A Wolf In A Penguin’s Clothing


Sam Wilkinson

According to a faithful reader, I'm Ordinary Times's "least thoughtful writer." So I've got that going for me, which is nice.

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277 Responses

  1. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    If your going to enforce your religions teaching about gender norms at your religious school at least do so consistently. Most of us would think that Bishop McDevitt High School would be wrong if the always made Aniya Wolf put on a girl’s clothing but the school would at least be consistent. Allowing Aniya to dress as she wished until the prom is where the hypocrisy comes in. The school was fine up until the moment Aniya donned a tuxedo for some reason. It makes no sense.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to LeeEsq says:

      Maybe a chaperone got mad? This could be the school covering its ass for something that someone who had no business bitching did (and chose to see as defiance something that was part of a consistent pattern of behavior).Report

  2. Avatar Damon says:

    There’s several things going on here:
    Dress code: I expect that the code was likely designed “back in the day” and has been rarely updated, except for the various points about girls dresses. Why? Because that’s what everyone wore for decades and is the established gender norm. The reason why girl’s dresses are addressed more is that guys look/girls show. Again, gender norms, and especially from a religious institution that puts a high price on virginity. Haven’t we discussed on this site how even high status women prefer to be attached to even higher status men? Same thing. And you don’t see boys pushing the dress code and showing abs or their junk in their outfits do you?
    Now as to Wolfs dress itself. It didn’t violate the code, which has been unevenly enforced. I attribute her being refused entry not on the basis that “some gay kid is wearing a tux” but on the likely case where the monitor/chaperone/teach who was responsible faced a situation never encountered at this school before: a girl wearing a tux. Forced into a feed back loop of “girls wear dresses and boys tuxes” while seeing a girl in a tux, the adult fell into “rule violation” mode. This was probably helped along by Wolf’s likely strongly protesting this situation and making a scene, and they adult got all defensive and annoyed about some kid questioning their AUTHORITY.
    After that, all the various school statements were just bad PR as the school tried to cover it ass and spin this. This could have probably been fixed if the school would have apologized to Wolf and released a statement along the lines of what I said about “don’t expect to see girls in tuxs-not that there is anything wrong with that” and staff making a judgement error.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Damon says:

      The boys’ dress code was also getting modified — presumably to prevent boys from showing up in full pimp mode. (I rather suspect that pre-1970’s, no one would have really considered that “cool”)Report

    • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to Damon says:

      I fought the law of moral authority, and the law of moral authority won.

      (Isn’t it kinda precious that when you and I push back against ‘the monopoly of force’ we are told, meh… that’s just the way it is.)Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to Joe Sal says:


        Maybe that explains why I “cling to my bible and gun”. 🙂

        I’ve no doubt that oppression takes place, I’ve been a victim of some small versions of it, but people tend to leap to conclusions when much simpler explanations are available, and likely. It’s curious that I have that view given my general disdain for humanity…..Report

    • Avatar Barry in reply to Damon says:

      “Dress code: I expect that the code was likely designed “back in the day” and has been rarely updated, except for the various points about girls dresses.”

      The specifics are rather modern.Report

  3. At a private party, the host makes the rules.

    Is the host a bigot? Granted. But at a private party, the host makes the rules.

    Is the host acting like a jerk, and a big poopyhead, and a very rude host indeed? Yes! Certainly so. But at a private party, the host makes the rules.

    Is the host also a transparent hypocrite? In this case, clearly yes. The photographic evidence speaks for itself. But at a private party, the host makes the rules.

    Is the rule in question never actually stated, and might one easily infer its absence? Yes. But at a private party, the host makes the rules.

    The reason why is simple: The host making the rules is better than the only possible alternative. It is better than politicizing, at the national level, every two-bit prom at every Catholic high school in Pennsylvania and everywhere else in the country. That’s not a world that any of us really want to live in, I don’t believe, and yet somehow we’ve been marching steadily in that direction over the last few years.

    So… Yes, I’m gay. I’m supportive of gay people. I think the school behaved abominably. I would never on my life act in a similar manner. And I also think that there are some problems for which a national political conversation should not be used.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

      No one, ever, anywhere can have a view different than the socially approved one on the left.
      If they do, they must be told, in no uncertain terms, to stuff a sock in it — and wherever possible, actively prevented from talking at all.Report

      • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to Kim says:

        Criticizing unequally enforced rules that are only taken seriously when dealing with students perceived as others is surely worth criticizing?Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

          There are thousands of other schools, and myriad unequally enforced rules (among them most discipline issues — I very clearly recall a girl punching a boy as hard as she could in the gut. I think the boy even managed to get in trouble for that one — more along the lines of a lecture than a suspension).

          The gay and transsexual are the left’s latest crusades. With deliberative, deceptive intent, people unfairly cloak themselves with their identities, in order to shield themselves from criticism. (This is ABSOLUTELY NOT to say that such is the case here…)Report

        • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:


          If there is anything I have learned from social conservatives, it is that discussing or pointing out hypocrisy and failures of decent conduct, is exactly the same thing as demanding that the state punish those caught using anything less than this month’s most current PC language by amputation of their tongues.Report

    • Yes, the private host makes the private rules at the private party. I have not denied this. My issue remains the utter cowardice that is hiding behind a poorly-written dress code and the plainly dishonest claim of loving, respecting, and cherishing rather stating the plain truth: that the institution sought to punish Aniya Wolf. And even if we know what motivates this cowardice, it does not excuse it.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        “…plainly dishonest claim of loving, respecting, and cherishing rather stating the plain truth: that the institution sought to punish Aniya Wolf.”

        But it isn’t plainly dishonest. There are many, many schools — and people within those schools — that think part of loving and respecting and cherishing children includes saving them from their own bad decisions. And if in the school’s estimation, allowing this girl to wear a tuxedo was a bad decision, they might very genuinely believe that preventing her from doing so is an expression of love, respect, and cherishment.

        Do I agree with them? FUCK NO! But caring for young people doesn’t mean letting them do whatever the hell they want. And insisting that any time a school (or adult) tells a child, “No!” is evidence that they do not love that child is wrong.

        I think this dress code is stupid and wrong and that their uneven enforcement is problematic. I just don’t think we know enough about the people involved to definitively say what their motivation is.Report

        • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to Kazzy says:

          Is it loving to demand that somebody dress in a manner that makes her uncomfortable? In my estimation, no, and that goes double when the individual has made it clear that discomfort is the motivating factor. And that’s before we take the dress code itself into account, which emphasizes the importance of modesty, but then demands that this individual show more skin than she is comfortable doing.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

            I agree with your vision of love. But not everyone does. Do you think everyone should hold an identical understanding of what love is and how to show it?

            You’ve made cleae you disagree with the school. I do, too! What we can’t really do is show that the school is being dishonest.Report

            • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to Kazzy says:

              We know that the school is being dishonest, because it did not treat any of its other dress code violations in the same manner than it treated Wolf’s. If somebody said to you, “I love
              Wolf which is why I treated her differently than everybody else.” That is impossible to believe.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                There are some key differences. The school learned of her plan in advance and sought to head it off. It is possible that if she showed up and *SURPRISE* tuxedo, they’d have admitted her. I doubt the school knew of the other young women’s plans or the specifics of their dresses. Schools often make rules and threats that they don’t follow through on. Dress codes are almost universally enforced inconsistently. The idea behind them often is, “We’ll address it when it becomes a problem.” Which can still lead to all sorts of ugliness and feels very much the wrong way to do it from my vantage point.

                And yet… this is what happens. That you cannot see any other possible explanation says as much about you as it does the school.

                And, again, I am not defending the school (beyond recognizing their right to make and enforce these rules). I’m challenging you because I think the type of thinking being employed here is both wrong and counter-productive to the cause(s) I believe you’d rally behind related to this (these) issue(s).Report

              • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to Kazzy says:

                The school did seek to head it off, no doubt because it realized that the dress code it has submitted ahead of time did not actually preclude Wolf’s behavior. So they called and basically said, “Hey, quick update, Wolf’s proposed outfit isn’t allowed, even though we didn’t explicitly rule it out, so we’re going to need her to show off way more skin than she has explicitly told us that she is not comfortable doing, because we love her so much. Also, we’re not creepy or weird or anything.”

                Incidentally, that dress codes are unevenly enforced again is the sort of thing which gives the game away – this isn’t about standards of appearance, but rather, it is targeting particular kids for additional attention.

                And how is it either wrong or counter-productive to point out this institution’s hypocrisy, deceit, etc? I’m not the one that forced them to engage in any of that, and had the school distributed a dress code that anybody had put any thought into it, and had it then enforced that dress code evenly, I would have written this very differently, assuming I’d written it at all.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                “The school did seek to head it off, no doubt because it realized that the dress code it has submitted ahead of time did not actually preclude Wolf’s behavior.”

                Again, you are making assumptions. And not just speculative ones. Definitive ones. “No doubt” leaves, well, no room for doubt!

                “And how is it either wrong or counter-productive to point out this institution’s hypocrisy, deceit, etc?”

