Girls get suspended for wearing mini skirts — so don’t tell me we can’t mandate masks in schools

Back in 2007, when I was in 7th grade, I used my birthday money to buy some clothes from Abercrombie — just like all the popular kids at school were wearing. Feeling confident about myself, I wore my new outfit to school. It was a red undershirt beneath a cardigan and a short denim skirt over opaque brown leggings. I felt cool and got a lot of compliments from my friends.

At the end of lunchtime, I was told I had to go to the office because my outfit was “inappropriate.” At the office, I was forced to wear a random old sweatshirt from the lost-and-found around my waist for the rest of the day. This diversion made me late for class, and you best believe it was incredibly embarrassing to walk back into a room of my peers with that ratty sweater on.

So when I read in the New York Times that the superintendent of the Georgia school district where a viral photo of packed hallways and lack of masks was taken said that there was “no way to mandate” students wearing masks during a pandemic, I couldn’t help but be reminded of my middle school experience.

My story isn’t unique. For decades, girls have been pulled out of class and/or sent home for the day because they wore a tank top, or leggings, or any other item of clothing that accentuated the fact they *gasp* happen to have bodies. Even male students have gotten in trouble for wearing “gang colors,” or just having the wrong hairstyle.

The specific Georgia school district in question (which, by the way, suspended the student who took that viral photo) has a fairly extensive dress code:

It prohibits holes/rips/tears in clothing, patches, pants that touch the floor, wide-legged pants, sleeveless shirts, deep-scooped necklines, etc. There’s no question in my mind that such dress code requirements, in this school district and at others, are steeped in sexism, racism, and classism.

If mask-wearing is a “personal choice,” as Superintendent Brian Otott insists, isn’t also wearing some torn jeans? Why does the appropriate dress requirement suddenly stop when it comes time to prevent the spread of a deadly illness?

And why suspend Hannah Watters, the student that took the photo, for pointing out what hypocrites you are? Where’s her freedom of speech gone? It’s almost as if the school knows they’re doing something wrong, and just wants to hide it.

Close the schools and go back to virtual learning, or require masks. This shouldn’t be so hard when people’s lives are literally at stake.

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Rafaella Gunz

Rafaella is a graduate of The New School in NYC, where she majored in Journalism and minored in Gender Studies. She writes for publications including DeadState, Gay Star News, Alma, BUST Magazine, and more.