Yesterday I saw this article about a Canadian high school junior–whose shorts allegedly violated the school dress code. She apparently first got in trouble for wearing them, and then got in trouble for arguing with the administrators about it, and now she’s really upset about it because BODY SHAMING. It was a hot day…I’m in trouble for showing my legs, and that’s a problem…why do they only target girls with these rules. All sincere and heartfelt objections Lindsey makes in the video interview.
Now obviously this particular news story has little-to-nothing to do with me because a) our kids are homeschooled and thereby have to abide by MY rules–muahahahaha, and b) this happened in Canada, and I’ve never even been to Canada. But it caught my attention anyway because it falls under the broader category of “women’s issues”, and some of the underlying stuff that Miss Stocker expresses here is hugely relevant.
First, a couple of disclaimers.
1.) Lindsey is a pretty girl. And I think that is fabulous.
2.) She wants to be an empowered woman, is convinced the dress code rules are unjust, and is trying to take a stand for what she believes. Seems completely age-appropriate for a teenager.
3.) I really don’t think she was intentionally dressing to look scandalous or provoke a scene. I think it was, like she said, a hot day. So she wore a pair of what were likely trendy, short shorts–just about the only type of shorts available for teens to buy at most stores in the grand year of 2014. This I know because I recently went shopping for shorts, and the only ones I saw covered less than a string bikini. Thankfully I’m 32 and know better.
4.) Lindsey is absolutely correct when she says men should not feel entitled to women’s bodies. And even if the shorts in question were a problem, Lindsey is giving voice to the fact that women are not sexual objects to be used by men. She’s only in 11th grade. So I say good for her.
5.) It’s possible that Lindsey’s just wanting to argue and complain and file some sort of lawsuit, but for the sake of argument I’m going to assume that she genuinely believes what she’s saying.
Now. When I was in school (you know you’re getting old when you begin sentences with “when I was ____”), and public school at that, there was ALWAYS a dress code. And it ALWAYS included shorts being at or past the fingertips. And kids were ALWAYS expected to comply. It was just part of being a kid. At school. Where there were expectations for behavior, attendance, performance, and yes, appearance. I’m sure it felt like a drag sometimes–every rule seems arbitrary when you’re young–but you know? It was really NBD. Of all the objectionable aspects of school, from snobby mean girls to failed geometry tests (oh how I hated geometry!), shorts-length was the least of them.
I guess the question is, is it automatically “body shaming” to enact and enforce a dress code? Is it anti-woman to restrict clothing options that typically only women wear? While it certainly can be (there is NEVER a need to humiliate a girl for wearing something that’s against the rules, and it’s very possible that’s what happened here, and if so then Lindsey ought to be upset), I would say overall that no, it is most definitely NOT.
See my biggest problem with the whole body shaming claim? It presumes that any attempt to cover parts of the female body or dictate what is appropriate for a woman to wear in a public setting (school, church, workplace) is equivalent to saying that bodies are bad. When, really, it is actually quite the opposite: I should care about how I present myself because God made ME, and my body is GOOD, and at the same time I am more than just my body. I am a person.
And this is, ironically, something Lindsey sees–even if she doesn’t realize or acknowledge it. It’s what she means when she tells the reporters that women aren’t sexual objects and what she implies when she argues that the rules specifically target women. She knows she is more than her body. She understands she is so much more than how much skin she’s showing on a hot spring day. She refuses to buy into the notion that her identity is somehow rooted in her relation to the boys in her class. And I hope she maintains, refines, and further develops these ideas in the coming years. It could save her the heartache and trouble that come from caring too much about what random boys think.
Truth be told I might really kind of like Lindsey, but I think her approach and reasoning are misguided. I think she should abide by the dress code. I think she should not have argued with the powers-that-be when they attempted to enforce said dress code. I think she should not be taking her activism cues from Tumblr. I think she needs to stop seeing men as the enemy, although for all I know she has good reasons for that. And, ultimately, I think she needs to take some time to think through what she is saying, because it is wildly inconsistent.
