The Bemidji Pioneer ran an article about the new dress code for Bemidji area schools this week. In this article School Board Chairman Jeff Haack dismisses recent issues raised about the dress code, stating, “I think we’re reacting to some social media hullabaloo, myself.” Mr. Haack, I hope you will take your role as School Board chairman more seriously from this point forward. Here’s why. My daughter came home from her second day of middle school and shared that she was informed by a PE teacher that girls need to wear longer shorts in gym class so they “don’t distract the boys.”

This statement highlights a major flaw in the implementation of the dress code - staff education. As a result, a damaging message was sent to my child and all other sixth grade girls and boys. Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, aptly writes, “I can’t help feeling there is a powerful irony in accusing a girl of being ‘provocative’ - in projecting that societal assumption onto her adolescent body - before she is even old enough to have learned how to correctly spell the word.” Sadly, one of the biggest risks of adolescence for girls is that they will emerge from it with a poor self-image, low expectations and significantly less confidence in themselves than boys.

It’s been clearly documented that girls get shortchanged in the American classroom. The New York Times reported that in a survey of 3,000 children, most girls were both confident and assertive at the age of 9 with an overall positive self-image. But by the time they reached high school less than one-third of the girls continued to feel this way. This study joins a host of other studies that have reached this same conclusion. According to the NYC Girls Project, the impact of low self-esteem ignites a host of challenges and risks for girls including eating disorders, bullying, early smoking and alcohol use, early onset of sexual activity and even obesity.

Regardless of the code’s intent, the message sent to my daughter was that her young body is inherently dangerous, provocative and sexualized and that it is her responsibility to hide it so boys will not misbehave. I’m looking to you, Mr. Haack, to deliver a corrected message to our youth that reinforces the importance of self-worth and personal responsibility for decision making. This is no hullabaloo.

Rebecca Hoffman

Bemidji