I feel sorry for those poor eighth grade girls at Readington Middle School in New Jersey. Their principal has banned the strapless dress for this year’s prom. Her reason for the ban?
They are too distracting for the boys.
There is a whole brouhaha brewing over this ban on strapless dresses and parents are angry. Some undoubtedly are fuming because there are already non-refundable $200 strapless dresses hanging in their daughters’ closets. I’d like to think others are steaming because the very idea that a strapless dress is going to provoke inappropriate behavior insults young women as well as young men everywhere, not just in New Jersey.
There is something so inherently wrong in suggesting that shoulders are distracting. Shoulders. It is just another way of saying that girls have something that drive boys wild, and that boys have no control over their impulses.
After I read about the “no bare shoulders” dress code, I peeked into my own daughter’s closet to remind myself what her prom dress looked like. Ah, yes. That beautiful satiny pink elegant dress we bought in New York for her special night. Not strapless, but certainly her shoulders were showing. I do not remember hearing about boys losing control because they caught a glimpse of them through spaghetti straps. I do remember an awkward, albeit sweet, boy handing her a wrist corsage.
Raising a daughter is different from raising a son. As mothers, we say things like, “Maybe that dress is a little short.” But teaching our daughters how to dress is mostly a matter of good taste. Appropriate dress for the situation. For the life of me, I see nothing wrong with a bare shoulder.
To suggest otherwise, is dangerously close to what we now refer to as “slut shaming.” As in — It’s the girl’s fault. Her dress was too short, her neckline was too low, her shoulders were too bare.
When I was in junior high, I liked short skirts and make-up and way too much Yardley Oh! de London perfume. It didn’t make the boys lose control, and it didn’t make me a slut. It would be many years before I would even kiss a boy.
Good taste, appropriate dress, and teaching respect for oneself and others, both at home and at school, is my prescription for the fears of this New Jersey middle school principal. Trying to make her eighth grade girls take the responsibility for what the eighth grade boys may or may not do only perpetuates the false premise that a girl is “asking for it” depending on how she dresses.
To this mom, bare shoulders are okay. imposing a dress code that teeters too closely to the edge of slut-shaming is not okay. As parents, we have the obligation to teach our daughters and sons respect for themselves and each other.
And it has nothing to do with bare shoulders.
Contributor Joan Haskins has been writing her popular blog on Open Salon since 2009. She teaches yoga to children at Balasana Yoga, which provides material for many of her pieces. She is currently writing a memoir, which goes against everything she was taught as a child about not telling family business. She lives in Washington, D.C. with her husband, and has one daughter in college who she misses on a daily basis.