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Dress code and gender issues at ABQ middle school

Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

This year, the boys at Madison Middle School have pulled up their pants.

That means they now are adhering to the school’s dress code more often than girls – who sometimes wear spaghetti straps and tank tops in violation of the code, said Principal Marcie Johnson.

“Maybe baggy pants have gone out of style,” she said of the boys.

As a result, Johnson said, Madison’s administration has aimed some efforts at getting the girls to dress appropriately, including special instructions during morning announcements and letters to parents.

According to a phone message sent to parents, the administration also recently rewarded the boys with a lunch outside while making the girls – even those who dress appropriately – eat inside.

That treatment targeting the girls has prompted the mother of one sixth-grade boy to accuse the school of creating divisions among the student body and making all girls suffer for the violations of a few.

“I really have a problem with them making it ‘boys versus girls,’ especially when it’s so easy for the boys to keep to the dress code,” parent Dana Smith said in an interview. “… What I’m concerned about is the boys have the idea that the girls who are dressing inappropriately have less value. That’s going to stick in the boys’ heads – and the girls’.”

She was concerned that the students were getting the wrong message, and at a very early age.

“Rape culture encourages men to look down upon women whose dress style does not meet a certain standard. … Boys must be taught to respect women for who they are, not what they wear,” she said in an email she sent the Journal about the school’s handling of the dress code.

She also expressed her concerns to the school, contacting Johnson.

Johnson told the Journal that the administration had “congratulated” the boys on their compliance with the code and made efforts toward girls to remind them. This is the first time girls had a tougher time keeping with the dress code in her five years at the school, she said.

“Girls this age probably don’t realize that their bodies are changing a lot,” Johnson said, “and that what they’re wearing is a bit more revealing than they think.”

Johnson did not return a second call Wednesday afternoon specifically about the message parents got from the school last Thursday, a message that came as an automated voice recording talking about the eating arrangement for the next day.

“Kudos to the young men of Madison for following the dress code,” the recording says. “As a reward, the boys will have the privilege of eating outside tomorrow.”

The Madison dress code is the same for girls and boys – it requires that students wear a crewneck T-shirt, button-front shirts, sweatshirt or sweaters. It adds: “NO TANK TOPS OR CAMISOLES – tank tops & camisoles are cut too low to avoid exposing private body parts when students bend/lean over.”

It also requires shorts or skirts to be a certain length and bans oversized pants or shorts. They “MUST be fitted at waist and crotch. Exposure of boxer shorts is not allowed.”

Johnson said she thinks it’s up to the parents to make sure their kids are dressing appropriately and called Smith’s accusation of the school’s propagation of rape culture “farfetched.” Parents said they didn’t want school uniforms for Madison students in a survey one or two years ago, Johnson said.

“I think it’s really a matter of parental involvement,” she said. “… Even when you have uniforms, there can be a lot of interpretation about how to wear that uniform.”

Also, Johnson said, it’s not all that much easier for boys to follow the dress code. Girls should just be more mindful when they get dressed in the morning.

“It’s not a really difficult dress code to follow,” she said.