3 Girls Fought Their School's Sexist Dress Code and Won in Court

British filmmaker Frank Launder (1906- 1997, seated, centre) with actor Guy Middleton and a group of schoolgirl extras at Langley Court, Liss, Hampshire during filming of the comedy ‘The Happiest Days of Your Life’, 19th September 1949.
Image: via Getty

First #LeggingsGate, now this: a judge in North Carolina has ruled against a charter school’s sexist dress code requiring girls to wear skirts, deeming it unconstitutional.

The New York Times reports that the ruling was part of a multi-year effort spearheaded by three girls attending Charter Day School in Leland, North Carolina. The students, ages 5, 10, and 14, launched a petition calling for an end to the school’s uniform policy prohibiting girls from wearing pants, arguing (correctly) that it was unfair for their movement to be restricted when the boys were free to move as they pleased.

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Though the petition garnered over 100 signatures, the school never addressed the students’ demands. And when parents asked if the policy could be changed, “the school said that making girls wear skirts is supposed to promote ‘chivalry,’ and ‘traditional values,’” according to student Keely Burks, who published a letter on the ACLU’s website describing how the school handled the policy:

Personally, I hate wearing skirts. Even with tights and leggings, skirts are cold to wear in the winter, and they’re not as comfortable as shorts in the summer. I love playing outside, especially soccer and gymnastics. When we go outside for recess, the boys in my class will sometimes play soccer or do flips and cartwheels. But I feel like I can’t because I’m wearing a skirt.

And it’s not just when I go outside. When I’m sitting in class, I have to pay attention to the position of my legs when I’m in a skirt, and it can be very distracting and uncomfortable. When I was in first grade and we sat on the floor, my teacher told all the girls that we couldn’t sit “criss-cross applesauce” like the boys in class. Instead, the teacher said we had to sit on the floor with our legs curled to the side because we were in skirts. When I said I didn’t want to sit that way, my teacher took me aside and put me in time out.

Burks also noted that when she mistakenly wore shorts on the last day of school one year, she got in trouble. “I had to sit in the office all day and wasn’t allowed to go back to class until my mom could come pick me up—all because I wasn’t wearing a skirt,” she wrote.

The ACLU took up the students’ case, and last Thursday, Judge Malcolm J. Howard ruled that the uniform policy was unconstitutional. “The skirts requirement causes the girls to suffer a burden the boys do not, simply because they are female,” he wrote in his ruling.

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So, the students at Charter Day School are permitted to wear pants no matter their gender, all thanks to three girls who were brave enough to take on an institution of their own accord. Between this story and the one about the high school girls who got the boys in their class to stop making lists ranking their looks, I’m starting to think the kids are going to be alright.

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