                Because we don’t know if the school is being deceitful. And accusing them of such now turns the argument into did they or did they not lie instead of about the policy and its impact on students.Report

              • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to Kazzy says:

                The school said the dress code trumped everything, but then selectively enforced the dress code. If that dress code truly mattered – and again, it simultaneously emphasized modesty while being used as a cudgel to demand Wolf’s immodesty – why was it only enforced once, against one attendee? How is that not deceitful?Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                Where did it say the dress code trumped everything?

                The link to the news article that quoted the school’s statement had something that looked like a link to the statement itself but the link didn’t go anywhere.Report

              • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to Kazzy says:

                The school’s position was that Aniya Wolf was not allowed into its prom because she had violated the dress code. Other violations of the dress code did not apparently forbid entry. What is the difference between the violations?Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                As noted, a key difference was there foreknowledge.

                Schools do not like to turn people away from events. It can put a real damper on the proceedings. So if they know of a possible violation in advance, they may seek to prevent it from arising. If they don’t prevent it, they sometimes let it slide. This sometimes has the very unfair effect of penalizing those who ask about possible exceptions while enabling those who just flout the rules.

                My school did this. We had events that siblings were not allowed to attend. If you asked ahead of time, “Can I bring my newborn? I don’t have a sitter,” you were told, “No.” If you just showed up with your newborn, no one said anything because who wants to cause a scene?

                But, again, I ask you: Where did the school say the dresscode trumped all?Report

            • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Kazzy says:

              I think it is clearly shown here that the school was being dishonest in its claim the student was denied entry for violating the dress code. The only photographic evidence of actual, clear and unambiguous, dress code violations, are photos from inside the prom – and that includes photographic evidence of how this student was dressed.

              Whether and how much their plainly demonstrated dishonesty in that claim should affect our acceptance of their other claims is open to debate perhaps, but I would say it is without a doubt that they are caught in at least one lie.

              The language about loving, respecting, and cherishing – that seems like “mission statement” wording – i.e. words that are not intended to carry any actual meaning. Accusing them of lying there is kind of like accusing the adults in Peanuts of lying when they say “merp merp merp merp merp merp”.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to dragonfrog says:

                “I think it is clearly shown here that the school was being dishonest in its claim the student was denied entry for violating the dress code.”

                Do you suspect that if the young lady arrived in a dress that clearly fit all of the requirements, the school would have found other reason to exclude her? Do you think that their exclusion of her was based on her sexual orientation with the tuxedo providing convenient cover?

                Do you think they have broader issues with gender non-conformity?

                Do you think they thought she was trying to stick her thumb in their eye?

                If you believe that the dress code was a smoke screen, what do you think the actual intent of the school was?Report

              • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Kazzy says:

                Per the available evidence, if she had shown up in a dress that *specifically failed* to meet the requirements of the dress code, viz. cutouts, high slits, plunging neckline, etc., she would have been more likely to get in than by showing up in a tuxedo that *did* meet the requirements exactly as written. Whatever they denied her entry for, it was not any of the rules written into the dress code, and claiming that it was does the school no credit.

                They may well have felt she was “trying to stick her thumb in their eye” by living her identity honestly. I rather suspect they do have broader problems with gender non-confirmity – that whoever made that call kicked her out for gender non-conforming dress, then pointed to their dress code as an excuse without first checking whether it actually required women’s clothes be gender-conforming, because they assumed obviously any Catholic dress code would require gender conforming clothing.

                But that’s speculation.

                What I think we can say for sure is:
                – their claim that she was denied entry due to violating the dress code as written is false
                – women who did violate the dress code as written were allowed admission
                – if they want to be taken seriously on this matter, they should first retract their demonstrably false claims, then start over and be more careful not to claim obvious falsehoods.

                (Further attempt at mind-reading: when they made their claim, they were not worried about being fact checked or not taken seriously, because they reasoned that their opponent was a woman who dresses in men’s clothes, therefore nobody is going to giver her counterclaims the time of day).Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to dragonfrog says:


                I still disagree. I work in independent schools. I have helped craft policy (not dress codes but other types). School administrators very very rarely have a legal background or consult counsel. It is very possible — likely even — that the school admin read that policy as written and concluded that it OBVIOUSLY barred females in tuxedos. That doesn’t mean that it did but that they genuinely might have believed it did which makes them short-sighted but not liars.

                I think your scenario is plausible, likely even. I just don’t think the facts we have prove it objectively true.

                I’ve see too many poorly crafted and inconsistenly enforced policies in schools to know that myriad factors can contribute to such situations.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

                To elaborate, your argument seems to be that admin thought the following:
                “This troublemaking lesbian wants to wear a tux. No way. Tell her it’s a dress code violation. I know we don’t enforce that thing but we’re not letting her ruin prom.”

                I think it’s *possible* there thought process was:
                “She wants to do what? That’s obviously against dress code. Good thing we found put in advance. wE hate turning kids away at the door. We haven’t done that since Becky Sue showed up in saran wrap back in 97.”

                IF they thought that, are they right? I’d say heck no. But I’ve seen school admin apply thatvery same thinking.Report

          • Avatar Murali in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

            Dad: When you go for an interview, you must wear a tie

            Son: But its so uncomfortable and suffocating

            Dad: I insist

            The father here probably hates his sonReport

            • Avatar Sam in reply to Murali says:

              That’s not an even remotely comparable scenario, but sure.Report

              • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Sam says:

                I think it’s at least a remotely comparable scenario. The school’s stance, albeit poorly-articulated, is that there are times and places when personal preference in dress must be subsumed to prevailing convention.

                The male job interviewee in @murali ‘s scenario must subsume his preference for comfortable dress in favor of the convention of wearing a tie. So too, the female prom attendee must subsume her preference for traditionally male dress in favor of the convention of ladies in formal dresses. (Or so the school’s administrators would argue, if they had only had the wit.)

                Edited to add: I hasten to add that in my personal opinion, Ms. Wolf did not violate any significant convention. Women have been rocking tuxes and looking classy doing it since at least Marlene Dietrich.Report

              • Avatar aaron david in reply to Burt Likko says:

                I think that is almost there @burt-likko but with the added proviso- This is prom, and girls should dress like girls, while boys dress like boys. Remember, this is a Catholic school, where religion and teachers cross. The overall thought, if I had to guess was that they knew she was LGBT at the school, but whateves, the teachers thought. At prom, the catholics probably thought, now shes flaunting it! At least that is my take on it.

                And you are right re: Marlene Dietrich.Report

              • Avatar Sam in reply to Burt Likko says:

                In the scenario being described, we have all of the following –

                – a parent, rather than a school official. I know that parental terms are honorifics within Catholicism, but self-appointed titles versus family realities are not the same thing.

                – no evidence that the father’s rule is applied differently regarding which of his children is going to the interview.

                – a very specifically illustrated rule.

                All three render this situation very different from what happened at McDevitt. Surely those sorts of details matter?Report

              • Avatar Francis in reply to Burt Likko says:

                I don’t think that’s quite fair, because it doesn’t take into account the foreknowledge of the other side. If we’re moving into the workplace, I think the better analogy is an out married gay woman working at a Catholic charity hospital (with picture of the spouse at her workstation) being denied access to the annual Xmas party. Sure, the bishop is going to be there, but she wasn’t being secret about her spouse.

                Not just about conforming to reasonable expectations any more, is it?

                Was it about her wearing pants, or was it about what wearing pants means? Since they let all the other girls violate the dress code, I don’t think that they are owed any presumption of charity.Report

              • The son wears a tie to impress the interviewer so he has a better chance at the job. Just as he emails a thank you afterward, even if the interviewer was late, clueless, and rude.

                In the prom case, whom is she trying to impress?Report

              • Avatar Sam in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                @mike-schilling The answer has to be men who want to see more skin and women who enforce sexualized conformity among one another, but I’d be willing to bet nobody will necessarily go to bat for that.Report

            • Avatar Chip Daniels in reply to Murali says:

              What makes this father/son interaction different is what I find interesting.

              Dress codes for males are about regulating class status signaling.
              Men are to wear a tie to signal that they are members of the professional class, good providers for a wife and family.

              Dress codes for females are to regulate their sexuality. Whether the regulation is a burka, face veil, long skirt, or breast covering, clothing for women is all about concealing their sexuality from the male gaze.

              Or, in the case here, of failing to present herself to the male gaze in an acceptable form.Report

  4. Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

    As a point of information, the groom’s party at my wedding were all women. This wasn’t intended as a statement other than “These are the friends I want to be with me at my wedding.” The bride’s party was more traditional. So what did the groom’s persons wear? Tuxedo tops and black skirts. The idea was to be more-or-less traditional in appearance, while not trying to deny the obvious absence of Y chromosomes among them. Oh, and for whatever it is worth, only two of the four were gay.

    This was a Catholic wedding. I give the priest a lot of credit for rolling with it, though I don’t know if he figured out that two of those women were a couple. It may also have helped that we had similar opinions on appropriate music: 19th century theatrical music is not suitable for a church ceremony, popular practice to the contrary notwithstanding. (My bride, on the other hand, was shocked by the omission.) I was so happy with Father Mike that I was willing to overlook his striking resemblance to Richard Nixon.Report

    • This sounds like the core of a delightful “First Person” post.Report

      • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Burt Likko says:

        Not really. It was actually a very conventional church wedding (Catholic version, but no mass).

