A demonstration over school dress codes at Fredericton High School has led to police being called in and several students facing sanctions, including suspension.
A campaign against school uniforms was launched by Fredericton Youth Feminists. According to a student involved in the project, requiring a dress code plays into the rape culture, and as one teen stated, “if a teacher finds my shorts inappropriate, they are sexualizing me.”
Unlike many jaded women, I do think there is still a place for feminism. Some argue that all the battles have been fought and we need to move on. Women are rolling their eyes at feminists who crash events by flashing their bare breasts and screaming obscenities. If feminists are left fighting over the “right” to wear short shorts, they’d argue that clearly all the feminist battles of substance have been fought and won. I agree, but only in part.
If feminism means the fight for the right of women to be treated with respect and dignity, bring on the battle. In the last few weeks, there has been extensive news coverage of the horrors of female genital mutilation and the cruelties associated with child marriages. Little girls need more women, like passionate feminists, to fight for them when they are unable to fight for themselves.
As for wanting to fight the rape culture, feminists need to condemn porn and the porn industry with vehemence. Experts in the field are tracing the rape culture right back to pornography, with one explaining that it “sexualizes violence against women.” It’s not hard to imagine that a culture addicted to internet porn, which displays men using, hurting and raping women is changing for the worse.
If women want to assemble and work together under the umbrella of feminism, they should. Others, like me, will choose to label ourselves as human rights advocates. And others still, like those fighting for the liberation of women trapped in human sex trafficking, may choose to call themselves abolitionists.
The students who organized a rally and gave speeches could refocus their energies toward saving the lives of girls and women, and fighting for laws to protect girls their age and younger from mutilation and rape. Event planning and public speaking are incredible tools for any advocate and these young feminists can channel their passion, gifts and abilities toward real causes. Fighting for the “right” to wear short shorts is neither a serious cause, nor any type of human right.
Lastly, to the feminist students: an institution may set standards of behaviour and dress while still condemning the rape culture and teaching men to respect women. The activities are not mutually exclusive. Many employers and institutions have established dress standards and sexual harassment policies. By requiring dress in accordance with guidelines for institutional conformity, you are not being sexualized. You are being asked to adhere to a standard while you attend your school, and nothing more.
But be passionate. Learn about human rights. Develop the skills you will need if you choose to fight for women who are suffering discrimination and violence. The world needs more women who will advocate for those suffering oppression. Be that voice.