely nowhere in our company. And I’m sure this is true in many other companies, as well.

    These school dress codes get the students accustomed to dressing in a manner that will serve them well as they move into the world of work.

  • Bill Eddy

    I believe woman shouldn’t wear shorts to church and dresses/skirts should be long enough to cover the knees.

    • PM

      “Upper calf when seated” is the ideal.

  • Bill Eddy

    I think they should have a strict dress code reflecting modesty and I don’t believe that it’s over the top at all.

    • PM

      I agree with you, Bill.

  • Lorelei

    How about a dress code at Mass too? I’m tired of trying to teach my young daughters to dress modestly and respectfully, and then seeing teenage girls with short-shorts and tank tops at church. Even my 6 year old knows that is not appropriate.

    • PM

      I hear you, Lorelei.

    • Marion (Mael Muire)

      I’m tired of trying to teach my young daughters to dress modestly and respectfully, and then seeing teenage girls with short-shorts and tank tops at church.

      When one’s own daughters point out the skankily dressed young women, to shake one’s head sadly, allow the faintest trace of a wince to pass one’s face., and say quietly and meaningfully, “we must pray for them.”

      They’ll get the picture.

  • Bri

    Saint Padre Pio refused to absolve women who wore skirts that ended above the knee. Do you really think he was wrong and the women where not dressing immodestly? He would have absolved them if he didn’t think their clothing was sinful.

    • Bri

      I mean they went to him in the confessional and he turned them way because their skirts were too short. He told them to come back in more modest clothing if they wanted to be absolved. He was an awesome saint that could even see the state of a person’s soul and what sins they committed without them telling him so I think short skirts really are sinful to wear.

    • Modesty is a virtue whose standards are delineated relative to the culture one is a part of. Simply because such dresses were immodest in early 20th-cent. Italy does not of itself prove that they are always, unqualifiedly, immodest.

    • PM

      Yeah, Scaevola, I’m afraid you’re getting this wrong on two (2) counts. St. Thomas distinguishes: 1) Conventional signs (e.g., let’s take the semiotics of dress within a culture); and 2) Natural signs (e.g., let’s take the physical signs a girl has reached puberty.
      In some times or cultures if a woman wears red, wears her hair down, has no hair covering, or is showing her face or her ankles, it’s distracting. But those are “conventional” (man-made) signs. But the “natural” signs proceed from body parts indicating fertility. This is why Aquinas, Alphonsus Liguori, Padre Pio, Saint Jacinta — oh, and every Pope in the 20th Century — insisted on norms of modesty in dress for the latter.
      Second, we’re not talking “early” 20th century here. In Padre Pio’s case, we’re talking late 1960’s — a full 40 years after the skirts first came “up” during the Sexual Revolution of the 1920’s.

    • Kevin Symonds

      If by “Saint Jacinta” you mean Jacinta of Fatima, she is “Blessed” not “Saint.”

    • I’m not sure what knowledge the distinction adds here.

      Norms in modesty cannot be absolute, except in a conceptual system. In reality, modesty is judged according to the cultural standards of the times. Do the Himba live in a state of perpetual sin because their women don’t wear tops? They would laugh at the Western notion that breasts are sexual at all.

      Proof of this can be found in the fact that much post-20s dress, scandalous in its time, would be seen as frightfully (and truthfully) modest today.

    • PM

      One the first count: this is incorrect. In stating this, you choose not to address the distinction between conventional (cultural) sign and natural (e.g., biologically based-information) sign. You simply made a rhetorical choice– to ignore it.

      Second, a conceptual scheme must correspond to “reality” in any conformity account of truth. (E.g., psychobiological truth about 90% of males included.)

      Third, subjectively, a Himba woman may be a saint. Yetat the moment you inject her with 20%-80% percent more testosterone than she is used to (e.g., ratios I’ve seen comparing the adolescent male to the mature adult woman), SHE would be the one blushingly covering herself with leaves. Otherwise: what does Genesis 3 — read it in its entirety, please — refer to when God encounters Adam and Eve’s newfound attempt at “modesty” in dress? (Hint: He’s not impressed.)

    • I chose to ignore it? Hardly–I expressed a lack of understanding, which ought to have been an invitation to you to clarify your point. I too have read that one section of Augustine; it didn’t and still doesn’t strike me as relevant. Maybe this time you can help me out?

