According to a recent story from the Associated Press, a female student was thrown out of her junior prom because she arrived wearing a suit instead of a dress.
The student in question attends Bishop McDevitt High School in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The school is a private, coeducational Catholic high school of the diocese of Harrisburg. It is not subject to state laws affecting the public school system.
Aniya Wolf, an out of the closet lesbian, has worn a shirt and pants for the three years she has attended Bishop McDevitt, never being pressured to wear a skirt to school as is an option for female students. Yet, she was not allowed to wear pants to the prom. Wolf’s family received a last-minute email saying all female students had to wear dresses.
Understandably, both Wolf and her mother, Carolyn Wolf, thought the sudden rule change to be unfair. The family had just gone out and purchased a new suit for Aniya, which she was looking forward to wearing. The school issued a statement on Saturday, May 7 that it had sent out an email back on March 6, saying that all girls had to wear a dress or would not be admitted.
Aniya decided to attend the prom in her suit, knowing she might be barred from entry, perhaps to make a statement of the unfairness of the situation.
There have been several similar instances of private schools laying down unfair rules or laws that female students cannot wear certain clothing to class or school functions. For example, in Melbourne, Australia, a six year old was told she could not wear trousers instead of a skirt (with or without tights) to play soccer with the male students and to be warm in winter weather. Her mother started an online petition that gained more than 2,000 signatures. Another female student, this time a high schooler from Canada at a Catholic private school, was told to cover up her shoulders because the tank top she was wearing was not the requisite three inches wide. However, the teacher who tried to enforce this dress code used three of his largest fingers (which measured wider than three inches put together) to gauge the width of the student’s shoulder strap. The most ridiculous aspect turned out to be that the teacher demanded that the student cover her shoulders with an oversize stuffed snake.
Though these are examples from private institutions which are not under Title IX or other federal law, discrimination against female students for the clothing they wear is not limited to private schools. Public schools certainly have dealt with their share of bodyshaming female students for their clothing choices as well, for ridiculous reasons such as “distracting” their fellow male students, as if the male students should not learn to control themselves. For example, a Missouri teenager was kicked out of prom for wearing a two piece prom dress that revealed, in the school administrator’s opinion, a little bit too much skin. In California, female students were targeted unfairly when they were forced to sign a dress code conduct form that stated girls could not wear anything low cut or too short, while boys were only prohibited from wearing shorts or denim. In Seattle, middle school female students fought back against a dress code that was far more restrictive for girls than boys, and mostly had to do with hormonal issues. A mother in North Carolina even argued that her daughter’s school dress code discriminated against tall girls who could not find shorts that hit the requisite finger-tip length.
Aniya Wolf is clearly not alone in her struggle to wear the clothing she feels appropriate to school.