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It Started With A Dress Code

By Emily Blake

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Public School: going through first to eighth grade (and then, expected to go to the local high school) with the same group of people who live within your geographic location. For me, it was fairly boring. Being the kid from the ‘family with the funny accents’ was sometimes a challenge. But 8th grade was a seminal moment.

Social Studies included an assignment where each student had to present the facts and their own opinion on a current event. Quarter one of 2013, I presented on the fight for LGBTQ activists to gain the rights to marriage in the United States. After my thoroughly presented project on why everyone should be afforded equal rights under the law, my teacher started reacting to me differently.

Quarter two, I presented on the drafting of legislation to protect clinics offering abortion as a service. Presenting my opinion that a woman should have the right to a medically safe procedure, my teacher responds, “So you believe a child is 40% the man’s, and 60% the woman’s?” A student asks, “Do you think my mother should have aborted me?“. I stand in the front of the classroom, before 30 of my peers, waiting for someone to interject. No one does. Although I was shaking in disbelief of the lack of action or empathy, I think of that moment as an epiphany in how I adopted the title “activist.”

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Quarter three, I was pulled out of State Standardized Testing because a teacher felt that my pants were too form fitting. I’m taken to the office and given left-over gym shorts that they store in a drawer for (frequent) occasions like this. I refuse to wear the shorts for sanitary reasons, and they ask me to wear them over my pants. A few weeks later, I am on my way to a Student Government Conference (as Vice President of the organization) and I am stared down by a guidance counselor, who asks me in a bewildered tone to immediately pull down my pencil skirt. A few weeks later a teacher tells me “you should thank God your arms are short, because I want to dress code you, but technically your fingertips go past your hemline.” I overhear my Science teacher talking loudly to other teachers about how she wishes she could have dress coded Emily Blake multiple times. I never hear her speaking about my honor roll achievements, artistic achievements or volunteer work.

As the figurative straw broke the camel’s back, I wrote an article and posted it to earthtoemi.wordpress.com about the sexist dress-coding system and its subsequent serialization of 14 year-old girls (my age at the time). This was the first article ever written for The Wednesday Zine & Art Collective. At the time, I was ranting, but when the article starting circulating around my school and community, I realized it was a visceral reaction to a system unique to American girls. And they deserve a platform to talk about it.

For years I was finding my voice, and I realized that I needed to establish and perpetuate platforms that allow other girls to use theirs as well. Through almost 5 years of the Wednesday Zine, the common thread in everything we do has been collaboration, free-form expression, and creativity. Growing up in this judgmental, conforming, authoritative environment, I realized that those values were what actually mattered.

When I decided not go to my neighbourhood Public High School, and chose instead to commute 20 miles to art school everyday, I was ridiculed by the same homogenous individuals I have been surrounded by since 1st grade. When I was accepted into the most prestigious women’s college in the country, my father is asked “why would you allow Emily to go to the liberal capital of the world?”. This is 2018, and it reminds me that no matter how minor the offenses may seem, I (and therefore, Wednesday) need to do everything in my power to make sure girls worldwide are not trivialized.

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We should be valued for our achievements, and that value should not be influenced by the length of our skirts or any ephemeral qualification. Those who established those rules are terrified of our power. Think about how women were not allowed to attend Ivy League Universities until the late 1970s, but now they make up over 50% of the student body of those prestigious schools. Remember your history, and use it to motivate yourself.

If I have one dream for The Wednesday Zine, it is that youth (especially young girls) can become aware of their own power, because in the era of March for Our Lives, what movements are not mobilized by youth? We have the power to disassemble the systems that have worked to keep us in boxes, and if it’s as little as writing a WordPress article about your school’s sexist dress-coding policy, do it.

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