      I’m also not sure about this “psychobiological truth” which most males undergo? Is it the natural lack of control of their lower parts? Or is it the inability to act virtuously on their impulses? If it’s the former, well and good–what one does not choose cannot be sin. If it’s the latter, this is an issue with the boys’ moral formation.

      This thought experiment about administering testosterone to an African tribeswoman also seems irrelevant. Why would being injected with testosterone lead to her covering parts of her which are not at all sexualized in her culture? (If we’re going to play with the idea of natural signs here, it might be worth mentioning that what suffices for “natural covering” would hardly suffice in any but the least-modern cultures existing today.)

      Funnily enough, we were just wrapping up our consideration of Gen 3 in my freshmen’s Scripture course.

    • Kimberly

      That sounds a bit of an urban legend. Three things are wrong with that story – first, women of his time were likely not allowed in a church while wearing skirts above the knee because this still isn’t allowed in churches in Italy (specifically in the Vatican) today- second, St. Pio would not have seen what the women were wearing who were walking in to the Confessional because neither priest nor penitent could see each other behind the screen- and last, it is impossible for clothing to be sinful, or for it even to be seriously sinful to wear “immodest” clothing unless the wearer knows it is sinful and chooses to do it for or despite that reason (a mortal sin must involve grave matter AND forethought – a priest would know this.). If St. Pio had refused to absolve a woman in the confessional because of dressing immodestly, it had to have been due to his ability to read souls, and the likelihood that the penitents neglected to confess having dressed immodestly on purpose.

    • PM

      Interesting reflection, Kimberly.

    • PM

      Of course, he wasn’t wrong, Bri. And he wasn’t being judgmental, old-fashioned, or rejecting either. He was being honest, first about how the dignity of a Christian woman was best safeguarded. And, secondly, about his own (potential) weakness as a male. And that, notwithstanding the fact he’d been bleeding from hands, feet, and shoulder for over forty years, and enjoyed visions of angels. This should not be rocket science.

  • “Young women should learn that certain clothing will distract from who they are and what they have to offer, especially in an academic or professional environment. The idea behind having a modesty dress code is to enhance who they are as a whole person and to highlight what they have to offer academically.”

    Isn’t this the very problem that the protests are meant to highlight? If boys are distracted from seeing girls as whole persons by what the latter are wearing, isn’t that a problem with the boys?

    I might add that, although “schools that have dress codes have good intentions,” this is hardly enough to say that the policies themselves are well-founded.

    • eddie too

      so, males need to just stop being males and everything will be ok; and, then the girls can dress anyway they please.

    • “Males being males”? What, am I to be identified with my sin? Is it the same thing to be male as to lust? Speak for yourself.

      That’s almost as bad as claiming that girls are at fault for their being sexualized by men, and that they are to blame for the sins men commit toward them.

    • aquinasadmirer

      Modesty comes in two varieties:

      * Modesty in dress
      * Modesty of the eyes

      One is primarily the responsibility of the woman, the other, the man.

      Sin basically is one offering something forbidden, the other taking what is forbidden. The burden/effort for each of us to “put up with other’s weaknesses instead of doing what pleases us” (Rom 15:1) comes out about even in the end.

      I suspect that when eddie says “males being males,” he means “males (with Original Sin) being males (affected by Original Sin)”. We are all affected by Original sin. To deny that is folly, naïveté, and a recipe for trouble.

    • To be sure, modesty of the eyes is not the responsibility of the man primarily–it’s the responsibility of the one looking. Modesty in dress is not the responsibility of the woman primarily–it’s the responsibility of the one who is seen.

      To intentionally dress immodestly is indeed sinful, and no sin is merely individual. The problem that I’m writing against, and which the protests are also against, is the systemic excusing of males’ immodesty of the eyes–to utterly fail to see their action as sin, or to fail to treat it as such (they are the same in practice)–merely because females’ immodest (or, too often, merely allegedly immodest) dress. With regard to the current protests, it is in fact the man’s sin when he stumbles, not the woman’s (even if she through her sin made it easier for him); however, the protested dress codes do not recognize this, as they penalize only the woman.

      Your reading of eddie too’s unfortunate phrasing is awfully charitable. The way that it was said is ambiguous to the point where it could easily be read as an example of the pernicious mentality I just explained above.

