To celebrate the last day of classes in the tenth grade, I wore a pretty dress that my mom had gifted me. The smooth swirl of the dress brushing above my knee added an involuntary skip to my step. I could just taste the freedom!
But when I tried to step into my classroom, the teacher greeted me at the threshold, arms akimbo. “Sherry, return to the dorms and change immediately! Your skirt is obscenely short! Don’t you know that’s against school policy?”
I was flabbergasted! Scanning the classroom, I noticed all the boys were wearing shorts that exposed their thighs. Some of the girls started to protest this unjust double standard, yet my teacher only replied, “Rules are rules. And girls should be protected.”
Protected? From what? Our skirts?!
One of my male classmates quipped, “I don’t know…maybe some boys like to stare. Teachers may think that showing too much leg will distract them.”
Wow. I couldn’t believe my ears. In five minutes, I had become someone who needs protection from my apparent vanity as if the lack of fabric in my dress meant that I’m lacking in intellect. My strong legs, which were praised on the track field, had suddenly become objectified and sexualized.
I huffed and puffed my way back to the dorms. I later learned that the school’s AI surveillance camera—which automatically scans everyone walking around campus—had detected my rule-breaking and automatically published an image of me and my skirt onto the school’s social media page! My teacher had seen the image before I’d even reached the classroom. Thanks to AI, I had effectively been branded with a scarlet letter.
My anger didn’t dissipate as summer vacation progressed. The more I thought about the issue, the more frustrated I became. However, as a believer in the power of words, I started writing many letters to my principal about the unfairness and outdatedness of our policy. The strict dress code, no make-up rule, and no dating rules—which were instated to prevent students from academic distractions—were always more harshly applied toward female students. To resolve this issue, I proposed several ideas, including pretty school uniforms, but the principal completely ignored them.
By the end of summer, I was ready to battle this like Joan of Arc. Unfortunately, it was just me. Although they agreed with me, my girlfriends moved on from their initial anger and didn’t want to cause trouble. Realizing that I wouldn’t be able to change anything without first changing the minds of the girls, I decided to gather my troops.
I’ve been leading casual book discussions with my friends since freshman year. For the following months’ meetups, I assigned Little Women and Gone with the Wind while emphasizing that our discussions would center around a modern feminist twist. We passionately discussed Scarlett O’Hara and her contradicting characteristics, seeing marriage as a means of securing economic stability while also showing determination and courage against her own destiny. We vented over how the creative and ambitious Jo’s worth was determined merely by her marital status in Little Women. Since then, nothing was off the table for discussion.
On Sundays, you will catch us in flowery dresses and sweatpants, sneakers and heels, elaborately painted and bare-faced, animatedly debating hate crimes toward women, the media objectification of females, and the idealization of youth. Looking around, I swell with pride that my troops are getting stronger. Not to pick a fight but to be the catalyst of change so we are not judged solely by our cover, silenced at the table, or put in a box that we don’t want to be in. My battle to change our school policy is still ongoing. However, it’s no longer just me. Our fight has become a community project, and I have faith that together we will keep raising our voices until there’s no choice but to hear us.