Middle-School Girls Picket for the Right to Wear Leggings

What Women Really Think
March 24 2014 4:33 PM

Middle-School Girls Picket for the Right to Wear Leggings

Leggings

www.rue21.com

Middle-school girls in Evanston, Ill., are picketing for the right to wear leggings. Sophie Hasty, 13, told the Evanston Review that teachers at Haven Middle School informed female students this month that leggings are “too distracting to boys” to be fit for the classroom. Hasty, along with 500 students who’ve signed a petition contesting the rule, counter that the only thing leggings are responsible for is the supreme comfort of those who wear them. Last week, student protesters reported to class clad in leggings or yoga pants, holding signs like, “Are my pants lowering your test scores?”

The girls’ cause is about much more than the right to bear L’eggs. By emphasizing the disruptive consequences of leggings, administrators are attempting to fix boys’ juvenile behavior by placing an unfair burden on the girls who are supposedly distracting them. (As Hasty put it: “Not being able to wear leggings because it’s ‘too distracting for boys’ is giving us the impression we should be guilty for what guys do.”) The result is that the school is actually preventing these girls from focusing on their schoolwork by asking them to pay more attention to their own bodies.

Advertisement

School administrators have told parents that “if leggings are worn, a shirt, shorts, or skirt worn over them must be fingertip length,” but some girls say they’re being told they’re not allowed to wear leggings at all. And according to Juliet Bond, a parent of a student at Haven, the “students who were getting ‘dress-coded,’ or disciplined for their attire, tended to be girls who were more developed.”* That “inconsistent enforcement simply makes girls embarrassed,” she says. Lucy Shapiro, a 12-year-old seventh grader at the school, backed up this claim, telling the Evanston Review that “when both she and a friend were wearing the same type of athletic shorts … a teacher came up and ‘dress-coded’ her, but not her friend” because, she was told, "I had a different body type than my friend.” Added Shapiro: “With all the social expectations of being a girl, it’s already hard enough to pick an outfit without adding in the dress code factor.”

Are leggings a human right? In 1969, the Supreme Court decided that while schools can’t ban students from wearing political messages on their sleeves—like black armbands donned to protest the Vietnam War—that ban didn’t extend to a school’s “regulation of the length of skirts or the type of clothing” worn by students. Schools can still impose dress codes on items that would reasonably “cause substantial disruption or material interference with school activities.” But there's a fine line between deeming a type of clothing as distracting, and declaring a body itself to be disruptive. And if boys are really spending too much time staring at leggings (or legs) instead of at the chalkboard, then that's a behavior that boys should learn to regulate before they're accused of sexual harassment once they graduate to the workforce.

According to school and district administrators, the dress code will be rehashed at a meeting later this month “in an effort to ensure consistency in terms of guidelines and enforcement across schools.” I hope they’ll listen to the arguments of leggings activists like Hasty. If the school seeks to uphold the rule, they should really have to answer the protestors' question: Has any boy actually been academically impacted by the way his classmate covers her legs?

* Correction, March 27, 2013: This post originally misstated Juliet Bond's first name.

Amanda Hess is a Slate staff writer. 

TODAY IN SLATE

History

Slate Plus Early Read: The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.

Doublex

Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
History
Sept. 29 2014 11:45 PM The Self-Made Man The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 29 2014 7:01 PM We May Never Know If Larry Ellison Flew a Fighter Jet Under the Golden Gate Bridge
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 30 2014 6:00 AM Drive-By Bounty Prudie advises a woman whose boyfriend demands she flash truckers on the highway.
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal, but … What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:36 AM Almost Humane What sci-fi can teach us about our treatment of prisoners of war.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath The Methane Lakes of Titan?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.