    • aquinasadmirer

      To be sure, modesty of the eyes is not the responsibility of the man primarily–it’s the responsibility of the one looking. Modesty in dress is not the responsibility of the woman primarily–it’s the responsibility of the one who is seen.

      I can’t say that I agree with this statement. You are generalizing “one who looks” and “one who is seen” for some reason, and discounting the ‘primary’ indicators I originally had. I’m not sure if this is your intent, but it infers that the trouble that men have “looking” and “being seen”, is roughly about equal to women “looking” and “being seen”. Any analysis of porn consumption will show that the lion’s share (about 80%) is men doing the looking. The male brain and the female brain have different patterns; males are more visual. Why blur the difference when there is such an overwhelming pattern? Yes, I know that the consumption of p–n is growing among the female population, but it’s not the visual kind.

      In my experience, especially with three daughters, that women don’t really consider where a man’s eyes are led by the cut of the garment. At least, not right away. Designers will tell you that that’s where the eyes are led. If a woman doesn’t know this, she may reduce her culpability in leading a man into immodesty, but it won’t change the effect on her weak neighbor.

    • I generalized because it’s incorrect to specify the subdivisions of modesty according to gender. Modesty is a human virtue, not merely a man’s virtue or a woman’s virtue. All Christians are called by Christ to practice modesty of the eyes and in dress (unless we’re to take it that when He spoke of looking at a woman in lust, he only was talking to the men in the crowd?). “Overwhelming patterns” be damned–though men may well struggle more as a class than women with porn use (immodesty of the eyes), this does not mean that women do not themselves also struggle with such immodesty. (Even your own (uncited) statistic bears witness to this.) Likewise, even though our culture makes it much easier to judge that a woman is dressed immodestly, there are still many men who also fail to practice modesty in dress. (It might be good to note too that “modesty in dress” encompasses much more than simply how much skin one shows.)

      I also generalized because it seems that only one gender is being regularly penalized for a problem which is demonstrably not unique to that gender.

      A further thought: to focus on the effect of woman’s dress alone (as is the practical effect of many dress code policies) is to, ironically, objectify the man–he is reduced from a free subject to a mere bundle of visually-triggered passions.

    • aquinasadmirer

      I generalized because it’s incorrect to specify the subdivisions of modesty according to gender.

      I found this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZHECJJbzPMv He does talk about modesty for men and women. Do you think he talks about them in the same way? Why do you suppose this is?

    • Aquinas once said, “The argument from authority is the weakest form of argument, according to Boethius.” I’d add a corollary here: the weakest form of authority is a YouTube video. I don’t know who this priest is, and I don’t have much desire to sit through a quarter of an hour of this comment thread spoken at me when the definition he begins with is hardly adequate for the topic at hand.

      Out of respect for his office I will say that I’m sure he is meeting the needs of his flock.

      Whatever gender differences do to affect the manifestation of both sorts of modesty in males and females, seems hardly relevant to the point I’ve been making this whole time: i.e. that it’s not at all just to punish one gender for the sins of the other. Imbalanced dress codes lay the blame for the sinful choices of teenage males (who, as functioning human beings, never lack the power to choose virtue or sin whatever physiological distractions may pop up) on the backs of teenage females who may or may not themselves be dressing immodestly. This is the wrong answer; the right answer would involve proper moral formation of children, and barring that, to at least not deform them morally and spiritually.

    • aquinasadmirer

      Since you didn’t watch the video, don’t comment on what you presume was said. Please comment on the reply I provided, or not at all.

    • aquinasadmirer

      If you don’t have 15 minutes, maybe you do have 5. Try (8:15 -> 13:02) on the video.

    • PM

      THANK YOU, Aquinas Admirer! And by the way: What is it exactly, again, that St. Thomas Aquinas wrote about modesty of dress in the Summa?

    • DebraBrunsberg

      The topic is dress codes in school. Because both sexes are emotionally immature, having dress codes assists everyone. Anyone with a brain knows that if you put a half dressed female in a group of 15 year old males, they are going to be distracted by that. In a school setting, that is one distraction that can be controlled. Who is at fault and who sins is not the issue, it is what is best in this setting. If parents actually taught their daughters they do not have to dress like a prostitute to be valued and taught young men that women are not objects, but human beings, a lot of problems would be solved. Sadly, that is not happening, at least not in secular school settings. A dress code is not going to kill anyone.