        That being said, there are some distinct benefits to having a female groom’s party. There was a mix-up with my tux. They not only detected it beforehand, but they made some frantic last-minute arrangements to fix it. I’m pretty sure that a bunch of guys would have been much less useful. My best person also explained to me that when my bride told me I shouldn’t buy her a present for the wedding, that this meant I should. I honestly hadn’t known that this was even a thing, much less holding the secret decoder ring necessary to interpret what I had taken as a straightforward declarative sentence.

        The great disappointment was my bachelor party. Not because I wanted a stripper-infested booze fest. Quite the opposite. I didn’t want a bachelor party at all. I eventually realized that, while people got very upset at the idea of there being no bachelor party, they actually were totally flexible about what constituted this vital event. So we went to a ballgame. The disappointment was that my best person has an aunt who is a nun. She would happily have come to the game, but she was out of town. I very much wanted to be able to tell people that I had a nun at my bachelor party.

        OK, maybe I could have made a full post out of this. Too late, now.Report

    • 19th century theatrical music

      Do you mean Mendelssohn’s Wedding March?Report

    • Avatar Lyle in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

      It would be interesting to see what would have happend if Wolf showed up in a Tuxedo jacket and black maxi skirt. (which would meet the length rules) and also show if it is the showing of skin that matters.Report

  5. Avatar KenB says:

    A reasonable interpretation of the text (it’s a living document!) would acknowledge that there’s an implicit assumption that girls will be wearing dresses. If you really wanted to prove your case that it’s 100% about the gender-bending aspect of this, you’d need to find a picture of a girl being allowed in the prom with an outfit that’s not explicitly male but also definitely not a dress. Do you think they’d allow in a girl in a pantsuit? Or dressed like Rey from Force Awakens?

    Also, pointing the finger 100% at “religion” instead of “culture” seems incorrect to me, but that’s a different topic.Report

    • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to KenB says:

      @kenb We obviously disagree about this, especially on that “reasonable interpretation” part of the document. We know this because it is also reasonable to assume that young men might wear suits to a formal event, but this was explicitly stated as an expectation in the “Boys” section of the dress code. Given that an equal claim was not made in the “Girls” section, the issue is that the document is poorly written, not that a “reasonable interpretation” ends at all girls being required to wear immodest clothing.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        You’d be surprised how poorly some schools draft really important documents (e.g., dress codes).Report

      • Avatar InMD in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        I dunno. What strikes me as more unreasonable is a legalistic parsing of a dress code at a Catholic high school prom. It’s a conservative parochial institution in not exactly a small town, but it ain’t Philly or Pittsburgh either. What does anyone expect?

        I have a feeling Wolf will go off to college somewhere that people are a little more with the times and look back on this incident with a chuckle, knowing that she’s going on to so many bigger and better things than old lady Gallagher or whoever that wouldnt let her in wearing a tux. Piling on the boobs (pun intended) who weren’t up to handling a 21st century situation without looking silly or making a culture war crusade out of it serves no purpose I can see.Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to InMD says:

          Sometimes, making a federal case out of something is how you get the stupid changed. Bring enough public scorn upon the school, and perhaps the relevant parties will review that dress code & tighten up the language, etc.

          And schools have a really bad habit of doing their own legalistic parsing of dress codes when it suits their agenda, so turnabout is fair play.Report

          • Avatar InMD in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

            I see your point but I’m still not in love with public shaming of anyone who says or does something inconsistent with currently trending progressive values as a model of social change. This is especially true when what incident goes viral seems to be completely random (those people in Indiana with the pizza shop come to mind). I also don’t know that this particular school and it’s administrators deserve to bear the cross for the fact that Catholic schools aren’t (and probably never will be) where mainstream blue state America is on sexuality and gender.

            Note Burt’s comment below. Not that long ago the idea of an open teenage lesbian would have been very unusual in most high schools in most places and probably not even allowed in a Catholic school. I prefer the trajectory America is on when it comes to gay rights and equality but I’m skeptical of how useful this particular fight is.Report

          • Avatar InMD in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

            Just to further clarify, I think they’re wrong but I don’t think they’re monsters.Report

            • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to InMD says:

              I don’t think they are monsters either, and in a larger sense, I find the range of attention this is getting to be off-putting (in the local event get national attention it doesn’t deserve sense).

              I mean, when I butted heads with my high school over a poorly written dress code, it was a big deal with my classmates, but it didn’t even make the local paper. Because, of course, I was in high school in the very early 90’s, and we had no social media beyond telephones and hand written notes.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to KenB says:

      Also, pointing the finger 100% at “religion” instead of “culture” seems incorrect to me, but that’s a different topic.

      Yeah, this is one thing that I don’t really understand.

      I do not believe in a deity. As such, when I see “religion”, I just see “culture”. I don’t understand how the distinction is made… I suppose, in theory, I could see how a theist might make the distinction (something about raw and cooked and sacred and profane and whatnot) but a non-theist?Report

  6. Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

    That dress code is weird and/or badly written and/or authoritarian for other reasons. Note the obsession with sunglasses. I think that wearing sunglasses indoors is a stupid affectation, but it isn’t immodest. And how is a boutonnière not a prop? And a hat? I wear a hat routinely. Not indoors: I was raised right. But the problem with a hat indoors isn’t that it is a prop.

    What looks to be going on here is that they really want to mandate some vision of a prom from the 1950s, but have only the vaguest notion of how to do this. Wackiness inevitably ensues.Report

    • One reason that rules have had to be written at all here is the apparent general decay of manners and good taste. Formerly such rules existed, but were not written, and did not need to be.

      Young people would never dare call someone tacky, or otherwise censure them, for these sorts of infractions anymore. But wearing a hat indoors was indeed uncouth, and a sign of disrespect to the establishment, at a time not so long ago.

      When rules like this are forgotten, or badly remembered, two alternatives arise: We may try to re-inscribe them as laws, with bad consequences. Or we may just let them go.Report

      • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        Do you consider Aniya Wolf’s sartorial decision ill-mannered or in poor taste? If so, why?

        I’m pretty sure that young people are fully prepared to censure what they consider tacky. It’s just that what is and is not considered tacky has changed. The rule against men (thought not women) wearing hats indoors is a zombie rule. I am in my fifties, and it isn’t really a rule even for my generation. Arguably, my following it is an affectation. In any case, there is no overarching reason why it should be the rule. It wasn’t always, then it was for a while, and then it wasn’t again. So it goes.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

        You’ve never, ever heard a young person called a slut (or man-whore) for inappropriately revealing dress? People still totally criticize each other, even as the standards change.

        FWIW, female school attire nowadays is much more modest than in the 1970’s, where pants were forbidden, but microskirts were in style.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Kim says:

          I’ve definitely heard that. But I’ve never heard anyone censured for wearing a hat indoors, except for when the censurer was someone of my parents’ generation.

          (I still obey that particular rule myself, just in case anyone notices.)Report

      • But wearing a hat indoors was indeed uncouth, and a sign of disrespect to the establishment, at a time not so long ago.

        It’s one of the reasons that polite establishments didn’t allow Jews.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

      @richard-hershberger and @jason-kuznicki

      I’m unclear on whether you actually adhere to the espoused believes regarding hats indoors. Regardless of the history, do you really consider it uncouth, impolite, or otherwise wrong to don headwear indoors? Does it matter what sort of headwear it is? The context? Or are all manner of hats worn indoors by men “wrong”?Report

      • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Kazzy says:

        I adhere to the rule, though not perfectly, out of habit. I suspect that this is because my father was a career Naval officer, where the rule was current (and may still be) long after it had largely disappeared in civilian life.

        No, I don’t believe it is wrong for a man to wear a hat indoors. It is an outdated arbitrary rule.

        I might raise an eyebrow at a man wearing a hat indoors while engaging in some sorts of cosplay, but this is at the inauthenticity. What constitutes cosplay is an interesting question. Dressing up and going to one of those self-consciously Victorian tea rooms might qualify.

        I think this is the heart of the matter for proms. Some people want a high school prom to be cosplay of an idealized 1950s prom. The kids largely don’t. They want to dress up, but that doesn’t make it cosplay per se.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Kazzy says:

        There is nothing intrinsically wrong with wearing a hat indoors. It’s not like serving raw chicken or going kayaking in a thunderstorm. But that’s not what most social rules are about anyway.

        On some very deep level, an important part of how society works is to be found in the sustained transmission of subtle, low-cost marks of respect. I can’t say exactly why this is, but I don’t believe that you can sensibly deny it. (Or, if you would, then simply invite me to dinner, and I will show you how wrong you are.)

        Part of why we have these mysterious rules may be so that we can all measure to a very fine degree the attentiveness and care exhibited by others. Choosing not to doff one’s hat in someone else’s house isn’t anywhere near as impolite as spitting on his floor. Even innocuous acts can be ruder: Consider taking a broom from you host’s closet and sweeping the floor. A harmless act! Maybe even sorely needed. But still really rude.

        Keeping your hat on isn’t nearly that bad. but it does say something, at least to some people, and it’s not nice, and it’s a thing you can very easily avoid saying.

