Help! Our Dress Code Is Sexist and Old-Fashioned, and I Don’t Want To Enforce It

Advocate for change.

Female student with dress code phrases on grey background

This week, Ask WeAreTeachers takes on whether to enforce a sexist dress code, feeling lonely at work, and more.

As a guy teacher, I hate having to enforce the dress code on my female students.

I teach health at the high school level. I’m in one of those schools where the dress code disproportionately affects girls. We have rules that cleavage can’t show, skirts and shorts have to be a certain length, and straps must be an inch wide. It’s pretty obvious that this targets our female students, and they are overwhelmingly the ones getting dress coded day in and day out. As a dude, I’m super uncomfortable telling these young ladies that what they’re wearing is inappropriate. Plus, it kind of pisses me off that they’re missing class to go home and change. In my opinion, the dress code is really outdated. I’d like to just ignore these ‘violations.’ What do you think? ―Done with Dress Codes

Dear D.W.D.C.,

Yeah, that dress code is terrible. Those types of rules perpetuate the sexualization of girls and limit both their self-expression and comfort. When they’re enforced, they often shame female students or pull them out of the learning environment for frankly no good reason.

I’d like to gently encourage you to do more than just ignore it. You are in a great position to advocate for the dress code itself to be changed. I’m sure you’re not the only teacher in your building that feels the same way. Put some feelers out and find your allies and put something together for administration.


Advocate for policy change by making your case that dress codes are problematic. Many are sexist, racist, and discriminatory against LGBTQ students. If a dress code is necessary (and I’m not convinced it is), then it should at least be as gender neutral as possible, like the Oregon NOW Model Dress Code.


My co-workers ignore me more, and it’s really lonely.

I’ve been teaching at this school for three years, but this is my first year full time. I guess people got pretty used to seeing me around without knowing who I was during those part-time years because they ignore me now. The other teachers have inside jokes and know all about each other’s personal lives. I hate staff meetings and social events because I feel so lonely. At this point, I’ve stopped saying hi to people and just stay in my classroom. I’m sure everyone thinks I’m really quiet and unfriendly, but I’m not! This is starting to affect my work because I don’t speak up in meetings and don’t feel confident sharing what I think. Please help! ―Only the Lonely

Dear O.T.L.,

This makes me so sad because that social piece with your colleagues can make a big difference in how you feel about going to work. So let’s talk about some ways you can make some inroads, which may be a challenge in the middle of a pandemic. But I have some ideas I think you can try.

First, put yourself out there a bit. Pop into a neighboring classroom to say good morning or ask a question. Start eating lunch in the teachers’ lounge (or if it’s closed due to COVID, a picnic table outside… anywhere but in your room). Sign up to help with an extracurricular activity.

I would put the most effort into getting to know folks in your department or at your grade level. Try to find common interests (kids, pets, TV shows… you get the idea). You don’t have to be best friends with everyone at school (and, sadly, not everyone is nice), but having a few friendly faces can make a world of difference.

One of my eleventh graders can’t stay awake during my class.

I teach U.S. history, and I have a junior who chronically falls asleep during my class. This kid could sleep standing up. There’s nothing medical going on. I’m pretty sure they’re just staying up late playing video games. I’ve already contacted the parents, but it hasn’t improved. I’m not unsympathetic, especially if it was a one-time thing. But it’s not, and it feels disrespectful of the effort I’m putting in to teach the class. And I’m worried that if I let them get away with it, it will send the wrong message to my other students. What can I do? ―Wake Up and Smell the History

Dear W.U.A.S.T.H.,

I think you’re going to have to handle this one gently. We have to be careful about making assumptions. There are all kinds of reasons the student could be falling asleep, and frankly, there’s not a whole lot we can do about them.

So let’s focus on classroom strategies. Teacher Haley V. says, “I always try to wake a sleeping student once. If they don’t wake up, then they definitely need the rest. Let them sleep and then give the assignment to take home.” Alternatively, you could let them take a cat nap after the work is completed.

Movement can also be helpful. Send them on an errand or to take a little walk to the water fountain or something. Teacher Roberta N. suggests, “Design activities in the lesson that have students moving around the room.”

We don’t have jeans passes anymore because of me, and everyone’s mad.

I teach at a middle school where our principal uses jeans passes as a reward (“In Denim We Trust” and the whole nine yards). For example, we all received jeans passes for Valentine’s Day this year. Well, I’m not a big fan, and I told my principal that jeans passes are a demeaning reward for professional educators. Long story short, he’s no longer handing them out, and people are pissed. I didn’t really mean for that to happen. I was just trying to point out that we should be able to dress however we want. How do I make it up to my co-workers? ―Casual Day Killer

Dear C.D.K.,

Whoops. Look, I’m with you on the jeans thing. I think they should be part of the dress code. But it sounds like that’s not the case at your school, and if I only got to wear jeans when I had a pass, and they got taken away, then yeah, I’d be ticked.

I think a big problem is if the jeans passes aren’t being replaced by anything. I don’t think you can go back to your principal and say, “Just joking!” But you could bring some suggestions of incentives that do honor teachers’ professionalism. Maybe duty release or class coverage?

In the meantime, maybe make some cookies for the staff room.

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My student keeps staring at my boobs, even after I’ve talked to him about it.

I teach secondary, and I have a problem with a certain student in my class who will not stop staring at my breasts. It makes it so hard to teach. I mean, you try teaching the Pythagorean theorem with a teenager mentally undressing you. I’ve already pulled him aside and given him a talk on respect. At the time, he said he understood, but he has continued to do it. I hate how it makes me feel, but he’s just a kid. I am really reluctant to escalate things. Do I have any other choices before I do this?

Help! Our Dress Code Is Sexist and Old-Fashioned, And I Don't Want to Enforce It