“Spaghetti straps. Ultra-short skirts. Excessive cleavage. Midriff-baring tops. Shorts with a hem shorter than where a person's fingertips graze when they are standing.”
Here we go again! That old
True, school boys are required to “dress appropriately,” but when
the question resurfaces—as it's done constantly since coed
education was invented—it's the girls who make it into the news.
story about 17 year-old Lauren Wiggins being sent home from
school for wearing an off-the-shoulder, full-length halter dress to
school elicited the old saws about what clothing is appropriate for
the classroom and what isn't. “It's a sexual distraction,” her
teachers said, and others said that assuming boys to be helpless
against bared shoulders, cleavage and belly buttons isn't helpful in
their development as women-respecting men.
I went to a high school where school uniforms for girls were
mandatory and boys couldn't wear jeans or shorts to class. 60 years
later, they all wear “uniform” clothing to class, but they have
choices among a number of prescribed items.
The most compelling
argument for uniforms in my day was that they relieved anxiety about
what to wear, particularly for girls. I guess the fringe benefit was
that girls wouldn't dress to provoke and distract the boys.
Surely, attracting or distracting, being noticed—or at least
fitting in—are what dress and fashion are about. Lauren Wiggins
certainly got noticed; she made it onto national television! She'll
be lucky if the on-line taunting doesn't undo her in the end, though.
Wearing a ball gown to class is not a crime. But for
appropriateness, it has to rank with the wearing of high rubber boots
to gym class.
Individualism has been given a boost in the post modern age. It's
not unusual for people to play the “I have my rights” and “you
can't make me” cards when confronted about their behaviour. Surely
education is partly about teaching the balance between individual
rights and community needs. Lauren Wiggins hasn't accepted the need
for such a balance, yet. But she's only 17, right in the middle of
her Sturm und Drang period.
Often, I find, these teapot tempests are symptomatic of unresolved
social tensions. In this case, it's the ambivalence about human
sexuality. This confusion, in turn, can be traced back to the simple
fact that we have, over the centuries, evolved dramatically in our
capacity to reason, to organize and to assume mastery over ourselves
and our environments. Meanwhile, our procreative instincts remain
unchanged; our biological “progress” has hardly surpassed that of
the Bonobo monkey.
This discrepancy represents a Gordian Knot that we are having a hard
The Christian Bible is clear in its admonitions of sexual
restraint. But restraint is not a watchword in currant Western
cultures; permissiveness, maybe. But I fear that a tug-of-war between
permissiveness and restraint (externally applied, if necessary) is
not ever going to resolve issues involving sexuality.
Wiggins sees conformity in the area of dress as beneficial and
satisfying, I expect she will continue to seek attention in an
“off-the-shoulder, full-length halter dress” manner.
And the restrainers will feel forced to pounce.