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Make High School Dress Codes Gender-Neutral

I had the pleasure to seeing Gloria Steinem speak in Phoenix last month. Geez, this woman is inspiring and knowledgeable about gender inequality. She re-invigorated me to keep pushing for equality for all genders. I would love to see our society get to the point where a person’s character and acts matter more than which bathroom they use.

I Have A Personality by EPMLE from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

I Have A Personality by EPMLE from Flickr (Creative Commons License)

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that separate is not equal back in 1954. That’s over 50 years ago! And yet, we still see substantial inequality throughout social norms and even formal rules – for all genders.

This inequality is pervasive in our culture, even in something as simple as clothing. Thing about quality and variety of clothes available in the men’s and women’s sections and what a person is expected to wear at certain occasions. What messages are conveyed with different looks? In general, men’s clothing is designed to show a person as powerful and intelligent whereas women’s clothing is much more focused on portraying the wearer as pretty rather than capable. Why are these norms so drastically different?

Looking at gender norms and clothing made me thing about dress codes and question why some institutions and companies have different uniforms and dress codes for different genders. When I see this in schools and industries, I have concerns that the organization has problems with sexism.

Google allegedly has the simplest (and best) dress code: “You must wear clothes.” This tells me the company cares more about your job performance than how you look, and they have confidence that their employees are responsible enough to dress appropriately for their job tasks.

I don’t endorse the Google dress code for every situation, particularly not for high school where students act more impulsively, in part due to their still-developing brains. I do, however, endorse a gender-neutral dress code, particularly after seeing how ridiculous dress codes are for females at some high schools:

These are my recommendations for a gender-neutral high school dress code. It’s more restrictive in regards to images and verbiage on garments, but that’s mainly to make the rule easy to understand and enforce. The main rule is to come to school in clothes that are clean, tidy, with no rips or stains. Here are the details:

NO: Pajamas; Workout wear (exception for socks/sneakers); Visible undergarments; Verbiage or images on tops (exception for small logos or t-shirts/sweatshirts from a legitimate school); Hats or hoods in the building (exception for religious wear); Visible cleavage – chest or butt; Excessively baggy or tight garments; See-through garments; Sleeveless or backless tops

Shoes: Must be worn, closed toe, closed heel, socks must be worn except for open top shoes (flats, heels, etc.)

Pants, Kilts, Skirts, and Dresses: Bottom hem can’t drag on the floor

Shorts, Kilts, Skirts, and Dresses: Bottom hem must reach tips of fingers when standing with hands at sides

Shirts, Sweaters, and Sweatshirts: No midriff shown when raising arms above head; Entire shoulder must be covered

Hair: Must be clean and reasonably styled (meaning you at least ran a comb through it, purposely messy styles are ok)

This dress code may be more challenging for students who wear women’s clothing because more garments are designed and created that violate these rules. For those who want to express themselves with these garments, they can – on their own time.

The next time you’re confronted with a dress code with different expectations for men and women, ask yourself what these expectations say about how that situation views the roles of different genders. If you see inequality, I hope you’ll challenge it.

If I Were a Minimalist in High School

Kristin at Buzzfeed did a video recently where she followed different high school dress codes for a week. At first, this made me wonder if I could follow my high school alma mater’s dress code but that it made me wonder how I would have been different if I had been a minimalist when I was a high school student.

Oh yes - That's my sophomore year picture, Fall 1994.

Oh yes – That’s my sophomore year picture, Fall 1994.

I went to a Catholic high school in Northern California, and our dress code was fairly strict – no shorts, no shirts with writing or images on them, and no open toed shoes were some of the restrictions. If I were the confident self-accepting person I am today back then, I think I would have gone the Jobs/Zuckerberg route and had a personal uniform that I would where every day. Judging by my current closet, probably would be blue jeans and a dark gray v-neck T-shirt. I can picture my childhood closet with 5 matching T-shirts, 2 pairs of jeans, and a solid-colored hoodie for cold days. The only things that might have changed day-to-day would have been the color of my underwear and socks, which shoes I wore, and whether I wore jewelry and/or make-up.

Given my experience with shaving my head this summer, I could easily see myself going through high school with a shaved head – or as close to it as the school’s dress code would allow. (Students weren’t supposed to shave their heads, but some guys would do it over summer break. It would be unfair for the school to punish them for something they did during vacation.)

I can rock the bald head. Photo by Devon C. Adams Photography, used with permission

I can rock the bald head. Photo by Devon C. Adams Photography, used with permission

If I were a minimalist in high school, I wouldn’t be surprised if I used a capsule wardrobe, inspired by Project 333, for the rest of my clothes. A person doesn’t need many material goods to be happy, so why accumulate it? I am not sure if I would apply the same minimalist rules to my leotard collection. As a gymnast, I had about 2 dozen beautiful leotards and I loved them, but I also wonder what it would have been like to have 6 matching leotards that I would have worn each night to practice. Some people might wonder if it would have been weird or boring; I wonder if it would have been a badass.

If I were a minimalist in high school, I would have done a lot more and a lot less with my time. I would hope that I would understand that school was my job, and accepted that there were a lot of classes that were required for graduation but pointless for my life – like literature (most fiction does nothing for me because it’s not real, especially really old fiction) and religion (I’m Agnostic). I would have cared even less about school spirit days and other functions and cared more about spending time with the people I liked. I suspected I would have done more, with less, and been happier and put more energy into developing myself as a person.

What’s in a Name?

“I’m trying to reach Ruthie Carter… Ruthie has been recommended to me by Mary and Jeff. If she could give me a call back …”

Yup – that was the message that was left on my law firm’s voicemail last night that went to the firm’s partners and our receptionist. I wonder if any of them are going to notice that the caller used my nickname and not my legal name.

When I was in my 20’s I was much more strict about only using “Ruth” in my professional life. I worked at an agency where it wasn’t uncommon to see friends and acquaintances who called me “Ruthie.” If I met you in a social setting, I didn’t care which name you used, but with work colleagues, it was always “Ruth” never “Ruthie.” On more than one occasion, I had to correct our receptionists who tried to get away with using my nickname.

As a lawyer, I always refer to myself as “Ruth” and everyone seems to go with it. This voicemail may be the first time a non-friend referred to me as “Ruthie.” In the caller’s defense, Mary and Jeff call me “Ruthie” so it makes sense – but it was weird to hear. I had to listen to it twice to verify that she said what I thought she said.

Who hires “Ruthie the lawyer?” While mulling this over, I was reminded of the Buzzfeed videos where men shared their impressions of common feminine names and women share their impressions for masculine names.  It was interesting to hear their views of variations of the same name:

So what does this mean for me and all the Ruths of the world?

  • Ruth is an old stuff Jewish woman (but she also might be the one who mutters the funniest things under her breath). (We’re sassy.)
  • Ruthie is a four year-old child with pigtails.

My friend said if Dora the Explorer had a lawyer character on her show, her name would be Ruthie.