    • Kimberly

      It is shocking how many mothers and fathers allow their teenaged (or younger) girls to dress. I never blame the girls, but the parents. Some parents just need to be reminded why modesty is good (and what modest clothing looks like), and a dress code helps them to do this. Other parents are sadly stuck at 16 years old in their own heads (though they may be in their 30s or 40s) and are trying to live a second young adulthood vicariously through their daughters. Sad but true.

    • No one said anything about killing–let’s not get hyperbolic here.

      Is the answer to poor formation of our boys the penalization and guilting of our girls? Two wrongs do not make a right.

    • PM

      AquinasAdmirer: you nailed it with your comment here.

    • Kimberly

      Lust happens in the mind, but being disturbed by an unwanted physical reaction to the unwanted site of a half naked female is not a product of the mind but of the male physiology. If women know this (and if they have ever studied a science book they should) and then they still dress provocatively then they are being rude and inconsiderate.

    • Having been a male teenager not too long ago, I can comment on this–girls’ immodest dress was hardly the only (or even primary) cause of this “unwanted reaction of male physiology”; likewise, when confronted with female immodesty I always was conscious that I had a choice in the matter.

      Speaking as one with experience (rather than one who can only know secondhand), what St Mark records Christ saying is absolutely true in this case: “Nothing that finds its way into a man from outside can make him unclean; what makes a man unclean is what comes out of a man.” (7:15)

      Let’s not play around with euphemisms here. The problem with boys isn’t that they are “distracted”, it’s that they are not formed to respond virtuously when their chastity is challenged. The sole responsibility for their sin starts and ends with them. The dress codes protested above are failures to recognize proper culpability, and offload the sin of the boys onto the backs of the girls (because it’s easier to punish than to instruct, and it’s easier to punish those who aren’t able to fight back).

    • Kimberly

      Girls should not be purposefully challenging the chastity of boys. It is definitely sinful to do that. However many girls don’t actually realize that they are challenging the chastity of boys by the way that they dress (I certainly didn’t realize this when I dressed a certain way as a teenager.) A dress code is a way to introduce both boys and girls, in a neutral way, to what modest dress actually is because it offers requirements for both. Some commenting here assume that the dress code is targeting girls but back that up a minute and consider fashion (always targeted primarily at girls.) Fashion for women has focused on varying degrees of immodesty for the past 90 years, while fashion for men has remained almost constant (with only slightly varying cuts and colors and standards for business attire.) The reason the focus is on girls is because they are the ones being bombarded with images they think are o.k. to the point that even their parents have forgotten what modesty is. Again – dress codes educate parent as well as students.

    • I completely agree with your first two sentences.

      However, the problem is that dress codes *as enforced* are not punitive toward both genders neutrally.

    • Kimberly

      Or to be more exact, you could say “then the girls don’t have to get dressed at all.’ And why not say that? Isn’t that the point – that girls don’t have to do anything society tells them to do – that they can be as rude and inconsiderate as they want and that no one should ever EVER call them out on their behavior?

    • PM

      Yes, it’s a “problem with the boys.” But it’s not entirely their fault — it called “original sin — with hormonal consequences.”

    • Kimberly

      “If boys are distracted from seeing girls as whole persons by what the latter are wearing, isn’t that a problem with the boys?”
      Boys are not distracted by what girls are wearing – they are distracted by what girls are not wearing. I often pass by the high school in my town as school is being dismissed for the day and wonder why so many of the girls forgot to put their pants on before they walked out the door in the morning, and then I must assume that the girls aren’t in fact pant-less, but wearing some sort of micro-mini dress. Of course this is just an assumption on my part and they might have in fact just forgot to put pants on, the poor deluded things.

  • Elleblue Jones

    I hate to mention this folks however many businesses have dress expectations. If young people are not taught to have respect for themselves as reflected in how they dress and how to distinguish between work, worship and play time then the adults are doing them a huge disservice. I am all for uniforms in all schools.

    • LizEst

      Can you imagine what hospitals, security guards, the military, sports teams, the Knights of Columbus, the Pope! etc would be like without a dress code? And, thinking now about sports fans, here are folks that voluntarily dress in their team’s attire!

