FREDERICTON, N.B. – A group of students at Fredericton High School are challenging their school’s dress code saying it unfairly targets young women.
The group, called Fredericton Youth Feminists, say the dress code singles out female students and encourages the idea that sexual assault can be blamed on women.
Grade 12 student Sorcha Beirne is the group’s president.
“The tank top would be inappropriate because you could see the bra straps outside the straps of the shirt,” she said.
Beirne helped launch an online petition and video calling for the school district to abolish the dress code.
She says the dress code hypersexualizes girls at her school.
“When students complain about sexual harassment in the school they are met with with comments like, ‘You should not have been wearing that shirt,'” she said.
Not all students agreed with the idea of scrapping the dress code, which is outlined in the student handbook.
“If you get rid of it, well, I don’t want people to come naked to the school, right,” said student Lauren Ryan.
Kathleen Pye is a sexual assault advocate at the University of New Brunswick. She says enforcing a dress code in the absence of a formal school district sexual assault policy promotes the idea of “rape culture” and that sexual assaults can be blamed on women.
“It’s kind of indicating that if you dress a certain way that you know you might be safe or you will be an appropriate looking woman and everything will be fine,” she said.
But the school district’s superintendent says the district has a strict code of conduct to protect students from sexual harassment and assault.
Dress codes are implemented at the school level.
“The language ‘rape culture’ in my mind is not an appropriate or acceptable term to use,” the superintendent of the Anglophone West School District David McTimoney said. “To me it all falls back to respect for yourself as a student, to respect for others who are in the building.”
McTimoney says he’s reached out to Beirne and her group to discuss their concerns.