In the name of dress codes

Illustration: Tahsin Mostofa Chowdhury

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Illustration about school dress codes

Illustration: Tahsin Mostofa Chowdhury

Lakshmipur madrasa teacher Manjurul Kabir Manzur made headlines in October 2021 when he was sent to prison for cutting the hair of six students. Many similar incidents are being reported across the country, where the educators in question go so far as to physically assault and publicly humiliate their students for not maintaining a “proper” appearance at school.

Schools say dress codes promote equality and inclusiveness, dissolving differences of race and social class for example, and professionalism, as consistency in student appearance means they are not distracted by the appearance of the other. However, very few people can explain exactly what professionalism students learn when their teachers grab them by the collar to cut their hair or where the inclusivity lies in asking curvier girls to ditch skirts and shirts in favor salwar kameez to better hide their bodies.

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Rules regarding student appearance, such as no nail polish, henna or loose hairstyles for girls and long hair for boys, are considered inviolable laws in our educational institutions. The acts of violence perpetrated by teachers for breaking these rules should lead us to question to what extent these rules should be enforced and, more importantly, whether they should exist.

Photo: Chakma Orchid

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Photo: Chakma Orchid

Extreme measures to control the appearance of students promote values ​​that no institution, especially an educational one, should promote: the suppression of individuality and privacy.

Tazreen Jahan Bari, a recent graduate of Bangladesh Professionals University, recalls, “There was a time in my school when girls had to take off their socks to show if they had nail polish on their fingernails.”

While this is problematic in itself, we must also recognize that this invasion of privacy contributes to the continuation of very toxic practices in our society like body shaming, gendered fashion and the sexualization of underage girls.

It becomes especially worrisome when this desire to control what students wear steps out of the classroom. I still remember a supervisor at my school one day calling a friend of mine, in the middle of class, just to berate her for 15 minutes because he had seen her go out with her mother the night before so that she had committed the cardinal sin of wearing jeans.

Standardized clothing in schools should not be so problematic, in my opinion. The idea of ​​all students being on level ground is something everyone can accept. It is only when there is absolutely no room for students’ individual identity and independence that dress codes become undesirable and, ironically, discriminatory.

In the end, we must remember why we need education in the first place: to be free and to let free. When it comes to fighting for freedom in our overly reactionary education system, I can’t think of a better place to start than our own bodies.

Fabiha is secretly a Lannister noble and a former Slytherin. Pledge your allegiance and soul to her at [email protected]

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