        In cases like that, I feel like the burden of proof is on the one who would take the rude action, rather than the one who would avoid it.Report

    • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

      That dress code is weird and/or badly written and/or authoritarian for other reasons. Note the obsession with sunglasses. I think that wearing sunglasses indoors is a stupid affectation, but it isn’t immodest.

      Unless all school property is somehow indoors, that dress code actually bans wearing them *outside*, also.

      Not only is wearing sunglasses outside recommended by medical professionals, there are people medically sensitive to light who pretty much have to wear them outside.

      I also don’t know what the hell a ‘prop’ is. I mean, I do know, I volunteer at a theatre, but I don’t know why the school would ban them, or how they tell a ‘prop’ apart from, for example, a ‘bookbag’ or a ‘wallet’. Do they mean *accessories*?

      But then, what about umbrellas? Or scarves? Belts? Watches?

      And what about boys who *need* canes? ADA lawsuit, here we come!

      Additionally, ‘dress shoes’ is not actually a type of shoe, it’s more of a general category of shoes. I note they don’t require that boys wear *men’s* dress shoes…so put on those high heels, boys! They should have specified ‘Boys must wear oxfords or loafers.’ or something. (And also, there are types of men’s dress shoes that also count as boots. It’s not clear if they’re trying to ban those or not.)Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to DavidTC says:

        There are a lot of apparently-random dress-code restrictions that exist because they were instituted to deal with gang signs.

        Some items which are specifically prohibited include, but are not limited to:

        Gang writing, monikers, graffiti, symbols or tagging on school or personal property.
        Monogram or lettered belt buckles (S, N, M, R, B, X, 13, 14, etc.).
        Red or blue shoe laces.
        Red, Blue, and Gray Cargo belts.
        Webbed belts of any color or suspenders hanging down or dragging


        • Avatar DavidTC in reply to DensityDuck says:

          There are a lot of apparently-random dress-code restrictions that exist because they were instituted to deal with gang signs.

          My high school, weirdly, banned gang signs and colors one year.

          No student know what the hell that was supposed to be. We didn’t have any gangs at our school.

          So we all started flashing random hand gestures to each other (Which oddly had *not* been banned.) and wearing colored handkerchiefs tucked in our pants the rest of the year.

          It didn’t show up in the handbook the next year.

          Gang writing, monikers, graffiti, symbols or tagging on school or personal property.

          Writing and spray painting school property, of course, being something children were *normally* allowed to do until gangs ruined it. 😉

          My high school had a ‘no spray paint outside of art rooms without teacher permission’ rule, but I think that was more about vandalism than gangs.

          Monogram or lettered belt buckles (S, N, M, R, B, X, 13, 14, etc.).
          Red or blue shoe laces.
          Red, Blue, and Gray Cargo belts.

          I’ve never understood how gangs were supposed to be operating *within* schools. I mean, I am aware that other schools are bigger than the one I went to (Our class size was under 150.), but surely you know who else in your gang already and don’t need colors to remind you?

          Likewise, even if someone is of a different gang…what are you going to do to them *within* the school? Deny them access to a specific hall? That…doesn’t actually work.

          Is the theory that gang members will be *too stupid* to figure out the members of the other gangs they go to school with?

          And the entire idea that gangs will actually *attack* someone, assuming they’re a member of an opposing gang, simply due to a color they wear, is really weird. That can’t logically be how things work. Gang members wear colors to *advertise* that their gang controls something, and hence they don’t *deny* it when other gangs ask. Gangs aren’t going to infringe someone else’s territory *secretly*….but still wearing their gang colors! Huh?

          And, again, the idea that gangs can have territory *inside schools* is just really really weird.

          Granted, I’ve never actually lived anywhere *with* gangs, but none of this seems to make much sense.

          Oddly enough, I’ve read some stories that indicate *sitting down and talking* with gang leaders to have them modify their behavior works pretty well, so I can actually see ‘no color in school’ showing up as a *gang rule* in those circumstances. But I doubt it would work pushed from above.

          Webbed belts of any color or suspenders hanging down or dragging

          I had to google to figure out what the hell a ‘webbed belt’ was. It’s those belts without holes in them, where the metal clasp works by friction.

          You know, the kind that *come with* a lot of shorts.Report

          • Avatar DavidTC in reply to DavidTC says:

            Gang writing, monikers, graffiti, symbols or tagging on school or personal property.

            Heh, I didn’t notice earlier, but either that’s poor grammar and they mean ‘gang writing and *gang* monikers’, or they literally just banned people from putting their names on their own property. (Which is something you actually were *supposed* to do at my school, although I’m not sure it was a rule.)Report

          • Avatar Kim in reply to DavidTC says:

            “We didn’t have any gangs at our school.”
            I doubt that. You didn’t have any violent gangs at your school, maybe? The difference between a gang and a school clique is minimal.

            Gangs wear colors to signal identification — and actual gang wars outside of school spill over into hostility in it. Since gangs outside of school tend to be “area of control” entities, it is quite possible that they don’t know who is of a particular other gang if they don’t wear the colors. (Also, the colors are simply inflammatory — wearing them is like contesting the school).

            This is all just simple game theory, I’ve lived in places with gangs but never gone to school there.Report

            • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Kim says:

              I doubt that. You didn’t have any violent gangs at your school, maybe? The difference between a gang and a school clique is minimal.

              Gangs are not the same thing as ‘groups of people’.

              Gangs, by definition, are groups of people who *control territory via threat of violence*. They have to do that at minimum.

              There is no such thing as a non-violent gang, or at least no such thing as a gang that doesn’t employ the *threat* of violence.Report

  7. Avatar Kolohe says:

    You need to teach the kids about arbitrary rules, capriciously enforced, so they’ll be ready for Democratic Party caucuses after they graduate.Report

  8. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    I am on Jason’s side here. This is a Catholic School, a private institution. They are obvious hypocrites but as a private school, they get to be as big as hypocrites as they want. You can call them out on it though.

    Now if this were a public school, she would have some legal arguments to stand on probably.Report

    • Privacy is fine. But own it. Don’t lie about this being the dress code’s fault. Don’t lie about loving, respecting, and cherishing. Just say, “We do not like Aniya Wolf because she isn’t what we want her to be, so we treated her differently in an attempt to punish her for her difference.”Report

      • Avatar trizzlor in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        >>Privacy is fine. But own it.

        There’s an interesting dynamic here, in that if the school was explicit about their bigotry, most people would’ve shrugged and said “Catholic school, private party, so it goes”. But because the school tried to calibrate their response they are now a ripe target for accusations of hypocrisy. Not that I disagree with this post, I think calling them out is totally appropriate. But it does demonstrate an odd thing about adjusting to new cultural norms, that sometimes the people who are trying get more flack than those who aren’t.Report

        • Avatar El Muneco in reply to trizzlor says:

          The question is: are they actually trying to adjust to new cultural norms, or paying lip service to the fact that there are new cultural norms (that they don’t actually subscribe to), in the hope that this will all blow over soon so that they can go back to normal when the klieg lights go away?Report

  9. Of course she’ll wear a tuxedo. What is she, a farmer?Report

  10. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Let me first say that I abhor dress codes in pretty much all forms. I especially abhor them when they are loaded with sexism, racism, and other clearly prejudiced or discriminatory crap.


    I worked in a school with a dress code for five years. We were not a Catholic or otherwise religiously affiliated school but our dress code was pretty similar to what you’d see at most Catholic schools. On a daily basis, females were free to choose pants, skirts, or jumpers (younger ones could also choose a skort). However, for “formal dress occasions), females were required to wear the skirts/jumpers (whichever applied to their age-range). We *very* occasionally made exception but as a general rule, this was the expectation and it was enforced rather, well, forcefully. It was done independently of the student’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or anything else aside from her sex/gender. If you were a female, you had to wear the skirt or jumper. When I questioned this and pushed back against it, I was met with rather insistence that girls are just supposed to wear those things and that is a totally reasonable expectation/enforcement in order to teach formality and other assorted things.

    I thought this was bully crap. But it was what all those folks thought.

    So it isn’t clear to me that this is necessarily about punishing her. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. Some people and institutions just really think that girls are supposed to be in dressed and skirts and the like and that that is something worth enforcing while the other things can be taken or left on a case-by-case basis.

    It is a gross attitude that I similarly abhor. But it is an alternative explanation for the school’s actions here.Report

    • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to Kazzy says:

      That the conclusion was nothing more substantive than “girls are just supposed to wear those things” really gives the game away.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        What game? That they’re sexist? Obviously!

        But that doesn’t mean their intention is to punish females.

        ETA: Some of them were females themselves (including the most vociferous). Which doesn’t exclude the possibility of sexism or female punishment. But I think it improves the odds that something other than the latter was the conscious intent.Report

        • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to Kazzy says:

          If the most substantive explanation on offer is, “Just because…” then I think it is reasonable to conclude that the conscious intent was punishing others.Report

          • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

            So it’s all about punishment, not any possibility the morally authority of the faction was built/written to the social norms of that faction?Report

          • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

            Well, it was more than “Just because.” Not much more. But more. And, to my ears, it boiled down to just because. But that is because I am not one for adherence to traditional norms for traditions sake. Their argument is/was that girls would be expected to dress this way as adults and needed to learn to do so. I mean, that is the basis for many dress codes. Why make 9-year-old boys wear ties? To punish their necks and hand muscles?Report

            • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to Kazzy says:

              Girls are expected to wear dresses as adults? When was this?Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                It is what many of these folks genuinely believe.

