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Say Yes to the Dress (Code)

Someone had to say it.

This is a curmudgeonly take, but someone had to say it: the skirt length rule is a beneficial component of the uniform code.

Appropriate dress standards are a crucial aspect of maintaining a professional, work-centric environment. It is good for students to feel comfortable at school. However, Marlborough is, at its core, a serious academic institution where policy ought to be oriented towards what is most conducive to student learning and well-being.

Although standards of appropriate dress are constantly evolving, the length of many Marlborough students’ skirts—probably including my own—are excessively risqué, and at times distracting and inappropriate. Further, students exposing themselves regularly to others without consent constitutes a form of sexual harassment. As a progressive, feminist institution, it is important that Marlborough avoids such violations for the benefit of students and faculty alike.

The three-inch demarcation, although arbitrary, is better on the whole than a rule that mandates “appropriate” skirt length (or some other such synonym) to avoid subjective interpretations and enforcement of the rule.

Obviously, it is easy to construct straw men of such arguments. I am not suggesting that a shift to a Puritanistic uniform code would be beneficial, and I stand firmly against sexist dress codes predicated upon the assumption that male students find female students’ legs/shoulders/other arbitrary body parts so alluring that it impairs their ability to learn. That being said, I do not know why it is controversial to claim that being forced to confront someone’s bottom every time I walk up the stairs is unpleasant. The skirt rule upholds a basic norm of professionalism that seeks to prevent such occurrences, and the laissez-faire attitude towards enforcement of such a rule in the status quo indicates that Marlborough students, if granted full autonomy, will not always dress appropriately.

I have heard some argue that the skirt length rule is bad because it seems like it might be justified by a desire to avoid distracting male teachers. First, I have never heard such a justification voiced by the School administration. Second, although it is harmful to view the female body solely as a sexual object, scantily clad people are inherently distracting to others who have the ability to see and the cognitive capacity to recognize things that lie outside of social norms.

Photography by Alexandra Rudnick

Some others argue that the skirt length rule is a form of slut-shaming. First, perhaps it is a function of the society in which we live, but it would be naïve to feign ignorance of the fact that there is something inherently sexual about public exposure of one’s private parts, regardless of gender. I believe, for example, that it is good that male teachers are not permitted to arrive at school wearing Speedos in lieu of pants. Second, I have never heard a student voice similar concerns regarding the dress code that regulates female teachers’ apparel. As a result, the slut-shaming argument seems at best vacuous and at worst disingenuous.

Sex positivity, feminism, norms of professionalism and academic focus are not mutually exclusive, nor ought they be. The skirt rule makes Marlborough a better place in which to learn.