Viral TikToks Point out the Sexism in High School Dress Codes

High school dress codes that punish girls for tank tops or short skirts are rooted in sexism and misogyny.

Robin Zlotnick - Author

Jul. 24 2020, Updated 12:34 p.m. ET

School dress codes are often rooted in sexism and misogyny. Girls are labeled "distractions" to boys for wearing spaghetti-strap tank tops or short shorts, which only serves to sexualize them, blame them for the behavior of boys, and draw them out of class when they should be learning.

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Because of dress codes that focus on "modesty," girls are taught that the disgusting behavior of men and boys is their fault and that they "ask for it" based on their clothing. They teach boys that they aren't in control of their own behavior, and they teach all kids that boys' learning is the priority, especially over girls' comfort. It's beyond toxic and it has to stop. And a series of viral TikToks is bringing the conversation to the forefront once more in a creative way.

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Nicole Ciravolo is an actor with a huge TikTok audience, so she decided to act out a scenario in which a girl gets in trouble for wearing a tank top. In the videos, Nicole plays the part of a no-nonsense school secretary who doesn't accept that the girl should be punished for what she's wearing. 

Her videos have millions of views and likes. They serve as sort of a fantasy for girls who were constantly called to the principal's office for dress code violations. If they had a secretary who stood up for them and called out the teacher, things would be a whole lot different.

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Nicole told BuzzFeed she was inspired to create this series of videos after her 13-year stint at a private Christian school. She said, "We had uniforms, yet girls were constantly being dress-coded for skirt length (or often in my case, not wearing a bra...even though that's not in the dress code)." 

In Nicole's school, a skirt had to sit past a girl's fingertips (never mind that women of all heights and sizes have different arm lengths...). Nicole said, "It was ridiculous, especially considering it was often targeted at curvier girls like me whose bodies were inherently deemed more sexual."

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So, she created this character to cleverly call out sexist school dress codes. In part two, she's on the phone, supposedly talking to the teacher who sent the girl in for the dress code violation.

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She says, "Well you see Ronnie, that's what I don't understand. Because you're sending me a 16-year-old girl on a 95-degree day all the way to my office in the middle of test prep while she should be studying for her test on Friday just because...she's wearing a tank top?"

In the scenario, the teacher has also called out the girl in front of other students, something that, if you went to any probably remember happening on many occasions. 

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Nicole said that, at her school, the office staffmembers were generally nice but always made girls feel bad when they were sent in for dress code violations. "There's nothing more disheartening than feeling sexualized by a male teacher and not having any female faculty defend you," she said.

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"So I wanted to create a character — sort of the wish-fulfillment hero I needed in high school — to show people how those experiences could have happened if they actually had someone in their corner." And judging from the massive positive response she's gotten from these videos, many people were craving the same thing. 

"The responses have been amazing," Nicole said. "Lots of people go out of their way to tell me they felt safe in this space and this character somewhat eased the damage dress code encounters had on them when they were in high school." Now if this character could just be a model for real-life behavior.

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