Portsmouth schools to address ‘sexist’ dress code

PORTSMOUTH, R.I. — Thanks to the activism of two fifth-grade girls, the Portsmouth School Committee will address a district-wide school dress code after students raised concerns about “body shaming” and restrictions targeting girls only. 

Just three days ago, two fifth-grade Portsmouth students started an online petition through with help from mother Lisa McDermott. 

“Many of the girls in the Portsmouth Middle School community have an issue with the way we’re being treated,” wrote Ava and Sophia, students at Portsmouth Middle School, on “We feel that our school wide dress code is showing inequality to our young women. In social studies we are being taught about racial prejudice, and we know that prejudice based on sexism is just as important, and is just as huge of a problem.” 

Lisa McDermott calls the current dress code at Portsmouth Middle School as “sexist.” 

“If you read it [the dress code] as written now, most of the rules concerning the boys involves things like nothing offensive on T-shirts, that kind of thing,” wrote McDermott exclusively to Portsmouth Press. “Neither gender can wear tank tops from what I understand but I don’t believe the boys are told that it’s because the girls can’t concentrate. And there’s a lot of language about lengths of skirts and shorts, no bare shoulders, no midriffs, so all of those rules really only apply to girls and they imply that there’s something inherently offensive or distracting about their bodies…

“That this kind of policy and enforcement does just as much of a disservice to our boys as it does our girls. Ava has lots of happy healthy, platonic friendships with the boys in her grade and for the adults in charge to introduce this kind of awkwardness and sexual nature to their relationship is not OK. They’re kids. They’re 11 years old. They play basketball together and exchange funny memes on Instagram.

“For the teachers to blame the boys is not only sending the message that they are somehow powerless against their urges, but it also creates this uncomfortable awkward dynamic between friends that shouldn’t be there and WOULDN’T be there if it wasn’t for the adults in the situation.”

Ava and Sophia wrote the following “Ditch the Dress Code, Portsmouth Middle School!” petition (posted entirely below) on As of Tuesday, approximately 264 people of the 500 goal signed the petition.

You can sign the petition by clicking here

Three days later, they received a response from Portsmouth School Superintendent Ana C. Riley, who stated the School Committee would address and create a district-wide school dress code. Currently, each school creates their own dress code. 

You can read the email from Riley verbatim here: 

Read Ava and Sophia’s petition in its entirety here:

Here is a list of reasons we disagree with the dress code. If you agree that something needs to change, sign the petition and share with your friends.

Many of the girls in the Portsmouth Middle School community have a issue with the way we’re being treated. We feel that our school wide dress code is showing inequality to our young women. In social studies we are being taught about racial prejudice, and we know that prejudice based on sexism is just as important, and is just as huge of a problem.

In the words of the  Portsmouth Middle School Handbook, page 20, section labeled, “RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES” it clearly states: “P.M.S is dedicated to recognize the rights and responsibilities of all it’s members. To that end, the violation or infringement of anyone’s civil, social, or physical rights will not be tolerated. Activities, language, (written or oral), pictures,. gestures, or touching that in any way that disparages a person’s dignity, race, or ethnic origin, GENDER, religion, or creed are not acceptable.Anyone who feels that any of their rights as stated above have been violated should contact a house leader, assistant principal, or principal.”

And we do feel that our civil rights as Portsmouth Middle School citizens have been violated on the basis of gender by that policy that was supposed to keep us safe from violation and infringement of our social, civil, and physical rights.

We would suggest that we can wear a type of shirt/tank top as long as it has 2 straps: 1 on either side, disregarding the width. We also suggest that we can wear low crop tops that don’t show higher than your belly button. And the length of the shorts can’t be higher than the lower knuckle of the thumb. These are just a couple of suggestions we have  proposed to make the dress code a little less strict when regarding the females.

By punishing us for our appearance you are saying it is okay for the boys in our school to not being able to look at us and see us as people and not as inanimate objects to be stared at. And while we are being pulled out of class to reminded of the dress code, the boys are not being to taught not to be distracted by a girls outfit to point were the “can’t focus in class” So from now how about instead of  punishing or even shaming girls for their outfit, and the way they look in it, we teach all students to respect each other as whole human beings?

•“Why fit in when we are meant to stand out!”
•Shaming us for our bodies
•Closing down our personalities
•This dresscode is giving us limits to our personality/creativity.
•Girls with long legs and long arms have to wear really long shorts , and some people really don’t want to, and girls who have short arms have a easy way out of the dress code. •Our parents buy our clothes so obviously they’re fine with how we dress.
•The school policy is blaming us for the way our bodies look even though they used to praise us for our appearance in elementary school.
•If our appearance doesn’t matter why are we getting punished for it?
•We get dressed for ourselves, we wear what makes us feel good, it’s not for anyone else.
•We don’t pay money  to come to PUBLIC SCHOOL so you can’t tell us what to wear or what to look like.
•We get dressed in the morning in outfits that we want to wear, not to impress other people.
•Our bodies, our choice.
•It is unfair that we have the same rules for every unique body in this school.
•It is unfair that you base our dress code on what the boys get distracted on when that is not our fault. “Are my shoulders distracting?” The things we are getting dress coded on is our legs, our shoulders, and our belly buttons! There is no need for boys (or anyone) to get distracted on that! If they are getting distracted by that it is not our fault. 
•Boys should be taught not to be distracted by the outfit on a girl is wearing.
•We should not have our outfits monitored just because the boys can’t control their own thoughts. 
•For the most part these dress codes are designed to target and monitor the girls outfits and for the most part only the girls outfits get policed.
•Girls bodies are not on display for the boys to stare at like we are museum.

Written by Ava & Sophia, 5th graders at Portsmouth Middle School.

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