In what is emerging as a grassroots protest, groups of girls all over the country have been rising up against what they perceive as discriminatory dress codes that forbid them to wear shorts to school, while the boys are permitted to do so.
Not only are protests taking place without anyone seemingly coordinating them, but they are exposing the clear generation gap in the educational system, between teachers and principals who tell the girls that the ban on shorts protects them, and girls who believe that this is a “blame the victim” approach. These girls, some as young as 14, are refusing to accept the notion that rape and sexual harassment are linked to what a woman wears.
Many schools are having trouble dealing with the girls’ actions and are trying to forcibly stop them from wearing shorts. Girls have reported being blocked from taking important exams, having cell phones confiscated, and having their parents called in for their disciplinary infractions.
R., 14, explains why she objects to these policies. “There’s a situation here in which they are blaming the victim; they tell the girls not to come with shorts because the boys look. We are the victim and they’re blaming us. We aren’t a Haredi school, we are a totally secular and liberal school, and they apparently think that girls can’t wear shorts to school so that there shouldn’t be instances of sexual harassment.
“I really don’t think that this is the way to prevent sexual harassment; I don’t think that it matters if another 10 centimeters of my leg is exposed,” R. continues. “Girls are not sex objects and they cannot be related to as such. We are human beings and we’re freaking hot in the summer. They educate girls to be ashamed of their bodies and to think that shorts are an invitation to rape. Girls don’t have to feel bad about themselves because the administration is afraid of sexual harassment.”
Girls at the Kalay High School in Givatayim were forced to be late to an important exam because the school refused to let them into class wearing shorts. The students began protesting and got the support of the boys as well. Now they are negotiating the school dress code with school officials.
On the Facebook page “We’ve stopped being silent – fighting for freedom and equality,” there are numerous stories of discrimination and how teachers are coping with the protests. One post that elicited angry responses last weekend was from a student who had been suspended for coming to school in shorts.
“I’m suspended tomorrow … for the first time in my life,” she wrote. “Why? Because I came to school in shorts, and didn’t listen to the principal when she told me to leave the class. I said that if I leave, then the boys in shorts should also leave. She repeated her order and told me to leave and stop arguing, and when I said this was discrimination, she said in a dismissive and cynical manner, ‘Fine, so I’m discriminating. Now leave this classroom.’ I didn’t leave.”
Another strategy has been the use of the hashtag, #It’s my right when I’m hot. Zohara, the high school student from Tel Aviv who initiated it, said she was shocked to hear of girls who had been suspended from school for wearing shorts. “I started to read about other cases, about girls removed from class, who weren’t allowed to take tests, who were humiliated and strongly criticized. We cannot accept this. It’s our right to wear shorts and tank tops. Not just because it’s hot here, it’s our right to go around like that whenever we want.”
Meretz chairman Zehava Galon wrote to Education Minister Naftali Bennett and called on him to stop the discriminatory dress codes in schools. “It’s clear that schools are allowed to set a dress code for their students as the administration wishes, but it’s inconceivable that the dress code should discriminate between the two sexes and impose restrictions on the girls that don’t apply to the boys.”
No less serious. Galon said, were the responses students got when they confronted teachers and principals about the discrimination. “The responses included statements to the effect that the girls’ short clothes distracts the boys and ‘tempts them’ and that they must take into account that they constitute sex objects to them.”
The Education Ministry responded, “The ministry instructs students and educators to come to school properly attired. It should be noted that in every school’s regulations, which are set in consultation with the pupils and parents, there is a reference to the mode of dress which is determined according to the school community.”