Why IEGS’s dress codes are biased
And what can be done about them?
Back in September of 2020, Jensen Education, one of Sweden’s largest private education companies, made headlines when they announced that sweatpants and fanny packs (waist bags) were to be banned in their primary school in Gothenburg simply because they can be “associated” with crime and drugs. They soon faced a wide outpour of reactions from students and parents alike in the media, with many accusing the school of being “xenophobic” and only wanting students from “well-off” families. However, strangely enough, this is not the only school chain that has faced controversy for its bizarre dress codes, in fact, another local school has recently introduced even more offensive dress codes…
A couple of months ago, it was discovered that the Internationella Engelska Skolan, a chain of English schools in Sweden, were imposing sexist dress codes against their female students in Täby. Aftonbladet described how girls had their skirt lengths measured and necklines checked with some girls being around 9 to 10 years old when they heard from their teachers that their underwear or shorts could “distract” the boys in the class. Students have also testified about how IES used the "finger test" to measure the straps on girls' tank tops, which must be at least 2-3 fingers wide.
IEGS isn’t the only school blaming the fact that girls’ clothes are becoming distracting for boys. In fact, this is an ongoing issue faced in many schools around the world. It has been justly argued that dress codes grounded in such logic create a myth that women wearing what could be considered sexy clothing are simply “asking for” a reaction, and not because they just want to. Of course, it is senseless to justify the fact that these rules will prevent inappropriate reactions from male students because arguably speaking, that is the male students’ problem and not the female students’.
It also seems as if the principal of the English school in Täby is treading on thin ice due to this issue. The reactions to the school have been massive, with many taking the chance to strike at the independent school, including major magazines and newspapers by criticising their rules, and rightfully so.
IEGS’ dress codes entrust the school authorities the power to regulate a student’s identity and how they express themselves, and since it is fully possible for them to establish discriminatory standards as the norm in IEGS, it is a misuse of their power. The importance of today’s protests recognizes the fact that IEGS should not only update their dress codes but that they also have to recognize the misogynistic biases that go into making them.
Dress codes are not completely unnecessary, after all, they do serve an important purpose in not only protecting students but others around them. For example, one is not allowed to wear a T-shirt to school that has racial or sexist slurs. Such rules help create a safe learning environment, but only when those rules are enforced properly. However, in the case of IEGS, it is not.
There is a fine line between what is deemed derogatory and inappropriate, and dress codes should be enforced based on what is culturally deemed unacceptable, and not what the school itself deems unacceptable. IEGS’s rules could make girls feel self-conscious and uncomfortable in their own bodies.
The best way to combat this issue is to raise awareness about the subject and to make sure to include the students’ opinions when formatting such rules. This also helps reduce how touchy the topic can get for everyone by critically keeping an open dialogue. As well as that, students must be educated to not engage in misogynistic objectification of women's bodies, which will help prevent further harassment and help the school authorities understand where the problem truly lies within. After all, IEGS cannot and will not begin to change these rules unless they first acknowledge the biases that exist within them.
Text: Manuell Tony
Illustration: Caroline Ljungar