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How I Started to Create Change at My School

sexist dress codes, change, make a difference
By , 17, Staff Writer Originally Published: September 22, 2015 Revised: February 12, 2016

I walked into school one Monday. I was in a good mood. My homework was all done, I had eaten my favorite breakfast, and I had plans to hang out with friends after school. But when I got to math class, I saw a big poster on the door and my stomach dropped. The sign was for my high school’s student council spirit week, and in bold black letters it said that Thursday would be “Gender Bender Day.”

While everyone should have the right to wear the clothes they like, the day my school had planned was meant as a complete joke. The point was to laugh at the usually really “manly” football players as they wore pink skirts and tiaras. The day didn’t consider transgender students or students who don’t identify as being male or female.

My school has also hosted “Powder Puff” football games where girls played an easier version of football with pink ribbons in their hair. That day just promoted the annoying idea that girls are soft and always being frilly. Things like the “Gender Bender Day” and “Powder Puff” games might seem harmless, but they make a school less of a safe space for all students. I didn’t feel like it was OK, and neither did a lot of my friends.

Even if you don’t accomplish everything you want to, don’t give up. Small changes are much better than no changes.

“It’s just sort of messed up,” said Grace, a junior at my high school. “Things like this make it hard for people to express who they want to be. Honestly, it puts our school in a bad light.”

Dress Code Dilemma

Another problem that my friends and I complained about this year was my school’s dress code. My high school has a big sign in the offices of the guidance counselors that lists everything students can’t wear while we’re in school, and the list for girls is much longer than the list for boys. From no shorts to no tops that show shoulders (rules that seemed like they only applied to girls), many of the dress code regulations are ridiculous.

I’ve had my own personal run-ins with this. A teacher called me out in my history class freshman year for wearing a sundress—it was a hot June day. My outfit wasn’t inappropriate to the point where anyone cared in the class. His telling me to cover up at the beginning of a lesson was more distracting than I was.

So what do you do if your school does something that you know isn’t quite right?

Work to Make Things Better

There are several steps that you can take. One idea is to not participate. You might think you’re only one person and that you won’t make a difference, but you’ll definitely send a message.

Another great action is to join or gather a group of people who feel the same way you do about the not-so-great policies or events at your school. You could gather a group of friends or start your own club. My school’s chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), which I’m a part of, encourages students to talk about feminism and equal rights, and my school’s gaystraight alliance (GSA) encourages all students to talk about LGBTQ issues. These groups have teamed up to try to fix the issues we saw.

For both the spirit week issue and the “Powder Puff” problem, we encouraged students not to participate, and after school on “Gender Bender Day,” we hosted a great discussion about gender and including people, which actually had a really good turnout. When we were upset about the dress code, the NOW club wrote a letter to our principal asking him to talk to us about it. He actually accepted and attended one of our club meetings. He didn’t fix everything, but he promised to take down the scary dress code posters in the offices and worked on editing the dress code at a board meeting. Through something small, we made change.

Whether or not you think you can make a huge change in your school, take at least a small step. Even if you don’t accomplish everything you want to, don’t give up. Small changes are much better than no changes. You have the power to find a solution.

Visit’s Make a Difference page for more ways to create change in your school and community.


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