Middle schoolers in Evanston, Ill. are picketing for their right to wear leggings and yoga pants to class.
Haven Middle School students were reportedly sent home with the news that wearing the tight, stretch pants had been officially banned by administration. A previous policy allowed female students to wear leggings, but Columbia College Women’s Studies professor and concerned parent, Juliet Bond, told the Evanston Review that now, the girls can only wear leggings if they also wear a shirt that will “hit their fingertips when they stood up.”
While banning leggings and yoga pants may not seem like the end of the world, the school’s alleged reasoning for the new guidelines are disconcerting. According to Bond and students quoted, female pupils were told that leggings and yoga pants are too much of a distraction for their fellow male students, which forced the administation to create the new rule.
“Under no circumstances should girls be told that their clothing is responsible for [boys’] bad behaviors,” Bond wrote in a letter to school principal Kathy Roberson. “This kind of message lands itself squarely on a continuum that blames girls and women for assault by men. It also sends the message to boys that their behaviours are excusable, or understandable given what the girls are wearing. And if the sight of a girl’s leg is too much for boys at Haven to handle, then your school has a much bigger problem to deal with.”
If this story sounds familiar, that’s because it recently happened here. Rockport High School officially banned leggings earlier this year after teachers complained that they were too distracting to other students — specifically, male ones. According to the Globe, female students were kept after an assembly while male students were dismissed and school principal Phillip Conrad announced that “leggings worn as pants” were barred from the dress code. Conrad was also accused of using the term “distracting,” to which Superintendent of Schools Rob Liebow claims carried no “sexual connotation.” Administration also claimed male students were dismissed because they were “loud and disrespectful.” Within days of coming under fire by students and media alike, Rockport administration backed off their stretch pant strategy.
Roberson claims Haven’s official ban on leggings and yoga pants has not actually happened and issued a letter to parents on March 18. She writes, “It has been communicated to students that ‘if leggings are worn, a shirt, shorts, or skirt worn over them must be fingertip length.’ At Haven, dress and appearance are important components of an overall positive and respectful learning environment.”
However, students seem to have interpreted the news differently and arrived donning the supposedly banned spandex gear on the 18th, with a 500-plus signature petition protesting the rules. They carried picket signs with slogans like, “Are my pants lowering your test scores?”
Students also spoke out on other situations where dress code violations were declared based on their sex — or worse, their physique — by the school’s administration. According to the Evanston Review, a seventh grade student was approached by a teacher who informed her that her gym shorts were in violation of their policy. The student says she was with a friend who was wearing “the same type of athletic shorts” and when she questioned why she was not called out as well, she was told it was because of her “body type.”
Bond also stated that many of the female students who found themselves on the reinforcement end of dress code policies “tended to be girls who were more developed.”
Haven Principal’s Advisory Team will meet today to discuss the policies and review inconsistencies in dress code enforcement and Bond seems optimistic for a happy outcome. She said Roberson reached out following her letter and says the principal “is taking this issue seriously and trying to figure out a way to tamp down the sexualization of middle school girls … and balance the messages we as adults convey to them in a more positive way.”