PEWAUKEE, Wis. — A school district in Wisconsin is requiring all “dress-wearing” students and guests to send photos of their attire before they can buy tickets to its homecoming dance next month.
The Pewaukee High School policy, an extension of the Pewaukee School District’s dress code, is aimed at keeping students from being ejected from the event for showing too much skin, according to Pewaukee Superintendent Mike Caty. And it’s not new. It’s been around since January 2015.
But a reminder emailed to families on Tuesday has some students and parents chafing at the requirement, calling it sexist and micromanaging. And it comes as girls and women nationally are pushing back at dress codes they see as body-shaming and directed almost exclusively at the female body.
“The girls are essentially being held responsible for the wayward thoughts (administrators) think boys have,” said Rebecca Shepherd, whose daughter is a freshman at Pewaukee this year.
“They’re being told, ‘You are the problem,’ ” she said. “These are the roots of rape culture, frankly.”
Caty said the policy isn’t sexist. The dress code includes items that appear to be directed at boys; for example, students can’t wear low-hanging pants that expose their underwear or behinds. But he said it was girls who forced the district to impose the pre-dance check by pushing the boundaries of appropriate attire at school formals.
“It’s really out of a sensitivity to our students,” Caty said. “We want (school dances) to be a positive experience. We don’t want anyone to show up and have to be sent home because of a dress-code violation.”
Dress codes have been around for years; most districts have one. But they have become increasingly controversial in recent years — and not just those directed at young people or girls.
This spring, a female journalist was barred from interviewing lawmakers in a chamber outside the House of Representatives because her dress was sleeveless. The uproar prompted House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Janesville) to announce this month that the code, which also bans open-toed shoes, would be “modernized.”
And in June, about 30 boys at a British prep school donned uniform skirts to protest its no-shorts policy that left them sweltering during a summer heat wave, according to the Guardian.
But much of the attention has been on school policies that appear to disproportionately affect girls. Teens are taking to social media to air their grievances, including boys who in some cases have posted photos of themselves in dresses to make their points.
And there have been hundreds of petitions filed on the website change.org aimed at forcing school districts to revamp their policies. Some districts have responded, revising policies to eliminate language that could be seen as sexist or discriminatory against any student, including those who are transgender or gender-non-conforming.
The Pewaukee dress code, like many others, prohibits clothes deemed too revealing. It explicitly bans “tops that have spaghetti straps, are backless, and/or that cover only one shoulder … blouses that do not cover the midriff” and requires shorts and skirts to “extend below the mid-thigh.”
Pewaukee’s pre-dance policy appears unusual, if not unique, in southeastern Wisconsin, based on a quick survey of districts on Friday. A Minnesota school rescinded a similar policy in February, a day after it was announced, because of blowback. In that case, girls were told they should wear dresses they would “feel comfortable wearing to a formal event at your church.”