                And are they entirely wrong? There are indeed situations where women are expected though not necessarily required to wear dresses. How many women wear something other than a dress to a cocktail party? Or wedding? A few do but the vast, vast, vast majority do not. And how many wear dresses to those events because they really really want to and how many wear dresses because “that’s just what you do at those events”?

                Again, not attitudes I agree with. But attitudes that exists and which will be better dispelled (assuming that is the intent) through engagement rather than assuming the worst of motives about the holders of those ideas.Report

              • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to Kazzy says:

                You’re asking the wrong guy about cocktail parties.

                Also, you’re describing formal events – where formal wear is generally required (something Aniya Wolf was not trying to avoid, incidentally) – versus a school setting?Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                What I’m saying is that the logic employed is, “These girls will grow up into women who attend cocktail parties and banquets and they will be expected to dress a certain way and it is important that we teach them that.”Report

              • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to Kazzy says:

                That sounds like a one-day lesson, rather than a year-long commitment.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                I concur.

                They disagree. Does that mean they’re lying when they talk about working for the best interests of the children?Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                At weddings, funerals, and at most excessively formal occasions.

                It’s called a “little black dress” for a reason — it works for all occasions, and is conservative to boot.Report

              • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to Kim says:

                A little black dress is not conservative enough for two of the entities involved this: Wolf and the school.Report

  11. Avatar Jaybird says:

    We need to change the Catholics to have them be more like us. If they won’t do it willingly, we need to explore the acceptable methods of coercion to make them be more like us.Report

    • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to Jaybird says:

      Just out of curiosity: which part of this comment has anything to do with what I’ve written?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        Oh, I agree with you here. I’m thinking about how we can use the logic here to make Muslim schools more progressive.

        The Hijab, for example, is like the Confederate Flag. While it’s possible to display it proudly and it not be evidence of regressive bigotry, they need to be made to understand that there is a lot of historical baggage in the symbol and it doesn’t belong in any public place as part of any official display.

        Getting the Catholics to change is an important first step in getting the Muslims to change.

        We just need to hammer out exactly which coercive tools are appropriate to use when we finally decide to start nudging them.

        I think that shaming is a good start.Report

        • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to Jaybird says:

          Okay, so you’re trolling?Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

            Oh, no. I look at this attitude and I see that this is a genie that won’t go back in the bottle.

            Given that I don’t really mind where I see this eventually going, I see what you’re arguing for here as a necessary first step.Report

            • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to Jaybird says:

              What is it that you think that I am arguing for?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                Oh, no. I think that you’re just lashing out against Catholics and flailing with whatever weapon seems handy at the moment. I suspect that you don’t see how this will be used again and again and again after it’s used it this one time, which, I suspect, you see as just being limited to this one time (or, at least, limited to when you, or people very much like you, will see it as appropriate to be used).

                Since I don’t mind how it’s going to be used the second, third, and fourth times (and all of the times down the road), I don’t mind how it’s going to be used here.

                Small price to pay, really.Report

              • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to Jaybird says:

                @jaybird Catholics? Not the school, not the institutional hierarchy, not even the broader church itself, but all Catholics everywhere? That is a very neat trick.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                Yeah, don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back.Report

              • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to Jaybird says:

                I admire the courage of your work here. It is truly awe-inspiring stuff.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                What is it that you think that I am arguing for?

                Oh, did this change from “is that what you think that I am arguing for?”

                Because, if it did, that completely changes my post below! I’ll have to come up with another response to answer this question as my last response answered the one I thought I saw.Report

              • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to Jaybird says:

                I asked you to clarify what you thought I was arguing for in terms of what you imagined my position on this particular issue to be. I meant to know what exactly you think my position is, although I suppose the broader question of why anybody anywhere gets involved in comment threads could also be inferred. But I did not change or edit my comment.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                What is it that you think that I am arguing for?

                Eventually, that Catholic behaviors align with your Progressive ideals and that the only areas where you and Catholics disagree would be in theoretical areas (like on the nature of transubstantiation or the importance of hanging out on Sunday morning) but, apart from trivial little things that happen in off-hours, for the vast majority of observable behaviors, there is no substantial difference between demonstrated Catholic behavior and cultural practice and what you see as appropriate behavior and cultural practice.

                An EPCOT multiculturalism where there may be surface differences between this culture and that one (spices! outfits! songs! holidays!) but, at the end of the day, everybody is cool with, for example, gay marriage.Report

              • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to Jaybird says:

                I do not want Catholic institutions to change, necessarily, nor do I want them to align with “Progressive ideals” whatever the hell those are. Being honest about motivations though? I suppose I would like to see that.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                Being honest about motivations though? I suppose I would like to see that.

                As a precursor to *WHAT*?Report

              • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to Jaybird says:

                Letting the market adjudicate decision-making.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                Which, I presume, will be adjudicated in favor of behaviors representative of actual morality instead of some bullshit hypocrisy?Report

              • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to Jaybird says:

                That is surely up to the interpreters.Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko in reply to Jaybird says:

                But the behavior in question has moral content. If criticizing, say, religious parents that abuse or disown their gay children is “Epcot multiculturalusm,” then sign me up.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Don Zeko says:

                Absolutely! I agree!

                Indeed, these are ideals that should be shared by downright everybody, no matter who or where they are.Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko in reply to Jaybird says:

                So we agree on the core concept of universal human rights. Cool. Like @pillsy , I’m a bit mystified as to what you’re trying to get at here.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Don Zeko says:

                We’ve always agreed on the core concept of universal human rights.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Don Zeko says:

                “So we agree on the core concept of universal human rights. I’m a bit mystified as to what you’re trying to get at here.”

                What Jaybird wants you to tell him is what you think ought to happen to people who don’t agree.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to DensityDuck says:

                What Jaybird wants you to tell him is what you think ought to happen to people who don’t agree.

                Is this like the time I said I don’t enjoy spending time on alt-right site and reading their stuff, and it was decided that nazis burning books was the natural place I was dragging society by uttering such a thing?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                I think it’s more like the time Jaybird stressed that you better have thought thru every conceivable unintended consequence of expressing a view before you actually express it!Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                Hey. If we know it’s going to happen, it stops being an unintended consequence.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                If you already know it’s going to happen then a person’s expressions drop out as contributory or worthy of judgment.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                The former, maybe. The latter, never.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                We all have to find that line and draw it in the sand for everyone to see… 🙂Report

              • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Stillwater says:

                With sobriety, I propose that people not do this — unless they fear the possibility of having a thought punctured by a good counter-argument. If you’re going to play in our combox, you ought to expect sparring partners who will use what’s at their disposal. I’ve taken my share of blows; you will too, like everyone else. If there were no risk of losing, winning wouldn’t be nearly so much fun.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Burt Likko says:

                Fair enough, Burt. I actually didn’t think it was outa line since DD referenced what he thought JB was wondering about. And in this thread lots of people have been puzzled what JB is getting on about…. I offered an answer to that. One that I stand by, actually, given lots of discussions with JB.

                But point taken.Report

            • Avatar Don Zeko in reply to Jaybird says:

              So the genie in question is public criticism of the cultural/religious practices of others when we find those practices morally objectionable? When has that genie ever been in the bottle? It seems to me that it was deployed in the past (and very much still today, but w/e) against those that step outside heteronirmative gender roles even slightly. Funny how we only worry about slippery slope when the shoe is on the other foot.Report

    • Avatar pillsy in reply to Jaybird says:

      We need to change the Catholics to have them be more like us. If they won’t do it willingly, we need to explore the acceptable methods of coercion to make them be more like us.

      Let’s start by kicking them out of social functions we hold for violating alleged rules about what they’re required to wear!Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to pillsy says:

        Social exclusion. I dig it. Does it extend to shunning outside of these social functions or will social exclusion be limited to these little soirees?Report

        • Avatar pillsy in reply to Jaybird says:

          We can cross that bridge when we come to it. They decided to capriciously single out Ms King for exclusion in order to demonstrate their love to her; surely they won’t complain when we show how much we love them by doing the exact same thing.

          It seems painfully silly to argue that it’s bad for Sam to use social consequences to enforce his norms in order to defend the school using social consequences to enforce its norms. It’s turtles all the way down.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to pillsy says:

            I’m not arguing that it’s bad for Sam to use social consequences to enforce our norms.

            I’m arguing that it makes perfect sense to use social consequences to enforce our norms and that we need to do it more often if we want to make sure that more people have our norms.

            There are a lot of people out there who do not share our norms, after all.Report

            • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to Jaybird says:

              What social consequences are we discussing again? The school got what it wanted. Aniya Wolf stayed home. She is the one who suffered the consequences.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                And that’s wrong, don’t you agree?

                This is something that ought not to have happened, don’t you agree?

                We should do what we can to make sure that this never happens again, don’t you agree?

                The only question that remains is what tools should we be using to make sure that this never happens again. We’ve already touched on “social exclusion”.

