One day when I was a sophomore in high school, I decided to wear a pair of shorts to school. It was abnormally warm outside, and I had just bought a new drawer full of shorts that spring – I thought that the warm weather and the new addition to my wardrobe warranted a change of pace. I realized that the shorts were a bit short, but after short deliberation with myself, I figured that it would be okay to wear them to class. If you’re like me, or any other person who attended high school in the United States, you were forced to abide by the “finger-length rule” – that is, the hem of your shorts had to reach where the end of your middle finger did on your leg when your arms hung down at your sides. Armed with my new shorts and  the confidence of a 16-year old, I set off for school.

That morning, I was stopped at the door by a hall monitor who asked me to put my hands down by my sides. Sure enough, my shorts were deemed too short. I was asked if I had anything to change into, or if my mother could drop something off for me. Because I had nothing else to wear, I was forced to stay sequestered away in the main offices, where I had to meet with the principal to go over the dress code. Not only that, but because I was unable to go to class, I had to walk to each of my classrooms and ask teachers for any assignments I would be missing for the day. When I did this, they would always ask, “Why couldn’t you come to class today?” My response was always a short, quiet, “Because my shorts are too short.”

When I look back on this incident now, I like to laugh about it. When I was sixteen, dress codes were still heavily enforced in schools, but students were just beginning to really start the kind of protests that have now spread like wildfire over social media. Although it wasn’t too long ago, people really didn’t want to stray from the norm. A dress code was a dress code, and that was that. However, no matter how funny or ridiculous the situation may seem, it still leaves me sick to my stomach when I think about it. At sixteen, not only was I told that my outfit was unacceptable because it showed “too much skin,” but I was meant to feel bad about it. This, as many of us are already aware, is a form of slut shaming.

But what is it that’s so bad about slut shaming? We hear the term “slut shaming” all of the time. It’s a new buzzword for any kind of discourse on the subject of consent and/or feminism. By now, we’re aware that slut shaming is something that should be avoided. We’re aware of the double standard that it creates: while men are supposed to be sexually promiscuous and are praised for doing so, women are supposed to remain chaste and pure, all while being knowledgeable about sex. Archaic, yes – but still enforced in today’s society? Absolutely.

The problem that arises when people decide to cast shame onto women they view as “sluts” is the way it sets us back from how far we’ve come. Many people, even those who claim to be feminists, are guilty of doing this. See a girl post a picture to Instagram of her in a graduation cap and gown – she’s smart and beautiful. When that same girl posts a selfie in a swimsuit, she’s labeled a “slut,” or people say that she’s doing it for attention. It’s difficult for women to live their lives when society forces them into one of two boxes: prude or slut.

Women are taught from a young age that they must remain modest in order to be respected, but promiscuous in order to be seen as attractive. However, if you’re modest, you’re labeled a prude, and if you enjoy sex, you’re labeled a slut – neither of which anyone wants to be. We teach girls that they are only good for one thing: how they’re viewed in the eyes of men. When we choose to shame girls that enjoy sex, we place them in that position of only seeing themselves as worthy of attention if a man finds them to be so. Wearing a top that exposes your shoulders or a skirt that rises above your knee is a sin, and should be treated as such.

There is something empowering about women deciding to be open about their sexuality. For years, things like casual sex have been reserved for men only, while being considered taboo if a woman were to be caught doing so. Now, women are embracing their desire for sex and speaking candidly about it – which is a good thing. Celebrities like Amber Rose are telling women to be proud of what’s usually known as a “walk of shame” and leading Slut Walks, where women dress however they want to and stand (or walk, rather) in solidarity with victims of sexual assault. For the first time in forever, women are finally getting a taste of a level playing field when it comes to sexual activity.

When I think back to myself as a sixteen year old girl, I think of what I should have said to the hall monitor who stopped me. What exactly is it that’s wrong with my shorts? Why are there more rules in the dress code for girls than there are for boys?  I think back to sitting in the main office, being deprived of a day of school because my shorts were a “distraction.” I think of seeing a boy coming in late and picking up a hall pass, wearing a shirt that said “Cool story babe, now make me a sandwich.”

Do you think he was asked to change his shirt that day?

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