Laurie Toby Edison

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Mandatory Underwear: Don’t Show Your Work

Debbie says:

I can’t help laughing about this article:

An Aug. 29 letter from the Little Rock [Arkansas] School District’s Office of the Superintendent to all employees explains that the dress code will officially go into effect in the fall of 2014.

“Foundational garments shall be worn and not visible with respect to color, style, and/or fabric,” the letter reads. “No see-through or sheer clothing shall be allowed, and no skin shall be visible between pants/trousers, skirts, and shirts/blouses at any time.”

T-shirts, patches and other clothing containing slogans for beer, alcohol, drugs, gangs or sex will also be prohibited. Other verboten garments will include cut-off jeans with ragged edges, cut-out dresses and spaghetti-straps if teachers aren’t wearing at least two layers.

Flip-flops will be banned. “Tattoos must be covered if at all possible.” No jogging suits, either (though gym and dance teachers do get a pass on this one).

And the very worst of all: No spandex.

Even though I can understand why the teacher’s union is opposed to the rules on principle, the non-”foundational” portions of this dress code seem fair to me and–perhaps because I am showing my advanced age–surprising that these rules need to be made for teachers. I can no more imagine a teacher in my history wearing flip-flops and an “I drink; I fall down; no problem” t-shirt than I can imagine one teaching naked.

I wondered what the students are allowed to and forbidden from wearing, and I was able to find the student code of conduct on line in .pdf format. Many students, at least right now, have much more leeway than teachers:

Some of the district’s schools require uniforms. In other schools, a student’s attire is the responsibility of the student and the parent/guardian, as long as the dress does not have a disruptive influence at school. However, clothing that is suggestive, revealing, or violates health and safety standards is prohibited. Jewelry, buttons or clothing that has profane, inflammatory or indecent words, pictures, or symbols on them is also prohibited.

I have to wonder why the teachers and the students aren’t held to the same standards, or why the teachers’ standards aren’t as generalized as the students, even if more restrictive. Of course, I also wonder what happened to get these new regulations started: what did a teacher show up wearing? Who complained?

Finally, though, it all comes down to the underwear. You can argue about the validity or good sense of the other rules. You can nitpick about whether flip-flops have to be plastic, or whether leather sandals in flip-flop shape are or are not acceptable. You can send a teacher home for a shirt with a wine-bottle pattern, and she can file a union complaint about it not being an actual advertisement. But how, when, and where are they going to enforce the underwear rule?

Is the school going to be like an airport, where if a teacher refuses to pull his jeans down an inch to reveal his tighty-whities, or to slide her spaghetti strap blouse and the layer underneath it off her shoulder to show a tasteful leopard-print bra strap, she or he is pulled aside into a private room with a screener of the appropriate gender? Is the principal going to conduct spot underwear inspections in the office? Are teachers going to report on one another in the bathrooms? Or (as I suspect) is the whole thing entirely theater of the absurd, with absolutely no enforcement plan or intention?

Here’s the problem: absurdity is not an excuse. That which is absurd the first time becomes mildly acceptable the fourth time and business as usual the 100th time. Here we have yet another rule which violates people’s privacy, autonomy, and personal space, which can be used (and will, if it is ever used) unfairly: more often against women than men, far more often against teachers of color than white teachers. I don’t imagine that the union leaders ever imagined fighting for their members’ right not to wear underwear, but underneath the humor, it’s an important fight.

Thanks to supergee for the pointer.

3 Responses to “Mandatory Underwear: Don’t Show Your Work”

  1. Paul Says:

    And of course, surely you might have meant, “…than I can imagine one teaching naked” in a clothing-compulsory school.

    It’s interesting to contemplate dress codes in a naturist community where nudity, instead of being rare and sexually charged, is commonplace and ordinarily charged — that is, fraught with only those same pyrotechnics that light up any middle school or high school or college.

    Suggestions of concealed nudity are provocative — the strap, the hem, the neckline and belt line, the flash of innocent belly, arm, or leg which by its very innocence bespeaks the erogenous known to lie farther within. To my knowledge, not all but many kids of naturist families, when they reach that certain age, choose clothing, first to hide their new maturity and then later to expose it, bit by bit, in the same model as the outlying culture.

    In such a context, what messages might teachers be urged not to carry on their bodies? Well, the same provisos about erotically provocative dress might apply, because of course clothing-optional does not usually mean clothing-prohibited and because erotically provoking your students is considered bad form in every school but one. And hate speech, of course, although you’d have to exempt irony; I can easily imagine my favorite junior high school teacher — the one with Bradbury and Heinlein on the borrow shelf and who sang Baez and Dylan on his guitar — walking into class with, say, a Kill Whitey t-shirt and the wonderful debate that would ensue.

    Lose the requirement for clothing and you lose so many opportunities to control what people can express and teach. Nude society will never become the norm in this dangerous, psychopathic world of ours, but the islands of it that do exist offer some comparative relief.

    (Sorry if I digressed beyond your theme, Debbie, but the actors I saw were all gesturing dramatically off stage left!)

  2. Debbie Says:

    Paul, thanks!

    I can’t personally imagine naked school, not really, though one of my favorite responses to Women En Large was from a friend who had lived at Harbin Hot Springs, and could discourse with experience on the naked business meeting.

    I suspect I would like naked school more than I like mandatory-underwear dress codes.

  3. Stef Says:

    There might be some coded racism here. Hip-hop fashion sometimes involves visible underwear (“sagging”) so wonder whether “not visible” might be a more important bit of the underwear rule than “worn.” (But once you’re making underwear rules, you’re just asking for it if you don’t include “worn.” :P The Wikipedia article on sagging lists numerous attempts to ban the style in the last 10 or 15 years so I wonder if this is another one along those lines.

    I’m old too but I think moral panic over underwear is weird.

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