                Are there any others that you think we should be using?Report

              • Avatar pillsy in reply to Jaybird says:

                I have absolutely no idea what you’re trying to get out of this exchange.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to pillsy says:

                Jaybird’s point is that Sam’s criticism is couched in language about process: You shouldn’t exclude (or use other coercive measures against) people just because they violate some norms, when what is in fact bothering him are the object level claims of catholics. Basically, in trying to make this a federal case (or at least heartily approving of it being one), Sam is being hypocritical. Sam is perfectly willing to use social exclusion and shame against people who have different object level beliefs than he does about morality. His beef with the high school is not that they use such measures at all, it is that they use such measures on the basis of a morality that he does not endorse.Report

              • Avatar Sam in reply to Murali says:

                This is entirely untrue.Report

              • Avatar Sam in reply to Murali says:

                @murali Just to clarify further – my issue with the process is that it was used as cover to justify treating one student (who clearly hadn’t broken the dress code’s rules per the way it was written) very differently than all of the other students (who had broken the dress code per the way it was written). If you then try to square the opposition to Aniya Wolf’s tuxedo with everybody else’s violations within the context of dress code’s emphasized idea of modesty and nothing adds up.

                However, if consider the possibility of unstated motivation, it becomes remarkably easy to figure out why Wolf didn’t pass muster but everybody else did.

                The issue isn’t changing the school, or the belief of the some American Catholics who remain outraged at the idea of homosexuality. The issue is them being honest about it. If the school had said, “Aniya Wolf was the issue here…” then this is written very differently.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Sam says:

                The unstated rule need not be a simple animus towards gay people. The unstated rule more plausibly is a very explicit heteronormativity. We know that the Catholic church is explicitly heteronormative. Rules about modesty usually presuppose heteronormativity. We can especially take them as presupposing that when promulgated by Catholic institutions.

                The thing about heteronormativity is that it is not about necessarily about who gets excited by what, though that is a part of it. The issue is more centrally about gender expression. Nothing about lesbianism necessitates a male gender expression and nothing about a heterosexual orientation precludes cross gendered expression. The issue isn’t about her being lesbian, it is about her being butch. She could be straight and would have been refused entry if she had dressed like that. I’m not saying that its wrong to be butch. And for all I know she could have some transgendered proclivities. And if that is the case ze occupies a difficult enough area to make zir situation more complicated.

                Now all that detour aside, the kind of coyness about what would constitute a violation of their rules is disingenuous rules lawyering. The intent of the dress code is clear enough given that the Catholic position on gender and sexuality is clear enough. Wolf’s wearing a men’s suit is a clearer violation of heteronormative standards than some risqué ball gowns. It isn’t puzzling that Wolf’s violation is enforced and others’ are not. Now, we may not buy into Catholic norms about heteronormativity, and we’re certainly not obligated to, but their stance on this is well known and their response here is contiguous with those norms. Moreover it is not unknown for people who accept such norms to regard their violation as instances of immodesty or indecency.

                Now, you might regard heteronormativity as intrinsically bigoted and homophobic (though I think transphobic might be the more accurate description of the problem here). Its not an unusual position, though I think it is an arguable one. But we need not go into that now. The point I’m trying to make is that given the norm that we grant is bigoted in some way does your post here amount to anything more than an attempt to shame people who happen to hold this norm?Report

              • Avatar Sam in reply to Murali says:

                @murali It cannot simultaneously be that the rules very much matter and that reading the rules is lawyering. They aren’t MY rules. That the rule’s authors didn’t forsee a girl wearing a tuxedo isn’t Aniya Wolf’s fault.

                As for the that shame is motivating this – nonsense. The criticism is the school’s refusal to be honest about its motivation for punishing Wolf for not having violating the rules and ignoring all of the other girls who did.

                The position you’re arguing for seems to be that a Catholic institution can selectively target only it’s gay students for a violation that wasn’t actually specified as such, and that even observing this is an unreasonable attempt to shame the institution’s unequal treatment of its students. In other words, it is fine for Aniya Wolf to endure, but anything coming back on the far more powerful of the two is unfair.

                F that.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Sam says:

                Jesus man, if that’s what you read from my comment then you’ve got a severe reading comprehension problem. Or do you think that the only rules that matter are those that are written down? In your world, there are no such things as customary rules? Unwritten rules? You are rules lawyering because you look at the written rules without noticing unwritten rules. Often times, rules remain unwritten not because they are unimportant, but because nobody thought that it ever needed to be written down.Report

              • Avatar Sam in reply to Murali says:

                @murali Unwritten rules are conveniences that abusive majorities afford themselves. “It isn’t up to us to be smart enough to design a set of rules. It’s up to you to figure out what we want and to suffer when you incorrectly infer those desires. It always gives us an out when we haven’t properly accounted for ourselves.”

                For a good example of this, look at those who defend baseball’s unwritten rules by throwing baseballs at players who allegedly break them. They’re a tool of bullies and nothing more.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Sam says:

                I’ll chalk the above up to deep ignorance.


              • Avatar Sam in reply to Murali says:

                @murali Can you point me toward the common law that forbids a teenager from wearing a tuxedo to her prom? Or is this the sort of common law that is made up on the spot to justify inequitable treatment?

                But sure, “deep ignorance.” Wouldn’t it save you time to say that out groups have it coming to them for defying majority expectations?Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Sam says:

                You: Unwritten rules are conveniences that abusive majorities afford themselves

                Me: Here is a bunch of law a significant portion of which is unwritten and just

                You: No common law rule forbidding girls from wearing tux’s

                I’m not saying all the common law is just (and one which forbade women from wearing a tux would be unjust unwritten or otherwise) But nevertheless, the principle remains just that: a great many unwritten rules exist which are not just tools of a majority to bully a minority. So your initial generalisation is one of the stupidest bullshit generalisations that I’ve seen on this site. No doubt there is a worry that abusers would like to paint their abuse as the exercise of unwritten rules, but if it is the case that at least some times the injustice is the result of the application of a bad unwritten rule, then there must be good unwritten rules too.

                Also, think about it. Human societies and rules (of varying degrees of justice) must have existed long before the written word. How would that have been possible if everything was just the abusive exercise of power?Report

              • Avatar Sam in reply to Murali says:

                @murali Is an unwritten rule that mandates a girl expose more skin than she is comfortable doing a good one or a bad one? My contention is that even if it does exist (which it doesn’t), it would still qualify as the bad kind which you have allowed for. Are you saying forced exposure is good? Or is it something else?Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Sam says:

                I don’t like such a rule. I wouldn’t impose it in any organisation I run. Right now, I’m at the point of being sceptical about a lot of stuff that many people take for granted. So let’s chalk this down somewhere between “I don’t know” and “probably a bad rule”.

                My point was not that the rule was a great one or that all rules good or bad must be followed or that authority justifies anything. My point was that you seemed to be making a point about not obeying one’s own rules when really you had a problem with the unwritten rule. But now since you don’t believe that there are unwritten rules and it always is an excuse for the abusive exercise of power, I’ll take back my initial criticism. You are not being hypocritical. Rather, you are paranoid and delusional. The existence of unwritten rules is a basic empirical fact which explains a lot of social behaviour. Your alternative explanation (that people just use it as an excuse for abuse) is bizarre and paranoid. If all (positive) claims about unwritten rules are false, then no one would ever invoke it as an excuse because they would know that the excuse would simply be unbelievable. Cases of abuse can masquerade as unwritten rules only if the existence of unwritten rules is plausible. And the latter is plausible only if people experience it in their daily lives and observe others both complying with those unwritten rules and flouting those rules. More importantly,this can only happen when you see it being possible that people can wrongfully flout unwritten rules. The alternative explanation is a paranoid conspiracy theory.Report

              • Avatar Sam in reply to Murali says:

                Can you provide an positive example of an unwritten rule being enforced against somebody? Because I tend to see unwritten rules generally invoked to justify retaliation against unliked people. This occurs most often in sports. Baseball, for example, is chockablock with unwritten rules that seem to simultaneously disincentive celebration and target minority players.

                But I’m willing to listen to examples of good unwritten rules being flouted.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Sam says:

                The law against murder used to be unwritten. As was much of the criminal law in the UK

                A lot of contract law which is routinely enforced is unwritten

                Here’s a rather famous one:
                In Riggs vs Palmer, Elmer Palmer murdered his grandfather for his will (I think either he was impatient or he wanted to prevent his grandfather from changing it I cant remember which). While he suffered the criminal penalty for that crime, no written rule invalidated his claim on his grandfather’s estate. The judge’s decision relied on an unwritten rule that forbade the law from benefiting someone from their own wrongdoing.

                Arguably, roe vs wade also involved the application of unwritten rules to get the right result

                In fact, ask any lawyer and probably all or most supreme court cases (especially the harder ones) involve the application of unwritten rules. I’ve got to go now to london. When I’m back tonight I’ll supply more examplesReport

              • Avatar Francis in reply to Murali says:

                Blackstone’s Commentaries were first published in 1765. And both before and after, decisions were written. It’s not that the law was unwritten, it’s that common law developed by precedent not statute.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Francis says:

                The decisions are not the law. The unwritten law is inferrable from prior decisions. That’s why its possible that some prior decisions were mistakes and others were correct qua the law. Sometimes judges have to reach outside of any established rule, but where there are binding precedents, those precedents are not themselves identical to the law, but constitute a pattern which evidences the existence of a social rule.Report

              • Avatar Sam in reply to Murali says:

                Incidentally, I want to clarify the rules.