    • PM

      THANK you, Liz!

    • tt

      I have never worked anywhere where only one gender is expected to maintain professional dress, yet in many schools, dress codes only apply to female students.

    • cheeriosinmypocket

      tt…you’re on the wrong article then. The young woman is writing from a college where men do have a dress code (or at least they did before). My son just graduated from there this year. He (without a dress code because he learned younger in life) wore nice pants, dress shirt, tie and sports jacket…sometimes, in cooler weather, a vest as well. Please, get off of this women vs. men business … that belongs in liberal left colleges.

    • PM

      That’s correct, Elleblue Jones.

  • Kathleen

    I don’t see a problem with dress codes. I wore uniforms for 12 years of Catholic schools. (Hats and gloves in high school.) College (Catholic) wasn’t a problem. I don’t recall ever seeing anyone who wasn’t dressed appropriately. When I was working – we were expected to wear (corporate) office attire and for the first 10 years or so of my working life – women could not wear pants to work!

  • KarenJo12

    Dress codes that are enforced only against women are sexist. You’re telling those women that they are mostly bodies, that those bodies cause men — who are apparently helpless victims of the sight of a well-turned ankle — to think terrible horrible things, and that the women are entirely responsible for what other people think. Notice that no one is enforcing rules against boys for being slobs, only against girls for being sexy.

    Dress codes do serve a purpose, but how they are enforced sends either a good or bad message. The good message — school is a place for serious business, neither tube tops nor metal band t-shirts are appropriate clothing for serious business — and the methods of enforcement have to emphasize that. Your methods focus on how girls make boys think about sex, which message teaches girls that they aren’t fit for anything serious because their mere existence is distracting.

    • DebraBrunsberg

      Actually, unless you have been a 14 year old boy, you really can’t say much about how girls mere existence is distracting. Suffice to say, half dressed females of any age are distracting to men of any age. To deny that is just wishful thinking. If we want to empower young women, we need to let them know that they are not just a piece of meat, useful for sex and abortions later, which is what our society seems to want them to believe. That actually is what the original feminist movement was trying to accomplish all those years ago, to have women be seen as more than a sex object. They failed. They have only sexualized our society to the point that a parent with a brain, can’t see why a dress code in school is a good thing. Make that most adults with a brain. They are more interested in fueling the sexual battle than actually seeing young people grow up with a sense of worth that is not based on their sexual appeal.

    • tt

      But that is the men’s problem to deal with, not the women’s problem. We should not absolve men of responsibility for developing and practicing self-control.

      It is also important to note that in many of the public schools where controversies over dress codes have erupted, there have been no dress requirements whatsoever for male students. Only female students’ clothing choices are monitored and only female students are removed from class (denying them educational opportunities) over dress. How anyone can claim there is not sexism in such policies is beyond me.

    • Kimberly

      So its the men’s (and teen aged boys’) problem if they get sexually aroused from the site of a half naked teen aged girl? You tell girls to ignore human physiology at the expense of boys, who are greatly distracted by the site of female bodies (naked thighs, partially exposed breasts.) You must really despise boys for telling them that they are bad for noticing naked female bodies (“the men’s problem to deal with”) and you must really despise girls for telling them that it is o.k. to constantly distract and essentially dare the boys not to be distracted (“not the women’s problem.”) Everybody looses when following your very bad advice so actually I guess its male-female relationships you hate since your advice instructs young men and women to immediately distrust one another. Its “you go girl!” to the half naked girls and “What are YOU looking at pervert!” to any boy who naturally notices it. Maybe you didn’t think about it this way when you wrote it but man that just sounds evil.

      Also, there were dress codes for girls and boys in my high school. I personally witnessed one boy being yelled at to cover up by a female Vice Principal for coming into her office with his bare chest showing, so your “note” was 100% wrong.

