Freak Dance Friday

Tonight is the first dance of the middle school social year. Woot! We’re psyched here at the BlogLily household, although I’ve been told if I chaperone neither of my boys will speak to me, shower or brush his teeth again.

But before you get to go to these dances, you have to first sign “The Rules of the Dances,” a one page document that contains the 13 … well, Rules. I love rules. Tomorrow (or as things go here on BlogLily, next year) I will post the sign that’s over our dining room table entitled “Talking in our House.” It contains four wonderful rules for how to talk at dinner.

Still, a love of rules is not the same thing as loving certain rules. This is the one that I’m currently not really loving:

10. Dress code: no see-through clothing, no underwear showing, shirt straps must be two fingers wide, skirts and shorts must fall low enough to meet the fingertips, no cleavage, no bare midriffs, foot wear at all time, no clothing with aggressive disrespectful logs, language or drug alcohol slogans.

Oh NO! That means my boys will not be able to wear those cute see through cami half shirts with “F*** Bush/Drink Merlot” emblazoned across the front over the soccer shorts they outgrew in second grade but can’t bear to give up.

Okay. What gives me pause is that there are eight dress code rules and 5/8 of them apply solely to girls. It’s as though somebody’s decided that certain parts of a girl’s body just shouldn’t be seen at a school dance. And the only reason to forbid them is because they might actually hurt somebody because that is why we forbid things.

I just want to say that I don’t think an eighth grade girl’s cleavage is a weapon of mass destruction. Between (a) acting like it is and totally giving that poor girl the impression that her body is scary or shameful; and (b) ignoring it and letting her grow up and become a woman who feels like her cleavage is pretty awesome in the right contexts, well, I’d choose (b). My point is that even if some of these prohibited fashion choices are in really bad taste, that’s an eighth grade girl’s entire job: to experiment with bad taste. Blue eye shadow anyone? It is also the job of an eighth grade boy, except here no one has decided to forbid those choices as being sexually dangerous.

That’s one thing that interests me about these rules — there isn’t any similar set of rules of behavior in which 5/8 apply only to preteen boys. I mean, honestly, there could be, couldn’t there? Here’s my effort:

(1) Don’t mumble when someone says hello; (2) Wash your jeans more than once a year; (3) don’t punch your friends in the gut as a way of saying hello; (4) don’t eat all the chips; (5) don’t drop your gum wrappers (not to mention your gum) on the floor.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that Rule Number 11 “Absolutely no Freak Dancing” is probably all you need to say about inappropriate, public, sexual behavior. It’s a rule that applies equally to boys and girls and it doesn’t tell girls that their bodies are the ones we all need to be worried about.

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16 thoughts on “Freak Dance Friday

  1. At my son’s high school the rule was ‘modest, clean and appropriate’. Vague enough to make a point without being too legalistic, and applicable to both genders. But, I think the ‘clean’ meant pure in spirit not washed in Tide, or my son would have been sent home many times. In 4 years he was only called up on his clothing once — a required dress up day that he forgot about and instead of making the 1/2 drive home to change, he drove over to Wal-Mart and bought shirt, slacks and tie. The other time he forgot, he had his prom tux in the car and did a quick change — that may have fallen under the inappropriate as I’m sure that there was quite a bit of sarcasm in his attitude in choosing that option over the other (appropriate) clothes that just happened to be in his car!

    I think that the loose guidelines are better than the specific. I think they helped to instill a sense of what is appropriate dress for various social occassions — something that many of my co-workers, who probably dress better to go to the grocery store on Saturday, have not learned.

    What I think is more of an issue though with the rules, is not that people think that young women need rules of dress in order to hide their bodies or to shame them, but that current fashion is such that school administrators think it is needed. I don’t think that much of current fashion lets girls be comfortable with their bodies, but that it fosters an attitude that their worth is based on how much of their bodies they can bare.

  2. These rules seem ill-considered. I shudder to think what sort of miscreant I would have turned into had I not been allowed to wear tube tops, hip huggers, feather earrings, and strawberry lip gloss in the eighth grade. These rules will only deprive girls of the necessary ritual, later in life, of looking through old photographs and shuddering at their younger selves’ lack of taste. And thus is character built — on the shoulders of blue eyeshadow.

