Three girls sit in a row posing.

This High School Dress Code PSA Managed to Simultaneously Sexualize & Shame Teenage Girls

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A Texas principal has apologized for producing and releasing a dress code PSA that went viral after one student posted the video online. The video features a number of teenage girls, most of them in long t-shirts and short shorts, but a few in crop tops or other presumptive dress code violations. Set to M.I.A.’s “Bad Girls,” the girls strut through the halls of their school only to be ushered into a detention room marked “Dresscode Violators.”

The video was shown to nearly 3,000 students at Marcus High School. Yet as we see so often in these instances, it’s only the girls being singled out for being a problem. Not only does the video not give examples of male students violating dress code (which students say happens frequently), but the choice of song establishes a moral judgement around girls’ clothing choices (branding those who wear shorts “bad girls”). It also pushes a total double standard, emphasized by lingering shots on the girls’ bare legs, sexualizing them while simultaneously shaming them for letting themselves be viewed sexually.

By targeting only girls, the video relieves boys and men of any responsibility in how they react to women’s and girls’ bodies. Girls’ bodies are labelled as being inherently sexual and both a threat to boys’ education (by way of distraction) and a danger to themselves (because of how boys might react). It devalues girls by reducing them to how they exist only in relation to the boys around them. That is the purest seed of rape culture.

A lot of people on Twitter went beyond blaming girls for existing in their bodies and, rather than criticizing the video itself, criticized the girls who appeared in it. That in itself is a gross misappropriation of blame, but apparently, the students were required to be a part of the video.

A lot of students, as well as parents, have spoken out since the video was released, but it seems unfair to condemn students for following their school’s orders and for not predicting the possible implications of the final product.

The school’s principal has issued an apology saying the video “missed the mark.” He says that most years, the school holds a “fashion show” to illustrate what clothing is and isn’t appropriate. That sounds like it, too, misses the mark, but the student who originally posted the video praised the principal for sitting down with upset students and genuinely listening to their concerns. So that is something.

(via @catmoring on Twitter, image: George Rudy / Shutterstock)

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Vivian Kane
Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.