                “You’re not welcome here for for achieving a modesty standard we claimed to hold because you violated rules that we didn’t write down while everybody else who does violate the rules we did write down remains welcome… ” is acceptable.

                “Something else is motivating this punishment and it is worth taking that into account when evaluating this punishment…” is not acceptable.

                “You’re deeply ignorant… ” is acceptable.

                “Unwritten rules are a manipulative way to justify abuse…” is not acceptable.

                I’d swear that this is all stacked in such a way as to defend the majority from criticism while allowing punishments to continue being visited against out groups, but I worry that writing that isn’t allowed. I’ve checked the rules, and it isn’t in there, but unwritten rules might forbid it? Hopefully @murali can fill in these very blanks.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Sam says:

                Right now, in the US, I hardly think homophobes are the majority.Report

              • Avatar Sam in reply to Murali says:

                I thought this was simply an unwritten rule unmotivated by any sort of animus?Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Sam says:

                Well, I was using the word bigotry in the sense of endorsing norms that we regard as have a disparate impact since that seems to be the sense of the term as used hereabouts.Report

              • Avatar Sam in reply to Murali says:

                So now we’re are debating whether targeting a gay student for violating a dress code that she hadn’t actually violated (while still achieved the dress code’s stated goal) while ignoring all of the other dress code violations of all of the prom’s other students is bigotry? Surely it is at least conceivably possible? Or is even that unfair?Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to Sam says:

                No, we’re not. You can call it whatever you like. What exactly we call it is irrelevant as long as we’re clear about the way we use the word and what is going on. I myself do sometimes slide between the two usages and which one I use does depend on context. I confess that we all could do better in terms of precision by fixing and being explicit about which way we use terms, but that would make language too clunky.

                So, let me be a bit clunky and define two kinds of bigotry.

                Bigotry1: Action or rule that disparately impacts (or can be expected to disparately impact) people belonging to different groups.

                Bigotry2: Bigotry1 + motivated by animus for disadvantaged group

                I want to flag that I think Bigotry1 might be too wide a definition. We might think that we want to include some conditions about the unfairness of the disparate impact or the regrettable-ness about it. But, I think we should resist this. After all, there are some things we want to call bigotry which are nevertheless motivated by good intentions. Also, we might want to, just to avoid exactly this terminological argument we are having, agree to call something bigoted without that committing us to whether it is morally bad. If anyone can suggest a non ad-hoc refinement for the term, I am open to suggestions.

                So, we disagree about whether there was a violation of the dress code.

                We also disagree about whether her exclusion was an act of bigotry2

                We do agree that it was a case of bigotry1. Plus we also agree that it was wrong of them to have committed bigotry1 in this case.Report

              • Avatar pillsy in reply to Murali says:

                Often times, rules remain unwritten not because they are unimportant, but because nobody thought that it ever needed to be written down.

                Other times, people make bad decisions on the spot and then make dishonest post hoc justifications in order to avoid admitting they made a mistake. Catholic heteronormativity aside, I don’t think it’s remotely hard to imagine Bishop McDevitt High School on Earth Prime admitting Aniya King in her tux, on the grounds that it violates neither the letter or spirt of the rules, because they’re self-evidently there to enforce notions of formality and modesty that aren’t violated.

                I think it’s probably clear from my other posts that I don’t think the process-based argument is particularly interesting[1], but the assumption that the school here is acting transparently and in self-evident good faith is just that, an assumption, and not, IMO, the most plausible one.

                [1] The high school on Earth Prime could be ignoring their well-known but unwritten rule, and that would be pretty cool!Report

              • Avatar veronica d in reply to Murali says:

                The unstated rule need not be a simple animus towards gay people. The unstated rule more plausibly is a very explicit heteronormativity.

                Heh. So anyway, across the street from me at MIT, they’ve been working diligently to invent the quantum knife, which when finished will allow you to split hairs this finely. But sadly the prototypes are not publicly available. Plus, to be honest, they haven’t performed at anywhere near their desired effectiveness.

                Anyway, until such time as the quantum knife becomes effective and generally available, I’m afraid such arguments will be met with hilarious mockery.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to veronica d says:

                Being sensitive to these distinctions is part of my job. I’ve got my conceptual quantum knife right here ready to split any hair on request.Report

            • Avatar pillsy in reply to Jaybird says:

              So why is it no big deal when Bishop McDevitt High School does it to Aniya Wolf, but somehow “letting a genie out of a bottle” when Sam Wilkinson does it to Bishop McDevitt High School?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to pillsy says:

                What do you mean “no big deal”? It’s something that should be prevented from happening again.

                Or do you think that it *SHOULD* happen again?Report

              • Avatar pillsy in reply to Jaybird says:

                What do you mean “no big deal”?

                I mean, you don’t seem to think that what the high school did sets a dangerous precedent, but you do seem think that what Sam is doing could set a dangerous precedent. That seems obviously self-contradictory to me, since what Sam did is actually a considerably milder form of the same kind of thing.

                If that’s not what you think, perhaps you could try stating your position more plainly.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to pillsy says:

                Dangerous? To whom?

                What the high school did was merely in line with more or less what high schools have been doing for decades, as far as I can tell from movies that target adolescents.

                Footloose, for example, talks about this sort of bullshit.

                The good guys won in Footloose, they will eventually win here. Moreover, they *WILL* win here. I am confident that I will hear of the last time that a Catholic school in the United States pulls crap like this. Indeed, this instance right here might well be the last time that a Catholic school in the United States pulls crap like this.Report

              • Avatar pillsy in reply to Jaybird says:

                Dangerous? To whom?

                Good question! You seemed to think it would open the door for similar criticism of Muslim schools with dress codes of their own upthread.

                Which, like, that door is open already. Every one of these doors is open, has been open from time immemorial, and really can’t be closed, nor would I want to close them.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to pillsy says:

                Of course it will. And here’s the best part: if the Muslims want to be sexist, they’ll have the right to still be sexist but our criticism of their regressive attitudes towards sexuality will help give their women tools to fight against their patriarchal culture.

                It will be a good thing.

                Islam becoming absorbed into our EPCOT multiculturalism will benefit pretty much everybody.

                There are people among them who think that they won’t benefit but they will. And the ones who seriously won’t? Hell with them anyway.Report

              • Avatar Don Zeko in reply to Jaybird says:

                This trend depends in part upon a more liberalized lifestyle being appealing to people, no?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Don Zeko says:

                All you have to do is let a little sunshine in and make stuff public.

                “Hey. Look over here. Look at what these people are doing!”

                And, as Sam said, we let the market adjudicate decision-making.Report

              • Avatar pillsy in reply to Don Zeko says:


                I think the modesty norms implicit in both the wearing of headscarves and this Catholic school’s stated dress code are somewhere between “daft” and “harmful”, but it’s not like they’re unpopular.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to pillsy says:

                Shaming will make the popular into the unpopular.Report

              • Avatar pillsy in reply to Jaybird says:

                Sometimes that works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

                My guess is there will still be significant minorities of Americans engaged in this kind of silliness 100 years from now. Such is life.Report

          • Avatar Joe Sal in reply to pillsy says:

            It’s factions all the way down. We’re just haggling rules/laws.

            Why aren’t the nudists at this table?Report

  12. Avatar Francis says:

    The real problem is that the moment the school knew she was gay she should have been instructed that she was objectively disordered and that if she ever had gay sex she would be committing a mortal sin due to which, if she died unrepentant, she would be condemned to Hell.

    Now, on hearing that message more than once, she would have probably dropped out, and these days Catholic schools need students (and their parents’s money). So the school broke its own rule, for years, and then showed its cowardice one last time at the prom. While this is not a problem that needs a governmental solution, the school absolutely should be called out on social media for its bigotry, cowardice and contempt for its own beliefs.Report

  13. Avatar Kazzy says:


    How would you feel if a conservative writer looked at a school like mine — with zero dress codes beyond encouraging seasonably appropriate clothing and safe footwear — and said, “Clearly that school wants those children to grow up to be degenerates and failures. Any statements to the contrary are lies. They do not respect individuality and appreciate diversity. They want to create little monsters”? How would you react? Would you consider that a fair assessment of my school?Report

    • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to Kazzy says:

      I would want something in the way of evidence to back up that claim. I have provided what I consider to be fairly substantive evidence that what the school was saying does not jive at all with what it was doing.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        But you are both viewing that evidence through a fairly narrow lens AND, at times, misrepresenting it. You keep referring to what the school said though none of the provided quotes back up those claims. Unless you want to infer meaning. Which you then deny them the ability to do so with the dress code itself.

        As much as anything, you seem to be upset that schools (as an extension of culture and society at large) are imperfect entities. Policies are poorly written and open to interpretation. Rules are inconsistently applied. Can this sometimes culminate in an obvious case of selective persecution? Yes. Can it also be other things? Yes. That is all I’m arguing.

