Teen girls across the country have approached their war on sexist school dress code in a number of inventive ways, including hashtags, documentaries, yearbook quotes and more. But the movement recently received the support of a group that, though previously silent, is often invoked: teen boys.
A group of male and female students at Buchanan High School in Clovis, California, cross-dressed to protest their school's dress code: Female students wore collared, men's shirts while male students wore dresses, many with thin straps, the Fresno Bee reported Monday.
The protest primarily responded to Clovis Unified School District trustees' decision not to change their dress code in January, according to BuzzFeed. While the code in question, like many others across the country, restricts female students by banning leggings, short skirts and thin straps, it also notably prohibits male students: They are not allowed to wear earrings or their hair too long, according to the code.
This recent effort builds on a legacy of protest at the school — most notably that of Buchanan High student William Pleasant, who was prohibited from enrolling in his senior year of high school due to a dress code violation, according to BuzzFeed. Pleasant publicly protested the dress code, writing that he was, "harassed, punished and [denied his] education repeatedly for simply being a man with long hair," in a letter published in the Fresno Bee last summer.
"The reason we switched gender norms for the day was to make the statement that what we wear does not define us as students," Emma Sledd, a student who cross-dressed for this week's protest, told the Tri-City Herald. "We believe everyone should be able to express themselves equally. A boy with long hair is no less of a hard worker than a girl with long hair."
Their protest not only targets the code's reinforcement of stereotypical gender roles, but also seeks to acknowledge all individuals who refuse to allow their gender to dictate their self-expression.
"Boys deserve to express their sexual orientation and gender identity through clothing, whether it's the traditional boy look or a more feminine look," Kristen Van Orden, a sophomore at the school, told the Fresno Bee. "We live in a city where the LGBTQA+ community is very minimal and unaccepted. By allowing the dress code to become gender neutral, we are starting to bridge the gap of acceptance and unacceptance."
The support of these boys is particularly important given the tendency of principals and administrators to cite their well-being — specifically, their tendency to be distracted by their female peers' bodies — as rationale for these dress codes. As Jim Bazen, principal of Plymouth Christian High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan, wrote in an op-ed in October for the Grand Rapids Press, dressing beyond the limitations of a school's code will encourage male students to view their female peers "not as persons, but as sex objects."
But the students of Buchanan High School are proving that dress codes are not only sexist, insulting and unnecessary, but they also prohibit the reason all students go to school in the first place. As Van Orden told the Fresno Bee, "clothing shouldn't determine a person's education."