Saturday, 23 March 2019

In Defense of a Dress Code

With the warm weather upon us, and the first signs of spring emerging, freedom from the icy conditions we experienced only a few short weeks ago has brought up the common debate about freedom of dress; indeed, Chilliwack has been making national news for its contentious discussion over the public school dress code. Currently, each school determines their own clothing standards, but most run along the lines of forbidding students to wear anything that is deemed “overly revealing”, with the CSS-SD33 website describing this in detail as meaning “bare midriffs, spaghetti straps, and low necklines.” (Student Dress Code, 2018)

Consequently, in early March, an SD33 board member− claiming that the current codes unfairly target girls− proposed a district-wide policy that would be less restrictive, and would allow for usually prohibited clothing items (such as those previously mentioned) to be accepted. (Hennig, 2019). What followed was what can only be described as an argument between the seven school district trustees during a meeting to discuss the issue, with one even admitting, “I lost my cool.” (Peters, 2019).

Problems suggested with the motion ranged between some who claimed that implementing a district-wide policy was a form of “micro-managing” that supported “immodesty”, while others contended that what a student wears should be determined by their family, and not their school, and that they shouldn’t have to worry about being “dress-coded”. More controversially, a male trustee and former teacher even admitted that he finds revealing clothing on female students to be, “distracting”, and “made him nervous as a teacher” (Lehn, 2019) while another insisted that “girls who dress certain ways are looking for ‘the wrong kind of attention’.” (Peters, 2019)

However, after following the news and giving this debate much thought, I am surprised that a more simple solution has not been recognized or offered. Though I will admit that as a mother of two daughters currently in the school district, I am less objective on this issue than is ideal; however my children are still in kindergarten and have many years before they’ll face some of these dress code concerns that are more prevalent amongst middle and high-schoolers. And I do believe that my solution will be so effective that it negates any biases I might have- undoubtedly, it has the potential to not only bring peace to the issue, but it will also create jobs and allow Chilliwack’s local economy and businesses to grow as well.

For I must say, I understand and sympathize with the concerns proposed by certain trustees about distraction and immodesty. Simply put, a woman’s body is a difficult dilemma for the male population, and, as it has been deemed fact by our community, we know that men are unable to restrain their desires (or their hands) when around innocent, underaged girls. Indeed, even a former Sardis Secondary student who describes herself as from a family of “strong Christian believers who raised [her] to value modesty”, she still experienced unwanted sexual touching and attention, even though she, “did everything right, and tried hard to ensure that no one ‘got the wrong idea’ about [her]”. (Modest Dress Codes Don’t Protect, 2019)

Clearly, casual modesty is not the solution to this problem. And in the same way that you would not expect a hungry dog to ignore a juicy steak dripping on the floor in front of it, we cannot expect men and boys to control their appetites towards their female students and peers.

Because it is not only a woman’s body that is upsetting, but also the way it moves− when she strides determinedly down the hallway towards her next class, or sits in the front row making copious notes, or perhaps when she swings unconcernedly on the monkey bars with friends. Even her very breathing, which makes her chest rise and fall, is an attack on her poor male peers who simply wish to teach or learn without being exposed to the scandal that is her physical existence. Men and boys are under constant assault, and can we really, in good faith, expect them to be perpetually vigilant in a school environment, always checking their own behaviour and feeling guilt and shame for any momentary slip? For if we punish and humiliate boys for their unwelcomed sexual contact towards their female peers, we risk exposing them to a life burdened by uncertainty and blame− one where they constantly feel responsible for the way they treat others. And this is deeply unjust, as we all know that it is the female form that truly carries the blame for men’s− and wider society’s− actions.

Therefore, my proposal is for a different district-wide policy, one that implements a garment known as a chadri or burqa to become the school uniform for all females who wish to attend co-ed institutions. Of course this might seem shocking at first, as the burqa has been an item of intense controversy in the West and has even been banned in Quebec, but I believe it is an important, untapped resource that our community could be greatly aided by.

To clarify, a burqa is not to be mistaken with a niqab, which is simply a veil for the face; the burqa is for the entire body, and will successfully coat a woman from head to toe in a sort of black invisibility cloak. In this way, she will be prevented from unnecessarily and maliciously distracting her male contemporaries, and these students and male teachers will finally be able to attain peace and success in their education without the fear of an unwitting attack by so many uncovered female bodies. And in fact, the burqas do not have to be black− they could be adorned with images of famous football players, or fast cars, or even US presidents so as to serve as an item of pleasure to the male gaze.

