some back story
"The girls are always getting in trouble at the middle school I work at for the clothes they wear, but they never say anything to the boys," said one of my co-workers.
I replied, "Well, it's not like boys are wearing tube tops and short shorts with skin and parts hanging out everywhere the majority of the time."
"Yeah, but for example, one boy had a shirt with a woman in a very small bikini that was pretty sexually explicit. How is that any different?"
"Well, one is a picture on a shirt and one is an actual middle school girl. Most boys don't get that worked up over a picture, but they can have some seriously twisted thoughts about the girl sitting next to them with a low cut shirt and miniskirt. It's more about preventing those thoughts from leading to physical actions than censoring pictures."
"Yeah, but that just goes along with the whole blame the victim mentality and saying that girls bring sexual assault on themselves. The boys should just have more self-control."
My full thoughts
I had the above conversation with a co-worker last week and I didn't really know how to respond at first. I felt like she was missing something, but I didn't want to get into an argument over something as sensitive as sexual assault with a female co-worker while working at an elementary school.
So I made a mental note and moved on.
Now that I've had time to think over it for several days, I can better articulate my point.
First, a disclaimer: I am not blaming any girl for any violent crime committed against them by a male or even another female. I've had several of my closest female friends go through terrible experiences because of the actions of men they thought they could trust and it is awful to listen to their stories.
I do think young boys (and all boys for that matter) need to be explicitly taught and given time to practice self-control.
BUT, that is missing the point in this argument. A failure of self-control can lead to a very scarring episode for one of those middle school girls. Punishing the boy, boys, or offender of whatever age or sex is reactive.
It doesn't stop the act from being committed.
The saying, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," is extremely apt in this case. A dress code for both girls and boys can help to prevent many issues from ever coming up. Especially since self-control as a cure is something that is coming under more and more scrutiny by the research being done in neuroscience.
Both David Eagleman and Patricia Churchland have argued very convincingly that self-control can largely be an illusion of the conscious brain. Their research, and that of many others, has shown that the non-conscious aspects of the brain account for over 90% of all brain activity. This includes decision making and things closely related to it - i.e. self-control.
Much of what we take for granted under the title of "free will" is actually a very complex interaction of hormones, neurotransmitters, neurofactors, and environmental pressures. It is quite easy to say that boys should have more self-control, it is another to actually explain what that means. Middle school is a time where most students are going through puberty and their hormones and other bodily functions are going out of control. It seems that asking them to overcome and defeat their biology is asking a lot when a dress code can help to prevent much of it from ever being an issue.
Do I think the boy should have been wearing a sexually charged t-shirt? No. However, I don't think the t-shirt and the female dress code are the same thing.