On May 17, the officers and a few select members of PHS Feminism Club released the petition Reform Dress Codes and Enforcement at Princeton Public Schools on Facebook and other social networking sites. With currently just over 570 signatures, the petition calls to reduce the district’s dress code premise on binary gender and re-educate faculty on less shame-based ways of enforcement. Signatures come from, and remain open to, students, parents, faculty, administration, and general members of the Princeton community.
The petition directly claims that the dress codes in Princeton Public Schools contain, “Different guidelines for female and male students, and less overt double standards (e.g. permitting revealing tank tops for male students and not female students); and [that] these guidelines [are] enforced in ways which inappropriately shame and sexualize female students and marginalize non-binary students.” Furthermore, the petition also stated that the dress code “interfere[s] with the emotional well-being of students by shaming, sexualizing, and marginalizing them.”
This concern for shame enforcement of the dress codes, particularly at John Witherspoon Middle School, was a major motivator driving the co-authors of the petition. “From what we know from younger siblings … [John Witherspoon Middle School is] still enforcing the dress code in a way that’s really sexist and very shame-based,” said co-author Maddy Troilo ’17.
The members of Feminism Club were also particularly upset by notices for banned attire sent home from the middle school enforcing a binary gender dress code. As such, although PHS has taken steps to be more open in its policy to the transgender community, the group feels that some work needs to be done in other areas. “The district-wide dress code is pretty progressive,” said Nathaniel Hyman ’17, a member of Feminism Club and a supporter of the petition. “However, the John Witherspoon Middle School dress code is still pretty old-fashioned, like the ban on spaghetti straps for example. It’s an issue, it’s been brought to attention, and now it’s being talked about.”
The mention of these specific articles of clothing traditionally associated with female attire is the main point of discontent. “[The dress code] doesn’t specifically say ‘for girls’ but it is talking about short dresses and skirts, the sort of thing that’s obviously directed at girls,” said petition signer Emilia Ferrante ’18. “I think it’s a very respectful and well-written petition; I think it is very well done and it should be respected in the people [in] administration.”
Another example of a binary regulation is the JWMS band concert dress code, with separate guidelines for boys and girls, but no ‘other’ or alternative for transgender students.
Those who signed the petition called for the Princeton Public School District to “remove male-female distinctions from all dress codes and guidelines … to end public-shaming based enforcement of the dress code … [and to] educate teachers on more appropriate, equitable, inclusive, and caring methods by which to enforce the dress code.”
Though a small group of students released the form Petition Against PPS Dress Code Petition asking for the “district’s dress code [to stay] the same and [to stay] equally, if not more, enforced,” the members of Feminism club have received encouraging reaction from the community. “In terms of reception from the student body, it has been very positive … people remember these experiences they had while at the middle school and [have been] galvanized to also sign the petition,” said co-author Madi Norman ’16. “This seems to be something that people believe is common sense and if we can make it clear how to better the problem, we hope we will be able to see some change as soon as possible.”
The members of Feminism Club involved have received particular support from Assistant Principal Jessica Baxter and hope to meet with other significant members of administration in the near future.