    • tt

      Oh, Kimiberly. You go ahead and swallow that nonsense that you are responsible for everyone else’s thoughts. It will make you insane if you dwell on it and you will find yourself body shaming girls and yourself as well. And the only way women can contain any and all sexual thoughts men may have about them is to only leave the house in a burqua. One memorable day when I was teaching in a Catholic school, a “non-traditional” college student, a man of about 45, studying education was assigned to observe my teaching. When the class period was over, he came up to me to tell me how sexy my feet were and how much he was fascinated by them and how he could not focus on my teaching because of my feet. I was wearing a winter sweater, slacks, dress socks and plain brown flats. If dress socks and brown flats are immodest enough to turn on some guy, there is literally no dress code that will stop every male from having inappropriate thoughts and being distracted. Making women responsible for stopping it is giving us an impossible task. (Incidentally, that man was banned from our school and thrown out of his college’s education program) Schools are banning girls from showing their collarbones, encouraging male teachers to estimate the length of their shorts or evaluate how tight their pants are, and in general focusing on what girls are wearing while rarely paying any mind to what boys are wearing. The message given to girls then becomes that keeping boys free from distraction is more important than their own educational opportunities and that their bodies are the main focus of how everyone should and will respond to them. Those are not healthy messages for anyone.

    • DebraBrunsberg

      Sorry, you can turn it into some type of attack against women, but the reality is that GIRLS should not be going to school with their breasts hanging out, backless dresses and shorts with their buttocks hanging out. Read a little Theology of the Body. Modesty should not be taught as a criminal act or an attack against a woman’s very being. It is common sense. Children are in school to learn and unfortunately, too many in our society have decided that sexual matters take precedence over everything else. Teach a young woman to value herself as more than the sex object she sees everywhere in society and you won’t have a problem with dress codes.

    • PM

      THANK you, Kimberly!

    • PM

      Kimberly, you are absolutely right!

    • DebraBrunsberg

      Really, what kind of dress code would be required for males in school? I don’t see a whole lot of them exposing their genitals or other body parts to an extent that it would be a distraction. Get over it. Men and women are different. As much as society would like to pretend they are not, they are and always will be.

    • CathyLouise

      My dress code for males would include, at least, pull up those saggin’ pants! I don’t want to see your underwear, nor pants the come up to the bottom of a behind.

    • Joe H

      Thank you Kimberly and Debra. It’s wonderful to see there are still women who respect modesty. Ave Maria.

    • PM

      Amen, Joe!

    • PalaceGuard

      A dress code does not “blame the girl” (the tiresome perpetual refrain). And for some to come back with, well, then, that’s the boys problem is….ill-thought-out. The fact is, alas, that the male adolescent has, hormonally, been handed the keys to a Maserati long before he’s received any driver’s training. The complainers can put on their polemical blindfolds all they want, but that’s just the facts.

    • PM

      Thank you, Debra!!

    • PM

      Debra, thank you for understanding this. You’re one of the few who do.

    • cheeriosinmypocket

      @ KarenJo12, No, you’re telling those women to stay pure and expect purity in relationships until married. Serious business apparel…we will act how we are clothed. These fine women will have discernment before them as will the young men. Religious vocation? Marital vocation? Where does God want me for His desire and plan for my life are so much more than any I could think of. And, as I mentioned to someone else, the boys DO have a dress code as well. Dress shirts, perhaps ties, sports jackets or vests preferred probably. So, do your homework…this is a wonderful Catholic College.

  • bdlaacmm

    I say school uniforms are the way to go. It works here in Baltimore.

  • Therese

    Some objections I see here call a dress code a bid for power and authority or rigid , levitical control, etc. Not so. Aside from the modesty issues, a dress code introduces the students to the larger business world they will soon be part of. Every job I have ever had- waitress, nurse aid, nurse, secretary, teacher- has had a dress code. MORE IMPORTANTLY, a dress code may be the first exposure these students will have that the world does not revolve around them! As adults, that should be a major goal in teaching children.
    I find it discouraging that so many adults simply don’t get it. In my 15 years as a high school teacher, I am still appalled by the teachers who refuse to enforce regulations. They will use the same excuses I read here, but my personal opinion is that they are simply lazy and don’t want to be bothered.

    • Ella McGovern

      Spot on!

    • PM

      Thank you, Therese. I agree!

  • enness

    The way I see it, the real issue is not about clothes at all, but about power and authority (which students tend to test). Do schools have the right to tell students what to do, even if it seems unreasonable or even stupid, as long as it isn’t dangerous or immoral?

    By all means, youngsters, appeal to change the unreasonable policy — I’ve done that, with success — but if you can’t change it, bear it with as much grace as you can.

