News broke yesterday out of Salt Lake City, Utah (where I was born and raised) that Wasatch High School had photoshopped a number of year book pictures without the permission of the students and/or their parents. A number of students expressed concern when they flipped through the year books to discover that their pictures had been digitally altered. In particular, several girls in the school reported that their photo had been changed to add sleeves and/or raise necklines. The students indicated they were especially upset because the changes seemed to happen randomly. Some students’ photos were changed while others wearing almost identical tops were left in-tact.
The school district has “apologized” [sorry-not-sorry] in a statement saying, “In the application of these graphic corrections, the high school yearbook staff did make some errors and were not consistent in how they were applied to student photos and the school apologizes for that inconsistency."
Really?! It seems fairly apparent from this response that the school truly does not understand what the outrage is about.
According to the school, students were warned that their photos might be digitally changed if they were not dressed in a way that conformed to the school’s dress code. The dress code repeatedly refers to the importance of “modesty” in dress and bans items of clothing that “cause an actual and/or perceived disruption of the educational environment or activities.”
From all the reports I have seen, only female students’ photos were altered.
Sadly, this story is not altogether surprising although it is rather disturbing. Similar events have happened in schools around the country where girls' clothing has been targeted because it is deemed as "distracting" to the male students. This new story comes less than one week after Elliot Rodger’s deadly rampage in Santa Barbara. The last few days have been filled with people’s attempts to make sense of that incident. As more and more info comes to light it appears that there were likley many factors leading to that deadly event: lack of gun control, reinforcement of a limited and stereotypical perspective of masculinity, mental illness. But it is most definitely clear that Rodger’s sense of entitlement about women and objectification of women (attitudes which he conveyed in his writings and videos) contributed to his decisions to act so violently.
Obviously photoshoppping students’ high school photos pales in comparison to Rodgers’ violent behaviors, but the similarity in the underlying beliefs about women should worry all of us. Dress codes that imply (and sometimes directly state) that girls are responsible to cover their bodies in order to prevent “disruption” in the environment teach young women and men very dangerous lessons. They reinforce ideas that girls and women are objects and that boys/men are not able to control their sexuality.
I get that schools need to have dress codes. But there is a difference between creating a positive learning environment and reinforcing rape culture. Schools can (and should) be a place where students are taught to challenge harmful stereotypes about women and men. It is time for them to stop being part of the problem and start being part of the solution.
EMPOWERTAINMENT aims to take a critical look at media in regards to how gender and women/girls are portrayed. From popular articles, videos, and websites, to original submissions, we want to not only examine the media and its relation to gender, but help shift it.