Manitoba

Winnipeg teen calls into question school's 'sexist' dress code

A Winnipeg teen is calling into question what she says is a sexist dress code in place at her school.

'As a feminist, I am outraged,' wrote Sydney Bear, 14, to River East Transcona School Division trustees

A Winnipeg teen is calling into question what she says is a sexist dress code in place at her school. 1:06

A Winnipeg teen is calling into question what she says is a sexist dress code in place at her school.

Sydney Bear, 14, wrote a four-page letter to River East Transcona School Division trustees after she says she was confronted a number of times by teachers about what she wore to school.

"Boys and girls already have to deal with their insecurities while picking clothes to wear to school. They shouldn't have to be scared of what the administration will think about the clothes that they choose to wear that make them confident and happy," Bear writes in the letter.

"My biggest concern is that this is teaching women to be ashamed of their bodies and [it will] continue teaching young men that it's okay to objectify women."

In the letter, Bear describes feeling embarrassed as teachers ask her to "cover up" as other classmates watch or publicly request to speak to her outside the classroom about her clothing.

Sydney Bear, 14, is calling into question a dress code at her school that she says objectifies young women. (CBC)

Another student, she says, was asked to wear a winter jacket inside to cover the skin that was visible outside of her T-shirt.

Policies related to what students are permitted to wear, she says, are inconsistent; they have diminished her excitement and enthusiasm for school.

"Some of the teachers have said not very nice things to me. In class a few times they've even yelled at me," Bear said on Friday, holding a shirt she has been asked to change out of at school.

"It's five-finger width," she said, referring to shirt's fabric that covers her shoulder. 

"You can't see my bra strap, and then they told me I need to go change."

'As a feminist, I am outraged'

Bear says boys at her school are not expected to comply with the dress code and that the policies accommodate them.

"Teenage boys with raging hormones will be distracted no matter what," she writes.

"Instead of making it my problem to make it easier for them, let's teach them they need to learn how to control themselves with these distractions."

Plus, she says, the dress code will not make a difference for pubescent boys.

"If you think for one second that covering up my bra strap or my shoulder will stop boys my age from having these inappropriate thoughts, you are dead wrong," Bear writes.

Still, she acknowledges that her perspective may not be a popular one.

"Maybe this won't make the impact I want; maybe society will just categorize me as a troublemaker wanting to dress provocatively. But this is yet another cry from us females to change this; girls around the world trying to fight to change the [objectification] and harassment about women and their bodies."

Both girls and boys have supported her stance at school, she says.

Bear's mother, Tabitha, is proud of her daughter for questioning the policy.

"I just want her to be able to go to school," she said. 

"I don't want them to be worried about the dress code or sitting out of class."

Dress codes are 'fluid,' says superintendent

According to River East Transcona School Division Superintendent Kelly Barkman, the division has one dress code that is enforced differently at each school.

"These dress codes can be fluid," he said. 

"They're usually built with consultations with the staff and with senior levels, for example with the students."

Barkman recommended Bear explore the dress code carefully. Then, he says, she may see that the rules must be respectful of all students.

Bear and her mother have met with her school's principal. Now, she says, they're waiting to meet with school trustees. 

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