Tuesday, May 1, 2018
The ACLU is intervening after [Lizzy] Martinez, a 17-year-old junior at Braden River, was disciplined for not wearing a bra under her shirt to school due to a painful sunburn. School administration removed her from class, told her she was distracting other students, and required her to put Band-Aids over her nipples for the rest of the day. The school maintained that it was doing this in Martinez’s best interest — but then proceeded to block her on Twitter when she complained that she felt sexualized, and it discouraged students from participating in a student protest against the stigmatization of female bodies.
The ACLU letter to the school district is here and it is well worth the read.
As described above, the justification proffered for the enforcement of the dress code against Ms. Martinez was rooted in sex stereotypes that male students were “distracted” by her nipples and a paternalistic desire to “protect” Ms. Martinez from the laughter and stares of her male classmates. The justification reflects overly broad and archaic generalizations about boys’ inability to control their sexual impulses and girls’ inability to make their own decisions about the clothing that makes them feel safe and comfortable. These stereotypes reinforce a culture of victim blaming in which schools convey the message to female students that they are at fault for experiencing sexual harassment if they make certain clothing choices. The Supreme Court has long struck down policies based on “‘romantic paternalism’ which, in practical effect, put women, not on a pedestal, but in a cage.”
The biased enforcement of the dress code against Ms. Martinez and other female students jeopardizes their equal access to education by forcing them to miss important class time. As described above, Ms. Martinez missed multiple days of school, including three tests. It also prioritizes male students’ freedom from “distraction” over female students’ physical comfort.