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Leggings distracting for boys? Debate over a ban

Monday - 3/31/2014, 7:26am  ET

Girlwithleggings.jpg
A school's move to ban leggings did more than stir up arguments over the dress code. It became an issue in gender equality. (Thinkstock)

Should boys' behavior be blamed on clothing?

WTOP's Randi Martin reports

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Washington -- The principal of Haven Middle School in Evanston, Ill., thought leggings on girls were too distracting, so she banned female students from wearing them.

Following this rule, the school revised its dress code once more, to include a ban on yoga pants and skinny jeans. Both moves left students upset and parents scratching their heads.

Clinical social worker Karen Schachter says the problem isn't a strict dress code; it's singling out one sex.

"Schools are allowed to have dress codes for girls and boys. The problem here was the focus was on girls," Schachter says.

Angry parents who shared the same sentiment took to social media to protest the new rule. They felt female students at Haven were being unfairly targeted, since they were asked to conform so as not to pose a distraction to male students.

Parents Kevin and Juliet Bond wrote to the principal to protest the ban, saying, "This policy clearly shifts the blame for boy's behavior or lack of academic concentration directly onto the girls."

"[The dress code rule sends] a message I think that can be very dangerous," Schachter says. "It perpetuates a cultural message that boys will be boys; they can't help themselves, and if they do something, it was because they were provoked by a girl."

National attention, petitions and picketing drove the principal and the school board to revise the dress code yet again. Several days ago, leggings made their way back into the dress code. Only now, the pants but must be covered with a skirt or be worn under a fingertip-length over-shirt.

The Chicago Tribune reports the school board says it supports the students' right to self-expression, but feels clothing must be appropriate for school.

Do you think the school was right to ban leggings in the first place? Let us know in the comments section of this story, on Twitter or on the WTOP Facebook page. Until then, a local parent shares her experience on girls and their clothing.


Princess Belle and her leggings
By Hilary Riedemann

"Mom! I want to wear a dress!" my 4-year-old yells up the stairs.

"Honey, you have Power Tots (gymnastics) at school today; no dress."

"But why?"

"Because dresses aren't appropriate for gym class."

"Ok, then I want my princess shirt."

Luckily that was the end of the conversation, because if I had to go into why dresses aren't great for gym class, it would have made for an extra-long morning. We threw on some leggings, Princess Belle and ran out the door.

Fast forward a few years and I'll probably be having a very different conversation about what outfit to wear to school. By then, hopefully, she'll know why she can't wear dresses in gym class, and we will have other lovely fights about makeup, skirts and glitter.

At least I hope so, because if I have to tell her the school system banned dresses, or leggings, because they excite the boys too much, we're going to have a big problem.

This is most likely something Haven Middle School didn't think about when it enacted its ban on leggings, shorts and yoga pants. Oh -- and just for girls; boys can still wear sweatpants and shorts. In banning the aforementioned clothes, the district said it was "because it's too distracting for the boys."

They're telling young, impressionable girls that if boys can't control themselves around the girls, girls can't wear certain clothes. To me that's like telling a rape victim that if she hadn't worn a dress that day, the man wouldn't have forced himself upon her.

Perhaps walking around with your butt hanging out of your pants isn't appropriate for school, but to tell girls the way they dress is too distracting for boys is not the right way to encourage and prep young women for adulthood.

As a fan of leggings for both myself and my girls, I'm extremely attuned to how they look on kids, young ladies and adults. Sometimes they're flattering, and sometimes they're not.

I'm religious about making sure my rear is covered when I wear them, but for my babies, it's not a big deal. Perhaps it's because they have the smallest heinys in the world -- but also because they're kids. Little ones at that.

It scares me to think that I'm going to have to address issues like this in a few years. Because my daughters, and every other daughter on Earth, are NOT responsible for how a boy behaves. That is up to a boy, and his support system of peers, teachers, parents, family and friends.

Boys should be taught to respect girls, appreciate them, love them and cherish them. Girls should be taught the same as boys. They shouldn't be taught they cause one another's behavior. We are all responsible for our own behavior.

School helps to teach us that. That's part of the reason we're in school for so many years. Perhaps a more constructive way to deal with the situation would be to offer suggestions on what's OK and what is not OK attire.

Have a fashion show -- for boys and girls -- and showcase clothes for school. A "What Not To Wear" episode for teenagers, if you will.

Whatever the final outcome, the school district needs to take a step back and examine the clothing ban. If they ban shorts, yoga pants and leggings for girls, all sweatpants and shorts should be banned for boys. Equal bans across the students.

Another option is to institute a uniform (easier said than done, I know). The issue shouldn't be because they're distracting the opposite sex, but because the district is trying to teach life lessons that aren't learned in English, math or science.

Learning what's appropriate for formal settings, such as school, work, church, etc., and what's more suited to play time, movie dates, group hangouts, etc., might not be the mission of going to school, but it's definitely part of the deal.

Dress codes are tricky situations, and unfortunately, these girls are getting a raw deal. But I'm glad to see that their parents, friends and the girls, themselves, are sticking up for one another and taking on the school district.

I don't think the issue is whether they can actually wear leggings to school. The issue is what and how the girls were told about the ban. It sounds like the school needs to learn what's appropriate and what's not. Perhaps a few remedial etiquette classes?

I may cringe when my daughters start picking out their own outfits in a few years, but I certainly won't let them believe it's their fault if a boy has to leave class with a book over his pants because Princess Belle and her leggings caught his eyes.

Hilary is the president of HR+PR, where she specializes in creating integrated communications campaigns for some pretty amazing clients. She's also a mom of two girls and highly addicted to Pinterest where she hunts for fabulous food, great throw pillows and how to craft the perfect DIY play kitchen. Visit her website at www.hrpr.org, follow her on Twitter @sassingme, or catch her on Pinterest.

Editor's Note: Karen Schachter is passionate about helping girls and women experience nourishment, peace and deliciousness with eating and in their bodies so they can live an authentic, full life. As a licensed clinical social worker, certified health coach and certified psychology of eating coach, Karen combines her years of psychotherapy experience with her knowledge of nutrition to support girls and women through individual counseling, online and offline classes and live workshops and retreats.

Karen is the founder of "Dishing With Your Daughter" which empowers moms to guide and support their daughters around food, body and self-esteem issues. Karen is also a co-founder of Jewish Women and Food, a new organization devoted to helping Jewish women and girls create a nourishing, positive and spiritually-rich relationship to food and body. You can find Karen at www.dishingwithyourdaughter.com and at Jewish Women and Food.

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