Boys Wearing Skirts to School? What’s Going On? -- By: R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
JBMW 15:1 (Spring 2010) p. 9
Boys Wearing Skirts to School?
What’s Going On?
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
“Clothes are never a frivolity—they always mean something.” Thus spoke James Laver, a famous costume designer and interpreter of fashion. He is right, of course. Clothes always mean something, which is why The New York Times gave major attention to an issue facing many schools: “Can a Boy Wear a Skirt to School?”
The article, right on the front of the “Sunday Styles” section of the paper, announced, “When gender bends the dress code, high schools struggle to respond.” The story reveals a confusion over gender that goes far beyond the dress code.
As Jan Hoffman reports, high schools generally have very specific rules about clothing these days. Boys are forbidden to wear muscle shirts and saggy pants, and girls cannot wear midriff-exposing tops or skirts that are too short. But what happens when a boy wants to wear a skirt?
“In recent years, a growing number of teenagers have been dressing to articulate—or confound—gender identity and sexual orientation,” Hoffman reports. “Certainly they have been confounding school officials, whose responses have ranged from indifference to applause to bans.”
This is no longer an issue limited to isolated examples. Districts across the country have reported teens who have attempted to cross the gender line in dress. Many of these cases have captured media attention, with highly publicized controversies. In other cases, the challenges have been more quiet.
The cases are, to say the least, both interesting and troubling. Boys are making news for wearing skinny jeans, makeup, wigs, and skirts. Girls are bending gender in their own way by, for example, wearing a tuxedo for the school picture or to a school event.
Jan Hoffman does a good job of setting the issue in perspective:
Dress is always code, particularly for teenagers eager to telegraph evolving identities. Each year, schools hope to quell disruption by prohibiting the latest styles that signify a gang affiliation, a sexual act or drug use.
But when officials want to discipline a student whose wardrobe expresses sexual orientation or gender variance, they must consider antidiscrimination policies, mental health factors, community standards and classroom distractions.
Well, that certainly presents a very complicated challenge. Diane Ehrensaft, an Oakland psychologist cited in the article, states the obvious, “This generation is really challenging the gender norms we grew up with.... A lot of youths say they won’...
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