Born on social networks under the hashtag # Monday September 14, the movement that swept over middle and high schools invited students to protest against the dress regulations of schools, considered sexist and discriminatory. Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer spoke on the subject on September 21, declaring that students should come dressed “In a republican way”, that is to say in an outfit “Which allows greater equality between all”.
→ READ. The question of the “correct dress” required agitates the school environment
At the origin of the controversy, testimonies of high school girls on social networks declaring to have been sanctioned for their outfit considered too provocative. Sanctions which are reminiscent of that which the Musée d’Orsay inflicted on a student: her outfit having been deemed indecent, she had been forced to wear a jacket to enter the museum.
However, in terms of clothing, the law only prohibits the wearing of clothing “Intended to conceal the face” (law of 2010). Nothing about indecency. There is indeed article 222-32 of the penal code, which prohibits the voluntary exhibition of one’s sexual attributes in public space, but it relates more to nudity than to clothing. So why, apart from these prohibitions, could we not dress as we wish? Who decides what is decent and what is not?
Modesty and decency
Decency comes from the Latin verb of this, which means “it fits.” It is therefore a question of respecting conveniences, of conforming to certain social codes. A piece of clothing is only decent in relation to an environment, an interlocutor, an event. In an article titled “Modesty and privacy”, the philosopher Eric Fiat distinguishes between decency and modesty: “We are modest without asking ourselves whether it should be, while the concern for decency, decorum, conformism supposes a reflection on what should be done. Modesty ignores the careful calculation of etiquette; it is an interior injunction, rather than an exterior one. “
→ TICKET. Republican attire
An outfit would therefore never be intrinsically indecent, it is in relation to a culture, to a normative system. Thus, the perception of women’s bodies is built on generally patriarchal social norms. Therefore, is it really surprising that young women are the most frequently subject to injunctions related to clothing?
In a petition to the headmistress of her high school, a student from Yvelines was indignant that the ban on “crop tops”, these tops that reveal the navel, is justified by the fact that these T-shirts “Excite” the male population of the school. A dangerous justification, according to the American researcher Meredith J. Harbach, who is concerned that, through the control of clothing, “We project onto the female body the idea that the latter is inherently sexual, provocative, dangerous, and that harassment is inevitable (1) “.
A “cultural issue”
But how do you draw the line between what is showable and what is not? The law certainly prohibits sexual exhibition in public space, but what about a navel? Not demonizing the female body and not caricaturing male desire is a first step. Girls-boys equality, consent, gender stereotypes are all issues that should be addressed in class, especially as sexuality education has been compulsory in middle and high schools since 2001.
→ EDITORIAL. Dressed properly at school
If sartorial freedom is more the result of feminine demands, should we therefore deduce that men can dress as they wish? Not so simple if we are to believe the repeated debates about wearing a tie or a hoodie! This would be forgetting that clothing is also the reflection of a social class, the expression of a personality and the result of belonging to a socio-professional category. “Cultural issue”, as historian Georges Vigarello describes it, it delivers information about the wearer, a form of non-verbal language par excellence.
Correct outfit required
Adapting your outfit to an environment and to an interlocutor requires knowing certain social codes. Thus, the one who arrives in a place mentioning ” correct outfit required “, but who ignores its implicit meaning, despite himself reveals an education which did not give him these codes.
Respecting or not these standards, which differ according to the context, can arise from ignorance as from a real demand. Clothing then becomes a messenger, and becomes a vector of protest against a system that claims to make decency objective.
At work, the company can play the role of arbiter of clothing, since the labor code indicates that apart from the constraints of hygiene and safety, the employer can restrict the freedom of employees to dress for reasons taking into account the image of the company with the customers or… by decency. Here too, it is then a matter of determining where the cursor is placed on said decency, taking into account the freedom of movement of the body, freedom of expression and respect for individual sensibilities.