Teens take high school’s sexist rules on bra straps and vest tops to task

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Amy Swales
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A gender row in a school in Canada has made headlines after students posted rival notices about the school’s dress code – with one requesting that girls “value the male education and dress conservatively”.

Breton High School in Alberta has a dress code prescribing, among other things, the width of straps on tops (three fingers wide) and that bra straps must always be covered up (presumably because the mere knowledge that girls have bras and shoulders is too much for some to cope with).

Shorts under a certain length are banned, while “cleavage must be covered”.

As is par for the course, there’s a conversation to be had about assuming men are totally incapable of controlling themselves, not to mention the difficulties of stating what’s “appropriate” on different body shapes and the various issues with putting the onus on women to cover up rather than work on the behaviour of those around them.

With the summer heating up, some of the girls at the 125-student school decided to make their feelings on the code known via a sign in the toilets.

According to pictures obtained by, the poster read: “When you interrupt a girl’s school day to force her to change clothes, or send her home because her shorts are too short or her bra straps are visible, you are telling her that making sure boys have a ‘distraction-free’ learning environment is more important than her education.

“Instead of shaming girls for their bodies teach boys that girls are not sexual objects!!!”

Wild Rose School Division superintendent Brad Volkman told the sign was removed within 30 minutes. However someone else decided to pin up a riposte, using unacceptably sexist slurs and displaying a troublingly sexist attitude in the process.

“When you wear little to no clothing and dress provocatively because it’s ‘too hot out’ or because you think it’s ‘attractive,’ you are putting boys at risk of having a distracting working environment and saying ‘Your clothing is more important than their education’,” read the sign, according to several news outlets. “Instead of dressing like a THOT [‘that ho over there’], value the male education and dress conservatively.”

“I just couldn’t believe it,” Grade 9 student Julie Steeves told Canadian website Global News. “Lots of girls were really disgusted, sad and mad about this.”

Meanwhile, school principal Lara Jollymore said in a letter home to parents that the use of an “inappropriate acronym” in the second poster is “being addressed” and students are being reminded to be respectful. However, in the letter she also repeatedly refers to the dress code regarding bra straps et al as something that will “distract” the male pupils and does not condemn the view.

The website quotes the letter as saying: “The gentlemen have responded by posting their opinions about how the school is a professional learning environment, and that ladies should respect that by wearing clothes that meet the dress code, and do not distract them, because even though it is not appropriate for gentlemen to objectify ladies, when ladies wear extremely provocative clothing, they can be distracted.”

“Extremely provocative” in this instance could be a vest top with straps two fingers wide instead of three.

Volkman said he didn’t know of a specific incident sparking the row, but added that the school had no air-conditioning and that it would probably review the dress code with the student council and parent advisory council. He told CNN it was a “teachable moment” for the students on how to have “proper discourse” without resorting to insults.

Or sexism, presumably.

Image: iStock


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Amy Swales

Amy Swales is a freelance writer who likes to eat, drink and talk about her dog. She will continue to plunder her own life and the lives of her loved ones for material in the name of comedy, catharsis and getting pictures of her dog on the internet.