    • Kimberly

      Children do not know what is reasonable or smart, and often ignore danger and the dangers of immoral situations. Only experience can teach what is reasonable and only education can prevent stupidity (of the academic, moral, or physically dangerous kind) – that’s what schooling is for. A dress code is not unreasonable just because the children do not like it.
      This opinion is from a former 13 year old student who objected to wearing a school uniform based on the brilliant and unassailable logic that it would “stifle my creativity!” Yeah, that idiot was me!

  • Really? Are we all worried that young men and young women will be distracted by dress in schools? Or are we worried that in reality it’s the adults who will be distracted? Having been a high school principal for 30 years and thankfully retired, I would venture it’s the later…more than venture a guess, I know!! Uniforms? How about having young women wear a burqua and young men blinders. It’s the adults who are the problem….

    • enness

      Well, I can’t deny that there are some pervy teachers out there, but for the most part we are right in expecting greater maturity and self-discipline from adults whereas teenagers are sort of considered adults in training.

      Now, on going straight to the burqa…what is that, the “Hitler card” of this subject on the internet?

    • Theo

      Phil, you’re making a straw man argument. Just because certain schools require girls to dress with a modicum of decorum doesn’t ipso facto lead to girls in burqas. How many times have the “extrapolation to absurdity” or the “reduction ad Hitlerium” arguments been used against Catholics?

      “The Catholic Church doesn’t allow premarital sex? What’s next? Chastity belts for girls issued by the Vatican police? You know another person who had an unhealthy obsession with sex? Hitler!!!”

      Given that the sometimes vast majority of teachers in this country are straight females, no, I’m not actually worried about pervy teachers checking out teen girls (which doesn’t mean I ipso facto condone the actions of pervy teachers. I don’t!)

      Actually from listening to two sisters, my wife, and daughter, I realized girls mostly dress for each other. No straight man gives a rats behind about thebrandname of ladies shoes.

    • Fundamentalism and Catholic Fundamental extremism is certainly moving in the direction of constant rule, regulation and rubric … I would not rule out chastity belts as another doctrinal stricture. Fundamentalism is driving the young out of the Church and multiplication of rules which make no sense is part of the reason. Where is the joy and the mercy of the Gospel? Or do we want to relive Levitcus! Spend some time on Evangelli Gaudiam.

    • Micha Elyi

      The first step on the road to fanaticism, Phil Dzialo, is losing a sense of proportion. Your burqa vs. immodesty dichotomy, implying that they are the only alternatives, signals that you’re well on that road already.

      Please stop abusing the word “fundamentalism”. You probably can’t define what you mean by it and it calls attention to your fanaticism.

    • Ann Smith

      Girls dress for each other only to show who can out-sex whom; who can turn more heads. As for the onus being thrown primarily on the girls, that is because there is little about the male body that can be sexualized with clothing. As a female I guess I might say that a bare chest or a cute rear is provocative, but think about it. Why does Playboy outsell Playgirl by like ten to one? Our culture has already made women into sex objects. Dress codes focused on females should be lauded as fighting against making girls into sex objects.

  • Guy McClung

    I cannot remember any cheereleaders’ -what do you call them ? they are not dresses and there isn’t enough material to call them skirts- “uniforms” which met any dress code re inches above the knee, because between the knee and the torso there was almost nothing -as was plainly visible as they performed their morale building splayed displays . But cheerleaders were a protected class, considering the important job they had in the education of our young, especially with all that skin showing as they paraded thru the school corridors on a game day, as the vice principals [now there is one excellent name] measured the hems of the less fortunate. Guy McClung, San Antonio, Texas

    • cheeriosinmypocket

      How sad in St. Anthony Texas. It must have been the weather and foolish rule makers. I was a cheerleader many a year ago in NE Ohio. We are talking cold! We wore heavy wool sweaters, with nice length (not too short nor too long) pleated skirts …appropriate danskin reddies for those eagle spreads and cartwheels. Once the end of October hit and the beginning of November, we wore our parkas as well. Then, for basketball (indoors) we wore short sleeved sweaters and pleated skirts…appropriate danskin reddies for those eagle spreads and cartwheels and splits. We were adorable (40 years ago).

  • james

    Very well put, good luck with that responsibility.