Dear School System,
Am I a distraction? You have truly made me feel like I am too many times to count. You have made me feel ashamed and insecure since the day we first met. Right about now you’re probably wondering how and why I think this. Well, let me tell you.
It’s some time during my first week of school here. It’s the middle of the year, I just moved to town and have not yet made any friends. My clothing style is still myself. This was our first encounter where you made me feel like my education was insignificant just because of what I chose to wear that day; though it was not the last. I was walking through the hall to my class when one of your educators stopped me to tell me, “Miss, put your hands at your side please. Don’t move.”
I didn’t understand. She’s treating me like a criminal. I asked her shakily, “Excuse me, but why?”
Before she even said anything it hit me, my dress is too short. I thought. You should have covered up more, Inanna. I put my hands at my sides and waited for her to finish her quick investigation. It was only a few seconds but, man, were they long ones. She told me to go to the office and when I asked her why again, she said nothing. I went to the office, thinking the whole time, what could I have done differently? What could I have said or done or worn that would not put me in a situation where I am shamed by someone I should look up to? Yes, I know what you may be thinking right about now. Maybe something along the lines of “it’s not that bad, many girls go through much worse in a given day,” or maybe “you could have been distracting the students and teachers.” That could be true, but nothing you might be thinking right now will ever invalidate my opinion, my feelings. Yet somehow, throughout my next almost two years here, you would manage to make me feel as though I am invalid too many times.
Sadly, I didn’t know that then. That was just the beginning. Over the next year and a half you would constantly shame me for my clothing and my style, School System. After being talked to “quietly” about my clothing choice about five times in my first month, I began to grow sick and tired of it. I wanted to do something but I never could. I was never brave enough to stand up for myself against your non stop nagging. Until...
It’s the new school year now. Eighth grade. My style is less unique, I stick to things I know won’t get me in trouble. It’s about two weeks into the school year, we haven’t yet had a bad encounter, School System.
Oh no, I see the principal walking towards me. Just turn around. Keep walking, he hasn’t seen you yet, I think to myself. “Inanna! I need to speak with you.”
Crap. I try my best to just ignore him. Maybe he’s talking to a different Inanna. Doubtful. I stop walking and turn to face him. He did not wait even a second until he said,“your shirt is too short for school and you need to cover your shoulders more.You need to change or sit in ISS [in school suspension] for the rest of the day. Your choice”
I know he thinks he’s just protecting me when he does this but in all reality, it is school; the place I should feel the safest. I should not have to worry about being assaulted by fellow students or teachers because my skin was being shown. This was the moment that my last straw had finally been pulled. I was finally done taking your small oppression, School System. “Why? How did you see my shirt? The only time I have taken my hoodie off all day was in the bathroom. How could you have seen that? What is wrong with what I’m wearing? You are a grown man, it should not bother and distract you what your 13 year old student is wearing,” I told the principal.
He stuttered. Maybe I had asked too many questions at once or maybe, just maybe, I finally brought realization to his eyes; the realization that he was body shaming me. He was telling me that my body was unacceptable; that my body was putting other students education in danger, putting me danger. Either way, I don’t think he knew how to reply. I chose to ignore his presence and just walk away. He yelled after me, “Young lady! Come back here!”
But I didn’t. I had no need to. This was the start my own personal uprising. I was finally standing up for myself and all the other girls who feel as though there is something wrong with their body and their clothing.
Since that occasion, I have only been dress coded a few times. The principal no longer dress codes me himself, he just tells me that his assistant wants to speak with me. So far, in the full year that I have gone to school here I have had to stay in the office for whole periods, wear jackets from lost and found, call my brother to bring me clothes, wear my best friends hoodie in 20 degree (fahrenheit) weather while she froze, leave my hat in the office and simply been talked to in uncomfortable and shameful ways; all because of my clothing. It’s funny, School System, because I have seen boys here at school wearing muscle shirts with their whole side showing and hats promoting gun violence and racism - for example, “make America great again” and “blood and soil” - but they have never once been sent to the office for their clothing or had their privacy violated by a teacher’s words. Tell me, School System, why are us girls disturbances but the boys are not?
Trick question. I am not a distraction. Nor is any other student you have victimized in this discreet, subordinate way. Now change. Change the way you look at my 13 year old body or so help me I will come to school naked to prove my point. I could wear lingerie to school but that should still not put me in danger around adult teachers. Change. Change the morals of your “dress code”. The code is not in place for my safety because I should not be in danger around my peers and teachers no matter what I wear. Change. Change for my protection. What I wear is not a hazard to anyone’s concentration, the teacher who cannot concentrate because of what I wear is a hazard to me. Now tell me, School System, was it worth it? Was it worth my education?
I am not a distraction.