Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Dress Code and Human Rights

Jonathan Escobar, a 16-year-old boy from Georgia, is not ashamed of his sexuality. He wears women's clothing and wigs to school-- but his school does not approve. According to North Cobb High School, he is violating the dress code, which requires that students to not dress in a disruptive manner. School officials told Jonathan that he had to start dressing more like a man or "consider home-schooling."

Personally, I'm not quite sure what my final verdict is on this case. I believe that Jonathan should be allowed to dress however he feels most comfortable. It's wonderful that he is so comfortable with his sexual identity at such a young age, and I feel like telling him that he has to dress like a man would be like telling a man he has to dress like a woman. The only difference? Cultural norms. It's not "normal" for Jonathan to dress as a woman, but I'm not sure normal should be the only standard we go by. After all, it used to be (far more) abnormal to date someone outside your race or love someone of the same sex. In some cultures, hearing voices is considered normal, sacred. Normal isn't a great indicator of right or wrong, good or bad.

However, I partially agree with one commenter on the story that said "I don't go to a job interview wearing nothing but sandals and a swim suit and say 'oh i just want to express my love for the beach....'" I agree with this in some sense because there are established rules of dress that people largely accept are appropriate or else. I might sound like I'm contradicting what I just said about normal not always being right, but in some sense everyone in society must conform to some degree to the rules of that society or be left behind. I realize that I couldn't go to a job interview with tons of cleavage hanging out and a micro-mini skirt on (unless I were interviewing at Hooters) and expect to get taken seriously and get hired. I believe that's an acceptable standard.

The propriety of appearance is a tricky subject, though. For example, I can choose not to wear a micro-mini to my interview at a law firm, and though one could say a Black man could choose not to style his hair in dredlocks if he wants to interview at a law firm, I think there's a very different standard being put forth. Yes, Black men choose the style of their hair like anyone else, but the statement that's being made is "you look different because you are Black and we do not like different." I don't believe that anyone should say that an afro is an office "don't"-- asking someone to change their natural hair to suit the White corporate ideal or not get hired would be like if a Black employer asked a White employee to get an afro or get out (oh, imagine the outrage!).

This is my roundabout way of saying that I feel like Jonathan is being treated unfairly, even though I understand where it's coming from. Being gay or transgender or transsexual or whatever the case may be is not widely accepted in this country. As a society we don't seem to be ready to accept gay people, just like it doesn't seem to be ready to accept Black people, Hispanic people, Asian people, any ethnicity people, fat people, disabled people, and the list goes on. He is not being targeted because he dresses funny, but because how he dresses represents something some people find disgusting. He is being discriminated against and treated like a non-human. Somehow, though, this is the status quo in America.

The status quo doesn't make it right. It doesn't mean anyone should have the authority to tell Jonathan Escobar he can't dress the way he feels most comfortable. He's not putting on women's clothing to cause a scene: he does it because that's what feels correct to him, what expresses who he is as an individual. There is something vastly different between a dress code that says you can't dress too scantily and that you can't wear clothing that easily conceals weapons and one that is used to tell a young boy the way he identifies his gender is incorrect and distracting.

It's distracting because we're not used to it. It's distracting because we love to shelter our children from different lifestyles, because something about different scares us.

And you know what? Kids are always going to be distracted in school, if you want me to take this conversation there. Education is in terrible condition. The teachers are underpaid and often uninspiring, teaching to tests that scare kids shitless because they want to place a ceiling on their potential based on Scantron answers. Many kids don't feel safe from bullying and other kinds of violence. Dress codes-- if you want to go there, too-- are "strict" but so uninforced that the boy in baggy pants is sent home because he might have a gun but the girl wearing next to nothing is eye-candy for the teachers and students, so she's never called to the principal's office. I've been to high school, North Cobb County school officials. You aren't fooling me into thinking school will be that much more enriching for your students if you kick Jonathan Escobar out because you're homophobic.

Want to know more about Jonathan? Want to get involved?
A more in-depth article
Join the support group on Facebook
Write to school officials (I wrote a brief letter to the principal-- you should, too)

What do you think? Do you side with Jonathan or the school? Please be honest, because I feel that issues like this one are very important to discuss.


miss morgan potts said...

I agree, this is such an important issue: to me it comes down to equal rights. Of course there are some standards in society that everyone must accept (such as those on murder and public nudity), but women are allowed to dress like men in today's society, so why not the other way around?

Basically this sounds homophobic and unfair. As long as he's following the dress-code rules (no micro-minis, etc.) there shouldn't be a problem.

Kitty said...

Wow. Interesting case. I totally agree. He is not dressing inappropriately. He looks very nice. The ONLY problem here is that he is a man in woman's clothing... and that's discrimination.

Meg Clark said...

nature loves diversity--society hates it.


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