Amy Newbery on sexist dress codes

“It might distract the boys.”

I remember that comment well. It happened in the last two years of high-school, after Spanish class. The teacher had asked me to stay behind. That day, I wearing a white crop-top with the word ‘love’ written across it in black cursive. I’ll admit it, I was breaking the dress-code but a simple, ‘you are breaking the dress-code’ would have sufficed.

Instead, she told me that I shouldn’t wear clothes like that because, ‘it might distract the boys.’ I regret it now but I just nodded and accepted what she was telling me. Partly, I was scared of arguing back, but I also didn’t think about the implication of her words until later.

I’m sorry, my stomach will distract men, will it? It’s my fault if they have inappropriate thoughts about me, is it? How could a teacher, someone who is suppose to guide and support you, say that?

In a way, I guess it’s a good thing her words didn’t affect me immediately because it would’ve knocked my self-esteem. But was my teacher just referring to the male students, or the teachers as well?

If she was including the teachers, then that’s just disturbing. If men who are old enough to be my father find my stomach ‘distracting’, then there should be a stronger focus on raising people to respect women, not view them as objects.

After starting at UEA, I felt liberated because there was no dress code, no rules, no condescending teacher telling me that my skin would ‘distract’ boys. It’s a sad reality; so many girls are defined by their bodies, and at such a young age at that.

Ironically, I’ve only ever been scolded by a female teacher so that’s saying something, isn’t it? You would expect women to have each other’s backs, especially in this kind of situation.

I find it astounding that in this day and age, this kind of stuff is still happening. It’s not just sexism, but racism, homophobia, and so many other issues that shouldn’t even exist.

As someone who was raised to be open-minded, I find it frustrating. But UEA does feel like a safe space and I commend their intolerance for discrimination and bullying.

It’s been a couple of years since the incident but it pops up in my mind occasionally. Ultimately, I’m glad it happened because hadn’t it, I probably wouldn’t be writing this article.

I wouldn’t have thought so heavily about how women are viewed, and how it needs to change. You take whatever situation you’re shoved into, and you make the best out of it.


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