Like many 7-year-olds, I often wondered what the heck my belly-button was. What did it do? Where did it come from? Why was it mysteriously absent from my pet, MC Hamster? I had a myriad of other, even more embarrassing, questions about this apparent anomaly.
There were some questions I did not have as a 7-year-old girl. Was my belly-button sexy? Did showing my belly-button make me more susceptible to sexual assault? Would I be blamed for voyeurs watching me if I showed my belly-button?
Of course I didn’t have these sexist, sexualized, and shaming questions about my body. I did not have those questions about my girl friends’ bodies, I did not have those questions about my boy friends’ bodies.
I was seven, for Pete’s sakes.
The belief that my body parts could be objects
- to be ashamed of,
- whose appearance would invite sexualized violence,
- that were distractions for voyeuristic males
was gradually bestowed upon me as I continued to live in a world that perpetuated sexism.
As a female adult, I wholly reject that belief.
When that belief informs dress-codes for 7 year-olds, I’m shocked.
My friend is a proud mom of a confident little 7-year-old girl who goes to a local school. At the end of the school year, the school goes on a super fun trip to the waterpark at Logos Land.
Like with any school trip, paperwork ensues.
Amongst the paperwork, she received a note with your standard directives as well as a to-pack list. In the list: bathing suit, towel, sunscreen, etc., and one infuriating item:
“FOR GIRLS, an appropriate bathing suit (one piece or tankini;
if they have a bikini, they will be asked to wear a shirt over top).” (my emphasis)
WHAT the WHAT?!
Instead of going on a fairly expletive-driven rant, let us make at least SOME part of this school letter educational. For three marks, identify the incredibly sexist and demeaning issues in this advisory.
- New rules for girls.
In case this wasn’t blatantly sexist enough, these two words make very clear that the school’s made-up dress-code for Logo’s Land explicitly only applies to girls. Boys: do whatever you want.
- Girl belly-buttons are NOT appropriate.
What differentiates a bikini from a one-piece or tankini? That’s right. The belly-button. Whose belly buttons are not “appropriate”? Girls’! Boys, however, have much more appropriate belly-buttons that deserve to be shown.
- Public punishment and humiliation is still an in-thing.
Little girls who offend this code will be doomed to wear the Scarlet T-shirt. Public humiliation here will either deter the little offenders or make them into examples for the others.
This rule breaks the real rules. With a policy only for girls, the dress code does not treat students fairly regardless of gender and sex. It offends 5.1.5 of the Renfrew County Catholic School Board Code of Conduct and our right to be free from discrimination: a basic Human Right.
Let’s talk practicality. Let’s talk about little Suzie who left her letter at her dad’s house. Or watch Jane, whose parents did not read the eight millionth piece of paper coming back in their kid’s backpack. What happens to Prim who had the gall to wear something still less revealing than her brother but happens to be a bikini?
Girls who dress slutty get punished. This the hard and ugly rule that lies beneath this policy: intentional or not. There are all kinds of rationales for sexist dress codes: the boys will be distracted, girls invite trouble by showing too much, girls’ belly buttons are just sexier than boys’.
These little 7-year-old delinquents will learn a hard lesson very early. They will learn that parts of their bodies, only because they happen to be women, are something to be ashamed of. They will learn that women’s bodies are sexualized by others, and the body-owner (not the gawker/assaulter) is the one to hold accountable. They will learn that, slut-shaming happens regardless of whether you are sexually active.
I have no issue with dress codes. Heck, if the dress code was “all kids must wear a t-shirt”, I would have no issues. It’s hot out; the sun is dangerous. If the dress code was a more conservative “all kids must wear a snowsuit”, it would be ridiculous, but at least it would not be sexist.
I’m sure the folks at our schools are not a bunch of sexists. These policies are rotten ideas that cling to our modern world through tradition and absent mindedness. Full-on misogyny is close enough in our history that it can leak through unnoticed.
Now that the school knows, I hope the school will reconsider.
To my seven-year-old self: I’ve figured it out. Belly-buttons are for body shaming.