Staff comments on girls’ appearances perpetuates subjugation of women

On the wall above the security desk is a sign that describes DCPS’ mission to not discriminate on the basis of sex, race, orientation, religion, or ability. But the actions of some of its staff suggest that they might not be taking this mission to heart.

It was a typical morning after soccer practice; we were coming back from breakfast in Tenleytown. We were met with the familiar beep of the metal detector, and sighs of irritation as we took our belts off to go through security. As we walked through the metal detector, we overheard an educator make the remark, “these girls look like they are going to happy hour.” Then, he repeated it so his affiliates could hear, but to his dismay, they did not find his comment to be amusing in the slightest. We exchanged uncomfortable glances, then proceeded to class, with our heads shied down, uncomfortably adjusting our garments.

Unfortunately, this problem is all too common for girls at Wilson. Teachers and staff constantly make inappropriate comments about how girls look and dress. This damages girls’ feelings about themselves and sets a dangerous precedent for how men can treat women.  

Male and female students at Wilson have come to us with stories of inappropriate comments being made about girls’ clothing by teachers and staff. These students have been told things such as “that’s hookerific,” “I’m tired of seeing so much boob,” “you must want the whole school to get in your pants,” and “you’re lucky your hair covers your shirt, or the lack thereof.”

On top of these offensive comments, students have shared stories of being ridiculed by a staff member who called over all nearby staff members to look at a girl in a low cut shirt, being forced to wear gym shorts under a dress with built-in shorts, and being stared at by security and forced to wait in the office for parents to bring them clothes. Within the arts program specifically, many students were forced to “cover up,” in order to be taken seriously.

While we don’t think it’s fair to call out these staff members by name, if you are reading this and think our article is about you, it probably is.

The problem is self-propagating. Teachers serve as role models to the students at school. When a handful of teachers set these precedents of harassing girls, young boys pick up on these comments. How can we expect a teacher to protect us from harassment by our male classmates when the teacher is making those same comments themselves?

While this problem hurts all women, Black girls at Wilson face a disproportionate amount of discrimination by administrators, who are far more likely to let white girls walk into school wearing short and tight clothes. Female students of color have shared their frustrations of being stopped and told they have to change. At a recent common ground meeting on the topic of sexual harassment, students of color brought up being called out publicly by staff for not wearing a bra while white students with no bra were not called out. It is humiliating.

In addition, women of different body types are criticized differently. Cleavage and thicker legs are criticized and shamed when they are visible in “professional” situations. In our experience, security and administration specifically target women who have bodies that are curvier. They deem it a “distraction,” therefore sexualizing parts of students’ bodies that stray from social norms.

This doesn’t help any girl get her education. It distracts her from her work and makes her uncomfortable when walking around school. It makes her feel that because of her body and appearance, she isn’t appropriate or suited for school. It is all the more detrimental when it comes from an adult who they are supposed to trust. By fostering this environment, Wilson is failing its students and its mission.