I was in an Introduction to Sociology lecture in my first-year of university when I realized for the first time that there were words to describe why I had been made to feel bad about my gender identity as a woman throughout my life.
Misogyny, my professor explained, is a hatred of women that manifests itself consciously and subconsciously like a plague throughout social structures in forms of violence and oppression. Misogyny was the reason why I and other girls were “pantsed” – the non-consensual pulling-down of pants or skirts – by young boys in middle school who received no consequence. Misogyny was the reason why girls at my former high school who had sex were openly slut-shamed by peers, while teenage-boys relished in their number of “kills.” Misogyny is the reason for so many of the experiences of women, and misogyny is the reason for school dress codes.
It is a travesty on the part of the public education system that I had to wait until the privilege of attending university to learn that I do not deserve violence and shame for how I choose to dress. My former high school should be ashamed that I had to ask an upperclassman during my Frosh Week what was meant by “no means no” – a basic concept describing consent. Not only are these important concepts not being taught to students but the very manifestation of the violence these concepts describe is being perpetuated by schools through policy like dress codes.
Dress codes inadvertently affect women-identifying students more than men and are oppressive for two reasons. First, the way dress codes are enforced for women teaches students that women’s bodies and sexualities are negative and that it is the responsibility of women not to “distract” male students, rather than the responsibility of men to respect women’s consent. Second, dress codes teach students that when a woman does not conform to these standards, that she is to be shamed for it in the form of being called-out by teachers and punished. These are the same ideologies that contribute, among many, to a rape culture that instigates violence against women.
To the teachers of Fredericton High – you know better. All of you attended university to have the job you have now – many of you may even have graduate degrees. Surely in your years of post-secondary education you were exposed to the reality of patriarchy whether it was through your own experiences, classes you took, or campaigns on your respective campuses. Surely you were required to think critically about varying, if not relating issues in your own coursework. How then do you justify the suspension your students for critically thinking about and resisting a problematic policy? How do you justify silencing your students where usually the concern would be engaging them? If you disagree with your administration’s actions and you remain silent you are part of the problem. If you agree with the unfair treatment of these students, then you are the problem.
To the students of Fredericton High – do not let the heavy hand of an administrative body trample your passion and activism. Let it be known that you are on the right side of history and it is your school, not you who is wrong (though it seems you already know this). No matter what avenue of social justice you pursue throughout your life you will face opposition. The same teachers and administrators who have oppressed your bodies at FHS will be the same people who later in life will balk at your efforts to better reproductive justice or other anti-oppressive causes in the province. After you graduate you will find solidarity on university campuses or among activists where your held ideology is celebrated, not silenced. Some of your peers will not understand, and beyond what you’ve already done you aren’t obligated to teach them. In this technological age there is ample opportunity for them to teach themselves too, and I hope they will.
Fredericton High should be ashamed of themselves for the treatment of these students. There is no policy justification for the problematic issues that this policy perpetuates or for the suspension of students for something so patriarchal and quite frankly silly. “If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention” – clearly the teachers and administration of FHS are not paying attention. Thank you to the students of FHS for speaking out on an issue that many of us felt we could not while still in the public system.
Jessica Mullin is a fourth year legal studies student at Carleton University.