This girl’s outfit was called ‘inappropriate’ so she’s trying to change her school’s dress code
‘My self expression should not be treated as a distraction’
Duncan Cobb was wearing pajama shorts and an XXXL men's t-shirt when she was told her "butt was hanging out" and she was breaking dress code — it was Pajama Day on her eighth day at a new school.
"It's literally what I wear to bed and it was pajama day so it's what I wore to school," she told babe.
Duncan just started her senior year at Carl Albert High School in Midwest City, Oklahoma a week ago. The school's dress code says a girl's shorts need to reach her fingertips when her arms are by her side.
"My outfit wasn't breaking the rules, it wasn't inappropriate, it wasn't disruptive to anyone," Duncan said. She shared more pictures of her outfit with her arms by her side to show it wasn't breaking dress code.
When Duncan met with the principal of Carl Albert she was pressured to follow the rules and told her behavior was "under a microscope" because her father is part of the faculty.
"I heard the school had a strict dress code and I was going to be tolerant of it so I wouldn't get any flack. But there was literally no way my outfit was breaking dress code," she said.
Duncan knew her principal wasn't going to take her seriously if she didn't prove it, so she immediately started a petition to change the school's dress code.
A part of the petition reads:
"A school dress code policy that operates upon the belief that the amount of skin a student is showing interferes with their own ability and their peers' ability to learn is not only harmful to female students, but also to the male students who are often accused of not being able to focus when a female's shoulder is showing in class. Both men and women attend school to learn, and are fully capable of doing so no matter what the opposite sex may be wearing that day."
Since it started on Monday the petition has over 600 signatures from high school students and supporters across the country. You can sign it here.
"They can't punish me but they want me to stop. They think it's bad PR when I'm just trying to make a difference," Duncan said.
The petition has the whole school talking and while a lot of girls are sharing stories about times they've been dress-coded, others think Duncan should just drop it.
"They're saying I don't have the right to say anything because I haven't been here as long as anyone else, that because I'm new I need to 'earn my place'," she said. "One girl wants me kicked out of the Leadership Program — she thinks I'm not a good enough leader because I'm not following the rules."
Duncan calls herself a "big fat radical feminist" and said "it's not very well received in the middle of Oklahoma," but she's happy her story has prompted a lot of girls to also speak up against the dress code.
"When I go shopping I have to make sure my jeans aren’t too tight, or the holes are below the knee. It’s hard to find clothes that make me feel good about myself, it makes getting dressed in the morning really discouraging," a friend of Duncan's told babe. "It's amazing because she's only been here eight days — she's very brave. Everyone hates the dress code but no one ever speaks up."
The principal told Duncan the policy was already in place for this year, but "might be reconsidered next year." However, multiple students at Carl Albert have told babe that girls have tried to challenge the school's dress code over the years and the school "never does anything about it."
Duncan hopes a revision to the school's dress code will let students express themselves how they want — without body shaming, slut shaming, or over-sexualizing them.
"The way I dress is part of who I am and fashion is a great, positive way for all girls and boys to figure out who they are. My physical appearance has nothing to do with my ability to get an education. My self expression should not be treated as a distraction," she said.
Duncan wants this change not just for herself, but for all girls who who are over-sexualized and seen as "too revealing" before they even hit puberty, because of what they're wearing.
"I'm not breaking rules, I'm using my voice to change them," she said. "And if I don’t succeed in bringing about change, I have at least started the conversation for the next brave girl who stands up for herself after me."
This article is part of babe’s high school reporting series. If you have a story you’d like to share, please email Eleni Mitzali at firstname.lastname@example.org.