Have you ever been dress-coded? Do you know someone who has? If yes, I invite you to participate in my Instagram, @BeingDressCoded.
As gender identities and categories become more elastic, a sexist backlash is brewing through heightened scrutiny of girls' and women's clothing.
The term "dress-coded" has several meanings. Usually it refers to a student being reprimanded or punished by their school because they are wearing clothing in violation of the school's formalized dress code policy. Most often, girls are dress-coded for wearing clothing considered too revealing or sexualized. Students of color are more frequently dress-coded than white students.
I also use the term "dress-coded" to refer to experiences in which someone of any age or gender is called out by their peers, colleagues, or strangers for wearing clothing judged "too" revealing or sexualized.
School dress codes often are sexist because they suggest that girls' bodies (and not boys') must be covered up and their sexuality policed. They also often perpetuate race-based stereotypes about women's bodies. In other spaces, tacit dress codes exist and affect all girls and women. Being dress-coded very often is an act of being slut-shamed—being reduced to one's sexuality, equated with one's sexuality, and judged and shamed for one's sexuality.
This project, @BeingDressCoded, explores how expectations of the ways girls and women "should" dress influence the way they behave, think, and feel.
The heightened enforcement of gendered dress codes may very well be an effort to turn back the clock to an earlier time when rigid gender roles and identities were widely thought to be natural and normative.
Message or email me (email@example.com) if you want to participate. Please send a photograph of yourself, preferably a selfie, wearing an outfit that got you dress-coded in school or another space or called out by someone who said you were dressed in an inappropriately sexualized manner. Or, you can send me a photo of an outfit that you are afraid to wear in public because you are anxious about being dress-coded or called out. I will follow up and work with you to create a post on @BeingDressCoded you are proud of.
Each photo is accompanied by a quote or feminist/racial equity commentary. I make sure that each participant feels comfortable with their post before it goes live. Photos can be neck-down, or with one's face blurred, for those who wish to remain anonymous. My goal is to create a space that is respectful and safe. Participating in this project is a way to contribute to this urgent conversation.
** All photos on @BeingDressCoded are posted with consent and permission.
** I am aware that by visually depicting girls and women being dress-coded, I unintentionally may enable some viewers to sexualize the subjects of the photographs. Please be aware that my goal is to help cease the sexualization of girls' and women's bodies against their will in non-sexual contexts by raising awareness of the harm this dynamic causes. When girls and women are viewed solely as sexualized beings, they are treated unequally, face gendered discrimination, and become vulnerable to acts of sexual harassment and assault. Showing the clothing they are wearing at the time they are dress-coded or slut-shamed clarifies the sexism at play.