If we don’t want to appear like we want to be seen as mere sex objects, we shouldn’t wear clothing that says otherwise. If we don’t want to appear like we want men reducing us to how we look or what we can do for them, we shouldn’t wear clothing that says otherwise. Just like if we don’t want people to think we love Barney the purple dinosaur (ugh, remember him?), we shouldn’t wear a t-shirt with his picture plastered all over it.
And this isn’t some unjust way of letting men off the hook because this stuff actually has nothing to do with men–even if there wasn’t a man left on the planet Earth because they’d all been raptured away by Kirk Cameron, our clothing choices would still send messages about how we see ourselves and our sexuality.
So it’s important for me, as a woman, to consider whether or not what I wear reflects the dignity of personhood, according to context. It would be inappropriate for me to wear my faded jeans and ripped sweatshirt I’ve had since college to a wedding. I should probably not leave my house in a pair of shorts where my posterior is showing. (Shudder.) I wouldn’t wear a bathing suit top to a church service (oh wait–actually I did that! But it was an accident! Promise!) Therefore I should also refrain from wearing anything that somehow demeans or reduces who I am as a woman.
And it’s not that I’m ashamed or repressed or hung up on modesty to the degree of obsession. Because really, I’m not. I love to shop. I love fun clothes. I love women. I wear pants. I don’t concern myself too much with judging what other people are wearing–we live in a modern secularized culture where people be showing some skin, and I have no desire to start writing everyone off because they happen to have a different standard than me.
The virtue of chastity is defined by the Catechism of the Catholic Church as “the successful integration of sexuality within the person and thus the inner unity of man in his bodily and spiritual being.” It’s not something we talk much about and, frankly, when we do? It is too often reduced to a set of rules and regulations couched in the word “modesty.” No bikinis, no cleavage, no short shorts. But chastity MAKES SENSE when seen as part of a beautifully holistic understanding of what it means to be human, and what it means to love. Teenagers in particular though struggle to feel accepted and worthy of love, so why would they be interested in pursuing a chastity divorced from the Gospel and a greater understanding of true charity?
We simply have not told them the truth.
Saint Pope John Paul II said that “Chastity is a difficult, long term matter; one must wait patiently for it to bear fruit, for the happiness of loving kindness which it must bring. But at the same time, chastity is the sure way to happiness.”
That right there is the crux of the issue, the thing that we must tell our sons and daughters over and over again: chastity is hard. Temperance takes work. Faith necessitates patience and long-suffering and dying to self. But it makes for a happy life, happy marriage, and happy sense of self.
If Lindsey wanted my input, I would tell her that as hard as it might be to see the connection between the length of her shorts and her dignity as a woman, it is real. I would tell her that I totally get though how she might not be able to see that right now, because she’s in high school. And single. And pretty. And figuring life out. I would say that the rules make even less sense if you’ve never been told the whole story of God’s love for the world and the beauty of being created by God, as a woman. And that she is loved desperately by this God, who cares about her heart and her mind and her dignity, and who will never leave or abandon her.
I would be kind. And sweet. And we would laugh together at the seeming absurdity of being suspended for wearing short shorts. Because even though I think the school was within its rights to take action, it’s still funny. Sorry school.
I would demand that she read Love and Responsibility when she’s old enough to not be bored by it, to in the meantime check out the Bible (universal appeal, people!), anything by CS Lewis, any of Saint Pope John Paul II’s letters/encyclicals/addresses, and Mother Teresa’s Come Be My Light, and to come have coffee with me sometime so we can discuss the aforementioned books. (Though come to think of it, that would require a passport. Details. Also? I realize I’m a book nerd. And I have a general aversion/bias against contemporary, modern, light-reading books. Sorry.)
And I will continue to hope and pray that my own daughters will feel, know, and most importantly believe with all that is in them that they too are loved by God, and that their dignity and value as women–as human persons–are worth protecting and nurturing.
For the sake of love.
May young women like Lindsey Stocker everywhere see that there is nothing remotely shaming about that!