Of course, there is one problem with the burqa that I obviously recognize, and that’s the fact that it doesn’t properly cover the eyes; often simply a layer of mesh or a screen is used, but this doesn’t entirely remedy the issue. And it is without question that if a girl can look for the wrong kind of attention with her body, she can certainly do it with her pupils! However, I believe that if we as a society work quickly to teach our school-aged daughters to keep their focus on the ground (which they will have to do anyway to avoid tripping over the heavy folds of fabric in front of them) then we can circumvent the potential difficulties of seductive, immodest eye contact that they might initiate.

I did mention that my solution would help with Chilliwack’s local economy, and this can be demonstrated by the way that our little city is widely recognized for its handmade, homemade goods− given this, all burqas could be made locally by many of the quilting guilds, craftswomen, boutique shops, and practically anyone who owns a sewing machine in town. Spring and summer farmer’s markets, which often showcase locally handmade dresses or purses, could instead hang these female body-bags from their stalls− and if it was a required uniform, they’d be guaranteed to sell out. The burqas could be made individually for families, or produced and ordered en masse to be distributed by our local churches during Sunday service to the school-aged female population. Even for stay-at-home mothers and wives (who often find themselves with more rest and free time than they know what to do with) would benefit from this opportunity. Once they’d mastered the art of sewing− which naturally is a skill all women should possess anyway− they could finally keep their idle hands busy stitching seasonal burqas for their daughters.

If the steak is not before it, the dog will not salivate. For the first time in a long time, schools will be safe spaces for men again− grades and class averages will undoubtedly rise, as men will be able to attend, teach, and focus without the terrible distraction of noticing a body and face that differs from their own. No longer will they be diverted by a prepubescent female adjusting to a changing figure, or be made to feel physically uncomfortable by a woman who is herself physically at ease. And for parents, they finally won’t have to worry about their daughters being perceived as wanting “the wrong kind of attention” or being immoral− the burqa will protect her from being perceived in any way at all.     

Works Cited
Hennig, C. (2019, March 12). School dress codes unfairly single-out girls, trustee says. CBC News. Retrieved from:
Lehn, D. (2019, March 17). More controversial remarks from Chilliwack School Trustee Darrell Ferguson. Fraser Valley News Network. Retrieved from:
Peters, J. (2019, March 13). Trustee admits to ‘losing her cool’ during Chilliwack dress code discussion. The Chilliwack Progress. Retrieved from:
Chilliwack grad says modest dress codes don’t protect students from assault. [Letter to the editor]. The Abbotsford News. 2019, March 18. Retrieved from:
Chilliwack Secondary School. 2018. Student Dress Code. Retrieved from:

Image via Google Images

Thursday, 7 March 2019

You Can't Please Everyone

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been deeply crippled by a need for approval. I hate to admit it, because I like to carry on as though I’m possessed of an indifferent, laissez-faire demeanor, but that’s never really been the case. In fact, probably since the first time I ever tumbled as a baby I’ve struggled with feeling like life is a competition, and I’m an underdog eagerly working my ass off to earn the points I need to catch up. To please the right people, and achieve that approving pat on the head that might give me permission to pause for a minute.

I don’t know if this is a female thing or a very Sydney-specific illness; I’m not sure if it comes from societal conditioning or familial conditioning, or more likely some combination of both that mixed disastrously with my temperament. And maybe it’s all wrapped up in a virgin/whore complex, for which there are many who deserve a share of the blame. Or perhaps I’m just a perfectionist, and that’s no one’s fault (except for parents and their genetics− thanks a lot).   

But I suspect there are many of us out there; I see these same seeds planted, the roots of them in my female friends and acquaintances. I recognize this desperation to be accepted for their body, or sexual orientation, or style, or career, or socio-economic status, or marital status, or home. I see the way their conscience demands freedom from a diet of shame and guilt. I see the way they, like me, crave with every cell in their body to feel as though they deserve a place− in this world, and in their society− exactly as they are.

