Opinion

A five-year-old wearing spaghetti straps isn't scandalous

Emma Waverman thinks school dress codes—like the one imposed on a young girl in Houston, Texas—police girls' bodies.

spaghetti-straps-waverman

Photo: iStockphoto

The wearing of spaghetti straps has become a point of contention in some schools that have strict dress codes that consider bare shoulders a no-no. It’s strange because, when hot weather strikes, I consider a sundress with spaghetti straps to be a simple, stylish choice for my own nine-year-old daughter. But not everyone agrees.

A five-year-old in Houston, Texas, was asked to cover her rainbow-coloured sundress with a spare T-shirt because she broke the school’s dress code by baring her shoulders. The girl obliged, putting on her extra shirt and wearing her jeans underneath her floor-length dress.

Jef Rouner, the girl’s father and a blogger for the Houston Press, wrote a piece titled “The Apparently Immoral Shoulders of My Five-Year-Old Daughter.” The post made the rounds on social media, complete with an accompanying photo of Rouner’s daughter wearing her “controversial” sundress. It’s hard to see how this smiling little girl broke any dress codes.

Rouner addressed the issue of the school’s strict dress code head-on and illustrated the unfair burden placed on young girls to cover up while a similar onus is absent for boys. “Make no mistake, every school dress code that is not a set uniform is about policing girls and girls alone,” he wrote. “Now I have this child… wordlessly accepting that a dress with spaghetti straps, something sold in every Walmart in America right now, is somehow bad. Wrong. Naughty. And, most importantly, that the answer is to cover up.” Rouner plans to address the issue at a parent conference in the near future.

I applaud Rouner’s public response. My daughter had a similar dress when she was in kindergarten and she wore it almost every day. The only thing inappropriate about it was when she once informed me, as we neared the school, that she’d forgotten to put on underwear that morning.

Like Rouner, I’m also not a fan of school dress codes, which tend to penalize girls in the name of keeping them “safe” from the allegedly unmanageable sexual urges of young boys. These rules oversexualize girls and infantilize boys by assuming they can’t control themselves around the bare shoulders or yoga pants worn by their peers.

The issue here is not whether or not spaghetti straps are appropriate for a five-year-old—they obviously are. The problem is that school dress codes like this one police girls’ bodies and, in my opinion, that’s just an education in sexism.

Emma Waverman is a writer, blogger and mom to three kids. She has many opinions, some of them fit to print. Read more of her articles here and follow her on Twitter @emmawaverman.

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