  3. Tee hee, I love the idea of the “BlogLily household”!

    I think that allowing girls a somewhat free reign with their clothing (and bodies) is an important step in growing up. I loved my halter tops, spaghetti straps, and hip huggers (that, if I wasn’t careful, made my butt hang out). I slowly learned a lot about my body, my style, and what I did and did not feel comfortable in. I also didn’t get into any “sexual trouble” for the clothes that I wore, so I am very much an advocate for that kind of freedom.

    That said, there is a fine line. I’m not a mommy yet, but I can only believe that when I am, I will also have some sort of dress code. I don’t think that midriff-bearing tops are appropriate in all situations, nor are those shirt with necklines so low that you can see a belly button. Adolescent children are still children: they need guidance and help. If they were all ready to live on their own, make decisions on their own, and survive completely on their own, legal age would be 14. It’s not.

    Reading over, I realize that I sound so conservative here… it kind of scares me.

  4. Bloglily, I’d love to get a copy of that list of rules! I wrote a paper a while back which I’m still revising for publication titled “Freak Dancing: Sex and Sexual Regulation at the High School Dance.” From my vantage point as a legal academic, I’m fascinated by the lessons about law conveyed by these sorts of regulations, and as a feminist scholar, I’m fascinated by sexual regulation broadly speaking, but especially during the adolescent years when development of sexual identities is ramping up. All of which makes school dances as a site of regulation a perfect focus for my analysis…

  5. Hello Kate, I’ll email them to you. From my own legal perspective, it’s always a warning sign when a regulation focusses primarily on one group — and when it’s adolescent girls, well, that just really makes you wonder. I’d love to read your paper, if you want another reader; you’ve chosen a wonderful topic.

    Hey TIV: Ha! Yes, they are awfully specific, aren’t they?

    Hey Emily — I’m actually still crafting my own set of boy rules. A lot of them have to do with personal hygiene.

    Erin, I don’t think your reaction is conservative in the least. It is extremely important to communicate to children how context and behavior interact. You don’t want to send them out into the world unable to negotiate things like that. And I think you are right to focus on this as maybe more an issue between parents and children — because really it’s most likely that a parent will be the right person to explain to a child how a particular outfit registers socially in a particular way — for example, ripped jeans at a grandmother’s funeral signal disrespect. But it was the length of the rules, the focus on young women’s bodies, and the absence of much that has to do with young men’s behavior — the whole schmear, I mean — that got my attention here.

    That social ritual, Tai, is one I treasure. I will not catalogue my fashion mistakes right now, but will just say it is lengthy list indeed.

    Cam, What a terrific son you have and yes, clean and appropriate pretty much covers it for me. I’m not sure though that current fashion explains this set of rules or the impulse behind it — I remember my mother measuring my sister’s skirt back in 1969 — a skirt that wasn’t particularly shocking even then, and certainly pretty staid now. But then again, yes, current adolescent fashion can be incredibly tarty. That said, though, I love the way some girls take those trends and completely make them their own — adding great scary boots, or interesting tights, or insane hair. It’s complicated, isn’t it?

  6. BL: I can remember the days of every girl — from 1st – 8th grade — having to go to the gym and have the teachers measure our skirts and the humiliation of those girls who failed the test (This was mid-60’s). I understand what you are saying about the rules and I find your & Kate’s arguments about the legal ramifications of restrictions facscinating. I’d love to read more about that.

    But, that said, I don’t see that this is really that skewed against the girls given current fashion trends among teen boys and girls. What other rules involving clothes should have been included for boys? Maybe this isn’t the best approach to take, but I can’t think of too many rules for teenage boys other than no visible underwear and/or no pants worn below the butt, must have footware, no disrespectful language/logos. One could say that the no see-thru, no midriffs and no short shorts rules could apply to them as well, though I think it is unlikely in actuality that those would be necessary for the boys.

