Confusing School Ban Over 'Distracting' Leggings Ignites Controversy

A school in Illinois is in the midst of controversy surrounding a school dress code policy that bans leggings and other tight pants.

Media reports that circulated earlier this week stated Haven Middle School in Evanston, Illinois had banned leggings because they were distracting for male students. Some parents and other observers were outraged, demanding to know why the school was punishing girls for what they wear instead of disciplining male students for making inappropriate comments if it was indeed such a rampant problem. It's certainly not the first time a school has made this kind of decision (and it probably won't be the last).

However, school officials today said there is no such "ban" on leggings or yoga pants, and attributed the controversy to a "misunderstanding" in the school's policy, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune:

An Evanston middle school principal sent a letter home to parents Tuesday seeking to calm controversy over a dress code that appears to ban girls from wearing leggings in certain cases — a rule that is under review after some parents complained that it is inconsistently enforced and unfair to girls.

Leggings aren't banned, Haven Middle School Principal Kathy Roberson wrote to parents. But confusion remains after some girls came home last week complaining that they were told they were no longer allowed to wear skin-hugging leggings or tight yoga pants. And the school's own dress code, published on its website, appears to ban leggings when worn with short shorts or skirts.

In the letter sent home to parents, Roberson wrote: "Please be advised that Haven has not revised its dress code nor has the school banned leggings, yoga pants, or 'skinny' jeans. It has been communicated to students that 'if leggings are worn, a shirt, shorts, or skirt worn over them must be fingertip length.'"

The school's dress code policy states: "Shorts, dresses, and skirts must extend closer to the knee than the hip, short shorts or skirts and leggings are unacceptable attire. Pants and shorts must be worn at the waist."

Seems to me that what the school wants to say is "If you're going to wear leggings or tight pants, you have to wear something that covers them up at least down about the knee." Even if that's so, a lot of people want to know why the solution is to make girls cover up instead of oh you know, teaching boys to not be gross sexist pigs who leer and mock girls over what they're wearing.

Many of those who have read the policy say it's confusing, which is why school officials announced plans to meet with an advisory board to revamp the policy and make it more consistent.

Of course, the idea that girls need to cover up parts of their body that are already covered up just because the guys might look at them and think pervy thoughts has caused a lot of debate among parents and other officials.

Kevin Bond, a high school teacher from another district in Illinois told the Chicago Tribune making girls cover up is the "easy way out." He said "there are appropriate ways to behave and act, including in school, and it's not about telling the girls what not to wear because the boys will get too excited....It brings up the issue, why is this a policy at all?"

Bond and his wife, Juliet Bond a professor at Columbia College in Chicago, wrote a letter to the principal expressing their outrage over the policy. The letter, via Evanston Patch, reads in part:

[The]policy clearly shifts the blame for boy's behavior or lack of academic concentration, directly onto the girls. We are frankly shocked at this antiquated and warped message that is being sent to the kids. Under no circumstances should girls be told that their clothing is responsible for boy's bad behaviors. This kind of message lands itself squarely on a continuum that blames girls and women for assault by men. It also sends the message to boys that their behaviours are excusable, or understandable given what the girls are wearing. And if the sight of a girl's leg is too much for boys at Haven to handle, then your school has a much bigger problem to deal with.

We really hope that you will consider the impact of these policies and how they contribute to rape culture. Girls should be able to feel safe and unashamed about what they wear. And boys need to be corrected and taught when they harass girls.

Say as much as you want about leggings and their viability as a fashion item. But the problem here is not whether you or I think leggings make acceptable substitutes for pants. The problem is, yet again, another institution has decided it's easier to punish girls for what they wear because there is a chance someone of the opposite sex might sexualize them. This is dumb, dumb, dumb. The conversation needs to shift from putting the responsibility of the male gaze onto young girls to teaching young boys more appropriate ways to interact with women, regardless of what they are wearing.

Image via Shutterstock.