Are We Ever Going To Treat Young Men As Autonomous Human Beings?

Evanston, Ill., middle school bans leggings. Students protest for the right to wear them.

These middle school girls are protesting a new dress code policy that will no longer permit them to wear legging or yoga pants to school because they were proving "too distracting to boys." Too distracting for boys.

Amanda Hess puts it nicely:

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.

Years ago, I distinctly remember overhearing a conversation between two coworkers over the lunch break. One colleague's daughter went to a private kindergarten that required school uniforms. The day before, she received a letter from the school informing her that from that day forward, the little girls would be expected to wear shorts underneath their already-mandated skirt uniforms. The reason for this change in dress code, according to the letter, was because the little boys were running up to the little girls and pulling up their skirts, exposing their underwear for all to see. This was consistent enough of an issue to warrant the change in dress code for the girls only. 

Just so we are clear, rather than taking the boys aside and explaining to them that pulling up their classmates' skirts was inappropriate behavior, and then punishing them accordingly if they continued to do so, the school put the burden on the parents of the little girls to purchase additional and unnecessary items of clothing for the girls to wear. The message from the school was clear: This inappropriate behavior is inevitable. You can't expect us to teach children how to behave. 

The one phrase that I'm sure was used over and over to justify this new policy? "Boys will be boys." No, boys will not be boys. Boys will be whatever society tells them they can be. If the girls were consistently going around pulling down the boys' pants, would the school have sent a letter home to the boys parents notifying them of a new policy requiring all boys to wear suspenders? No, because punishing the victim with additional burdens instead of teaching the perpetrator right from wrong would be ridiculous. 

But that is exactly what we do to young girls and women on a daily basis. We don't ask rapists why they rape, we ask the victim what she was wearing. We don't teach young boys and men to control themselves, we teach young girls and women to take actions to protect themselves from the boys and men

As Hess points out, schools have every right (up to a point) to impose certain dress requirements

[b]ut 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.

You would think that men in general would be insulted by the implicit assumption that they are unable to control even their most basic behavior at the sign of naked flesh (or anything that may remind them of naked flesh). But then again, most people are loathe to protest any sort of policy or social more that benefits them.