Teen boys bare shoulders in school dress-code protest

Male students are staging a protest against their school's sexist dress code.
Male students are staging a protest against their school's sexist dress code. Photo: Twitter

A group of male students have staged a protest against their high school's sexist dress code, wearing off-the-shoulder tops to highlight the absurdity and inconsistent nature of its current policy.

When students returned to San Benito High School in Hollister, California, after the summer holidays last week, Yahoo Style reports that a number of girls were surprised to find themselves in violation of the code - for baring their shoulders.

According to one student who tweeted a photo, along with the hashtags #sexist #letgirlslearn, around twenty students were sent home.

"The dress code policy hasn't been an issue the past two years I have been here," a 16-year-old female student, who chose to remain anonymous, told Yahoo Style. Last year, she continued, she and other girls regularly wore off-the-shoulder shirts without getting into trouble.

For whatever reason, however, this year it's different. 

"Off-the-shoulder is a very big trend in the fashion industry right now," the student said. "It's not harming anyone physically….I think it is ridiculous how we have to fight against [the administration] to wear a shirt that is not harming anyone."

When girls in off-the-shoulder tops were then banned from appearing in school photos on picture day, students - including some of the boys -  decided to stage their protest.

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As well as wearing off-the-shoulder tops, students also called out the double standards around enforcing the policy, referring to a previous year book where girls were dressed in the exact same thing.

Speaking to Teen Vogue, Andrei Vladimirov, one of the students who took part, reiterated why the issue was so important, not just for their school but for wider society in general."A lot of people want to emphasise the male students' part in this protest, which I respect, but the purpose of this whole thing was to protest sexism against female students," he said.

"Not being able to wear a certain type of shirt may seem like a minor problem to some people, but it is representative of something much larger in society — the fact that women are still, today, being subjected to the dominance of male ideology," he said. "Women deserve to be treated with the utmost respect, and this entails being able to dress as one pleases. Women should be able to wear what they want without being systemically objectified — treated as if they have no personal sovereignty."

On Friday, Adrian Ramirez, Principal of San Benito High School, issued a statement regarding the controversy, to parents, students and staff. In it, Ramirez clarified that strapless shirts are not banned due to being "a distraction to male students", but rather to "prevent the possibility of any student being a victim of any incident where they could intentionally or unintentionally be humiliated."

Acknowledging that while such incidents are "clearly rare", Ramirez added that their dress code also serves to prepare students for the future, "to seek and maintain employment, interview for a scholarship or pursue their career goals after high school".

Ramirez noted that speaking to students and staff about the issue since the commencement of the school year had been "positive". And while he indicated that the dress code has stipulated "no strapless or tube tops" for several years, Ramirez noted that communication between staff, parents and students needs to improve.

"Our next steps will include organising a committee of students to continue a dialogue regarding our dress code,"he said, adding that their goal was ensuring it was also enforced "consistently and equitably" in future.