    Maybe because it was a private school, my son’s school could get away with the vagueness of ‘neat, appropriate and modest’; the school’s philosophy was to give the kids enough leeway to screw up, be there to guide them along the way, gently reprimand when they do mess up, and let them figure it out. Most did. But, maybe because socieity is so litigious, some schools, esp if public, feel that they have to spell it out. I too wish that young girls would learn that they don’t need to objectify themselves. Let’s face it: they can do so even following the posted rules. As someone who has cleavage in just about anything but a turtleneck, I bristle at the vagueness of that rule. A flat-chested teen could easily wear something that one of her bustier classmates would get kicked out of the dance for. But, clearly there is a difference between appropriate and inappropriate. Where I think that some teens have problems with knowing the difference is because of the styles they see promoted in the media by celebrities. I don’t like little girls looking like tarts, and while I want them to find their own way, I don’t know how you go about doing that in some situations where clarity is necessary and for whatever reasons, the powers that be don’t feel comfortable allowing a lot of room for interpretation.

    Now, get me going about that young woman kicked off the SouthWest Airlines flight for not wearing something ‘appropriate for a family airline’ and I’ll be right there with you defending her right to wear what she had. I had no problems with her outfit, but would allow just about anything short of an exotic dancer costume. She was an adult and there are NO written rules regarding dress for any US airline. Clearly this was a violation of her rights. But Jr High is different. I don’t know that I can defend it legally; I just feel that it is.

    BTW — I think your added rules for boys sound great — and just as important as the appropriate clothing.

    Thanks for the intriguing conversation.

  7. Cam, I think the issue for me was why, in a list of 13 rules, from among the entire universe of rules that could have been issued to govern conduct at a dance, a group of private school administrators (these are not public school dances) would focus so much attention on the fashion choices of adolescent girls. That says something, and I don’t think it’s good, although I cannot quite put my finger on it.

    Your points make perfect sense to me — it is enormously disturbing to see how many messages there are to young girls about their sexuality that are just not that helpful in becoming a healthy, mature sexual person.

  8. I came of age at a time (the early eighties) and in a community (Mendocino, CA), where very few rules were applied to things like how we dressed at Jr. High dances and I turned out OK, as did a whole lot of my compatriots.

    Insofar as I was exposed to rules about dress, which usually was in a religious context, the rules, like were entirely focused upon the girls and containing their sexuality.

    Which had a strange affect upon me. It left me feeling on a deep level that the bodies of boys and men were somehow not beautiful or desirable enough to keep contained. I don’t know if other boys get this subliminal message, but it is an interesting bit of fallout…

  9. I’m surprised how precise these rules are. Does it mean that the school used to have that many problems? Does that mean that before those rules were set, teenagers used to come naked to dance? I would find it rather worrying if those rules had been preventively set. I got the impression that teenagers (boys and girls) were rather body-shy, I’m not sure this convey the right idea.

  10. Shouldn’t the rules be aimed at parents because middle schoolers are not buying their own clothes yet, right? Mom and Dad are the bank roll for that. So maybe it could read, “Don’t let your daughter dress like a whore and boys should wear clothes that fit.”

    That whole dress code thing “aimed” at the kids always pisses me off. Is it too politically incorrect to say to the parents they could act less like children themselves and say NO to a belly baring, mini who-ha thing that looks like it belongs on Bratz doll while look like mini hookers anyway.

    We are still, thank goodness, years away from that kind of thing but I fear it. I was a crazy teenager who wore my grandfathers pants and my grandmothers beaded sweaters to school. So I kind of figure I am in for it.

    As an aside but along the same lines, my son’s old school use to give detention for kids that were not in proper uniform. Is it really a 7 year old’s fault if they are not in uniform? Really?

  11. no clothing with aggressive disrespectful logs

    So nothing like…

    192.168.114.201, -, 03/20/01, 7:55:20, W3SVC2, SERVER, 172.21.13.45, 4502, 163, 3223, 200, 0, GETBENT, /goatse.gif, -,

    … that?

    (Oh, you mean the wooden kind…?)

  12. This is the sort of fascinating account that makes me realise just what a foreign country the US really is! Even now, these rituals have yet to make their way over to the UK. I went to an all-boys grammar school so none of this would have been remotely relevant. Girls and dancing were another foreign country to me until I was 19. Though supermum would argue that dancing remains so…

  13. Couldn’t they just say “Dress tastefully” and be done with it? I suppose not. I suppose common sense has just flown out the window with the arrival of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton!

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