Recent comments made in a ninth grade class meeting have reinvigorated interest in Harvard-Westlake’s dress code. While the school has a better dress code than most in terms of language, the enforcement has been gender biased, and thus many students are looking to change the dress code, specifically its policy on bra straps. Students focused on the school’s policy on bra straps after statements were made during the class meeting that visible bra straps are distracting and not for a primarily functional purpose, and it was implied that showing a bra strap was equivalent to wearing a speedo to school.
Bra straps should not be included in the dress code at all. The inclusion of them in dress codes causes their over-sexualization and leads to a mindset of victim blaming. Additionally, in enforcement, dress coding of bra straps is often justified by the false ideas that visible bra straps are “unprofessional,” “distracting” and “not functional” in a school setting.
Statements of this nature ignore the large number of casual clothing items the dress code does permit; basketball shorts, t-shirts, sweatpants and tennis shoes, for example. While bra straps are undergarments, they are worn underneath shirts and are no different than tank top straps. Tank tops are allowed to be worn at school and are supposedly not disruptive to the school environment. Additionally, people wear these clothing items for comfort and as forms of expression. If students are more comfortable and confident without their bra straps concealed, then they should be permitted to show them as they please.
Statements which claim bra straps are disturbing the school environment are unproductive and frankly untrue. Bra straps do not take away from the school environment. However, if the concept that bra straps are befuddling students is true, having them in the dress code draws specific attention to them and sexualizes them, thus causing distraction and furthering the problem. Therefore, removing bra straps from the dress code would desexualize them, making them far less distracting and solving the problem.
Whether or not the school environment is being disturbed by bra straps, the main problem in the dress code is the punishment of girls for distracting others. By doing this, the blame is placed on girls for wearing something wrong, while the person who was sidetracked receives no punishment. This mentality is reminiscent of victim blaming which perpetuates rape culture. In rape culture, one blames the victim for wearing the ‘wrong’ thing, like a tight dress or short skirt, as opposed to the offender for their crime. By teaching students such a mentality while their minds are still developing, this message is reinforced and it is likely they will follow this course of thought later in life. Having this state of mind can lead a cycle of rape culture being passed to friends and family and can also affect how the person treats women in a casual or professional environment. As opposed to limiting female students in what they wear or how they express themselves, the focus should be on teaching respect and consent to ensure that boys are not ‘distracted’ in the first place.
In addition, if bra straps are incredibly distracting, boys should learn to be comfortable with them. School is supposed to prepare students for the real world, and in the real world women wear outfits where their bra straps may show. If a boy is so distracted by bra straps to the point where he cannot focus because he has not become comfortable with them, there is a large problem. School should be the time where bra straps are normalized for boys, as it should not be the wearer’s responsibility to provide comfort. It is not the woman’s fault that her body is sexualized, nor is it her fault that men may be uncomfortable with a bra strap.
Furthermore, by sending a girl to go change during class, her education is valued less than someone’s possible distraction. It is more detrimental to a girl’s education when she is forced to leave class to change than a boy’s distraction by a piece of elastic on a female student’s shoulder.
Statements that bra straps are not functional ignore the practicality of bras. Wearing bras to school allows girls to participate in all school activities, especially athletics. Wearing a bra does not prohibit one’s ability to raise their hand, put on a backpack or participate in school in any way.
However, the ‘less distracting’ and ‘more functional’ alternative of a strapless bra is less productive for a school environment. Strapless bras prohibit one’s ability to participate in school; they offer no support for athletics, slip down when one raises their hand, and are so uncomfortable they can become a distraction in class. However, without them students would be instructed to change clothes and therefore be unable to wear what makes them confident. Not only do these options reinforce the idea that girls need to adhere to society’s unrealistic standards for what is “acceptable”, they demean girls and hinder their growth as maturing women, and may even extend to their feeling of self worth. Teenagers are malleable and are still at a crucial point of development. The way they are treated now greatly contributes to the person they will become.
The oversexualization of bra straps is also a large factor to take into account as one considers if bra straps should be in the dress code. This is exemplified by a statement made during the assembly that, although girls cannot necessarily wear the shirt of their choice, one cannot wear a speedo to school if they chose to do so. Yet, showing a bra strap under a shirt is a completely different scenario, as it is from underneath a shirt, an entire outfit is worn, and bras serve a functional purpose. On the contrary, speedos expose almost one’s entire body and do not serve a functional purpose in the daily life of a Harvard Westlake student. By equating a piece of elastic peeking out from underneath a shirt to a speedo, where one is practically naked, it further sexualizes and scandalizes bra straps. However, wearing a speedo to school would not be problematic in the first place if teenage bodies were not sexualized.
A theme of gender bias in also prominent throughout the enforcement of the dress code. Dress codes tend to be directed towards girls. Claims are often made that boys are restricted too; for example, a statement was made during the assembly that boys cannot wear basketball jerseys to school. However, girls are also restricted from wearing basketball jerseys to school. In addition, there are numerous different styles that cannot be worn; off the shoulder tops, halter tops, tank tops, any top with spaghetti straps, certain v necks, wide necked shirts, tube tops, as well as other tops with styles that reveal bra straps, while men can wear tight shorts and practically all styles of shirts.
Finally, putting bra straps in the dress code brings shame to the fact girls wear bras. Girls should not have to pretend they don’t wear a bra. Showing a bra strap should not be considered shameful, as breasts are a non-sexual part of one’s body. Arms are not sexualized, so breasts shouldn’t be either. Society’s treatment of breasts makes bra straps seem horrendous and sexualizes bra straps, when in reality they are merely a piece of elastic on your shoulder. Putting bra straps into the dress code can girls feel ashamed of their own bodies. Furthermore, making bra straps unsavory creates a very easily detectable double standard, as society expects women to wear bras. Yet, the dress code expects students to hide them.
Despite whatever good intent the school may have, including bra straps in the dress code only further sexualizes them and many of the reasons why bra straps have been included in the dress code are simply false. In fact, including them in the dress code shames girls for wearing a bra and having breasts. Harvard Westlake should remove bra straps from the dress code, thereby desexualizing bra straps in the school environment, allowing students to wear what they feel comfortable in and express themselves, deconstructing the mentality surrounding how bra straps are distracting, and overall increasing the quality of education and comfort for girls while they are at school.