I see how many of them try to do the “right” things and be a “good girl”; I see those who feel incapable of reaching that bar and so punish themselves, becoming a “bad girl” by rebuffing social norms entirely, coveting disapproval but depriving themselves in the meantime of their own unique completeness. Both are a rejection of the self. Sometimes, as I’ve done, they’ll even close themselves off from certain desires or opportunities, self-flagellating with the belief that they don’t truly deserve the things that they want− that by being different from the standard they’ve relinquished the right to respect, autonomy, and the pursuit of happiness.

It’s like a quote I heard the other day that said, “Beauty is defined as one thing, and however close you are to that thing is how attractive you’re considered.” And I think not only is that more true now than ever, but that it also applies to so many areas if you’re a woman in my world. Success is defined as one thing, integrity is defined as one thing, value is defined as one thing, and that one thing rarely includes an acceptance of reasonable missteps or failures. In fact, for every time you make a choice that falls contrary to one of those definitions, you lose communal esteem points; like an investment, your stock drops.

We do this to ourselves and others all the time, defining our right to take up space by how high or low we perceive our stock to be. But there is no flexibility in these definitions; no room for a healthy person to grow, emotionally or physically. They are The Rules and as such they demand consistency and rigidity− the very opposite of what beauty, nature, and art require. And when you deprive the soul of this ability to breathe, stretch and embrace an innate ebb and flow, you cripple it or turn it to stone.

Which is exactly what it feels like we need to become sometimes to be acceptable: a flat, soulless statue who can be held up on a podium of public approval, erected before a sea of nodding, smiling heads. Cowed on the inside, but shiny marble on the outside, never jarring the eye or causing distress to those pleased observers. Indeed, like many women I recognize that I am more comfortable giving myself discomfort than I am with causing it in anyone else; we wear our shame rather than recognize that costume belongs on those who’ve long forced us into it.

And this is essentially the crux of the issue, because when you feel so pressured to meet so many expectations, but those expectations are contradictory, or upsetting, or unnatural, or genuinely unreachable, you’re left with an overwhelming sense of failure.  And not just failure, but inadequacy too− perhaps the plague of modern women. How many sisters, friends, wives and mothers do you know who constantly feel as though they’re never enough and yet they’re simultaneously too much; that they’re perpetually falling short of the standard?

I’m often one of them, and it’s a habit of thinking that’s deeply ingrained. But I’m not sure how to stop doing it, how to stop checking off boxes, or fitting neatly into the plan on someone else’s Excel spreadsheet. Sometimes, it’s so much easier to just surrender, because moving forward and making decisions− AKA refusing to become a static character in your own story− is difficult enough without feeling like you’re distressing people.

And while phrases like, “you can’t please everyone” sound reasonable, they are deeply insufficient at explaining what comes before or after that conclusion. There are missing premises here; no, you can’t please everyone, but what if you think you should try? What if you were raised hearing or feeling as though pleasing everyone WAS possible, and life would be so much simpler if you could reach that attainable goal? What if, in the attempt to follow your own path and trust yourself, your inability to satisfy those perceived standards leads to rejection from the people whose support you crave the most?

But maybe that’s the part that’s missing from that mantra− an assumption that’s so obvious, it’s not necessary to declaim. “You can’t please everyone, because trying to will make you crazy, and trying not to will always result in some rejection and pain.” It occurs to me then that love, and self-love, are not a paycheque to be earned after a certain number of sacrificial hours have been completed. That regardless of our personal choices, we still retain a fixed value; opinions are not strong enough to reduce us, and the scale we inhabit will remain balanced despite how much disapproval gets stacked on the opposing side. And if as women we can’t accept this, if we continue to remain safely in the space our communities have allowed us to occupy, we forever deprive ourselves (and our children) of our true potential, power, and freedom.  

For me, that ultimately means that at a very basic level I’m going to stop assuring others of what I will or won’t do, hoping to placate their expectations, emotions, or concerns. We don’t even know what the next minute will hold, let alone days, months, or years; no one, least of all me can predict what path they might choose in the pursuit of peace and self-actualization. And at some point I need to learn that whatever is flourishing internally does not need to align with what’s expected externally− that I am free to exist within and make decisions that are right for my family, my body, my home, and my journey outside of what anyone thinks of it.

We all are, even if we don’t know it yet.