        Telling these people they are they are “no doubt” lying and that they do not love their students — this one in particular or all of them in general — are really strong claims to make and I do not think the evidence you have provided back that up.Report

        • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to Kazzy says:

          The school emphasized its dress code. Evidence shows that it did not actually care to enforce its dress code upon anybody but the most obviously different of the group.

          And I do not doubt that Bishop McDevitt loves its students. I doubt strongly that it loves, respects, and cherishes Aniya Wolf. If it makes things easier, I would doubt anybody who claimed to love/respect/cherish somebody whose discomfort they sought.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

            What do you mean by “emphasized”?

            Let me ask… how many high school students enjoy tests? How many are subjected to testing despite not enjoying them or feeling uncomfortable when taking them? Are those students not loved/respected/cherished?

            I know it might feel silly to make such an analogy but, again, your perspective seems to be that there is only one way to interpret the events.

            Let me ask: Do you think my interpretation of the proceedings is a fair one? Maybe not the correct one… but a fair and reasonable one?Report

            • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to Kazzy says:

              Is taking a test analogous to exposing your physical body?Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                For some people, it can be. Do you think testing anxiety is a thing? And do you think a group of predominantly (if not entirely) male administrators might genuinely look at the requirement that a girl wear a skirt/dress that exposes skin and say, “What’s the big deal? I wear shorts all summer!”

                Which, again, DOES NOT MAKE THEM RIGHT! It makes them ignorant and naive and lacking empathy and perspective. It probably makes them ill-suited to lead a school, especially one that includes female students. But it does not make them liars.Report

              • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to Kazzy says:

                It makes them liars if their dress code is not evenly enforced upon all attendees. If only one attendee’s clothing ACTUALLY matters, that is where the lie of the dress code’s importance is illustrated.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                You still haven’t demonstrated the level of importance applied to the dress code, either in totality or individual elements.

                And if that is your standard, every goddamn school is full of liars.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

                I’d also appreciate you answered my question about my interpretation of events and how reasonable/fair it is.Report

              • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to Kazzy says:

                The school excluded Aniya Wolf for violating its dress code. The school (apparently) did not exclude anybody else for violating its dress code. I am not certain how this does not illustrate the alleged importance of the dress code?

                The school’s position was a dress code violation was the motivating favor. You can read about that here (although that PennLive website keeps crashing my browsers).

                Which events require interpretation? I am happy to do so but struggling to follow along? We’re nesting the bejesus out of this.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                It would demonstrate the importance of certain aspects of the dress code. Are all rules of equal import, even those contained within the same document?

                If anything, your analysis seems to agree with me: the school finds certain dress code violations to be more egregious than others and responded accordingly. This makes them many things but not liars.Report

              • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to Kazzy says:

                1. There is no reason to believe that they aren’t all equal, particularly if the goal is modesty.

                2. She didn’t violate the dress code.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                Again, I ask, do you think your interpretation of events is the ONLY reasonable one?

                Or could other people (like me!) look at those very same events and come to a different but also reasonable interpretation (like I have!)?Report

              • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to Kazzy says:

                1. My interpretation is the only reasonable one that I can come to.

                2. People can obviously arrive at different conclusions. I think their conclusions are wrong given the specifics of this incident.

                3. So if you believe them when they say that they love this student, and that this is why they treated her differently than all of the other students, and the evidence that I have presented does not change your mind, then we simply have to agree to disagree, surely?Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

                It would seem that we do. And I’m cool with that!

                I guess I was struggling with the finality you seemed to initially present. And maybe that is just a reading comprehension issue on my part. It just struck me as if you were saying, “The only way to interpret it…” when it seems more like you are actually saying, “The only way I can interpret it…”

                And, again, just to be clear, I abhor what the school is doing and think it is in derelict of their duty as educators as I understand that. Sadly, I do not (yet!) have the final say on that.Report

  14. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    First and foremost: I agree with @sam-wilkinson in the OP’s thesis that Ms. Wolf was treated unfairly. Nothing I’ve got to say here should be seen as moderating that assertion.

    I shrink from wondering about whether Ms. Wolf would have been better-served finding a teacher or a cleric at the school and indicating that she intended to wear traditionally male dress to the prom and working out in advance if that would be okay. To make that suggestion blames the victim. The school authorities had at least as much notice of her wearing traditionally male clothes in day to day experience, and had at least as much opportunity to go to her and inquire. That would have been a better showing of love and respect than what happened.

    Second: I also agree with @jason-kuznicki ‘s thesis that the unfairness and arbitrariness of Ms. Wolf’s treatment is, ultimately, just too bad. It’s a private school, not an arm of the government, so Ms. Wolf’s legal rights are profoundly circumscribed. And for that reason this is a purely cultural moment of discussion, not a legal one at all. If the school wants the young ladies to wear dresses or skirts only, it has the latitude to say so, and to do so.

    Third: I recall from my own teachers at the Catholic high school I attended that they approached dress code violations with great reluctance and distaste. Much as I’ve come to learn from taking on the duty of policing comments here, it’s dreary and unpleasant and a nobody-wins sort of task. So it’s easy to let the minor infractions slide, like the young lady with the slit dress that went a few knuckles over the tips of her fingers or even the one who got a dress with an under-the-arm cutaway (or her friend next to her whose neckline appears to PLUNGE). These young ladies go to tremendous effort and expense to go to a formal dance and the teachers and chaperones really do want them to have a good time doing it.

    So of course, denying admission to Ms. Wolf, who also went to great expense and effort to look nice, must have seemed an extreme case to someone. And quite obviously, it was her selection of traditionally male garb. Had she been a man, she’d have been admitted in that tux. Would one of the young men at the school have been denied admission had he shown up in a dress or skirt? How about a kilt?

    Which is why dress codes and speech codes are so inherently difficult to write: you just can’t think of everything in advance, and when something comes up you’re litigating minutiae. A single sentence prefacing the dress code like “Students and their guests are expected to dress appropriately for a formal event. The guidelines below are illustrative interpretations of this principle.” Still informal and in need of on-the-spot interpretation but there is more notice, more to discuss in the inevitable, heated litigation to follow. One could reasonably argue that “dressing appropriately” means conforming to prevailing gender norms, which Ms. Wolf did violate (however much I sympathize with her reasons for so doing).

    So fourth: it is a Catholic school and to expect a Catholic school to be on the progressive edge of observing and understanding social conventions is a bit unrealistic. Of course the church is going to be on the trailing edge of things like this. Parents deliberately send their children to such a school specifically to put them in an environment of traditional rather than progressive social mores, and moreover to have confidence that those mores will be enforced. It’s entirely reasonable to assume that a teacher or a chaperone ran a little bit further with that mandate than would have been globally ideal. But that is what they are there to do. Acceptance of changes in cultural conventions comes slowly in the freest of circumstances and churches tend to incorporate cultural changes soporifically. Teenage lesbians in men’s dress out in public is still a relatively novel cultural phenomenon.

    Time was, simply coming out of the closet would have got Ms. Wolf expelled from a Catholic high school. Having the short, masculine-looking haircut she wears might have, as well. By RCC standards, she’s been treated progressively already. And by RCC standards, discipline is an act of love and instruction: it’s supposed to teach her that there are times and places she has to subsume her personal preferences, and conform to convention — or else she must elect to avoid those circumstances. That’s almost certainly what was going through the minds of the teachers and chaperones who denied Ms. Wolf admission to the prom.

    Again, none of which means I think she was treated fairly. She should have been able to go to her prom just like her classmates, her friends, her peers. She was not dressed inappropriately, in my opinion. Others who were there had different opinions, and acted on them. I hesitate to call them monsters for thinking as they did.Report

    • This is a thoughtful reply and I appreciate it.

      I would note though that the school could have very easily written a dress code that achieved its alleged goals. All that was necessary was including a sentence as strict with what girls were expected to wear as what was included for boys. “Girls are expected to wear formal dresses to this event,” would have been relatively easy.

      And even though Wolf might have seen that and known that she was being singled out, as she was the only student unlikely to wear a dress, the school could have pointed to its dress code and said, “Dress code!” and that would have been that. But it did not do this easy thing. Whether that was a failure of imagination – I imagine that whomever wrote this simply didn’t imagine a girl somewhere who sought additional modesty while willing to still dress up in formal wear – or something else probably does not matter in the long run.

      That they were unwilling to accept responsibility for their own failures though? That they could not say, “We screwed up the dress code, and we will fix it next time…” speaks volumes. That Aniya Wolf was still expected to pay the price? Although I do not think I necessarily described anyone as a monster, that conception of responsibility does strike me as monstrous.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

        “That they could not say, “We screwed up the dress code, and we will fix it next time…” speaks volumes.”

        Sadly, school administrators — even in the private sector — are often as much, if not more so, politicians than they are educators.

        They are also often the public face of a board of trustees and sometimes not so empowered to make such mea culpas. If the board wants to save face or actually promote such a policy, they will do so and charge the school leaders with making it happen and dealing with the slings and arrows.

        This is why I am increasingly unlikely to become a school administrator: I couldn’t handle all that BS.Report

    • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Which is why dress codes and speech codes are so inherently difficult to write: you just can’t think of everything in advance, and when something comes up you’re litigating minutiae.

      Which is exactly why school dress codes are complete bullshit from start to end.

      Seriously. All of them. Complete bullshit.

      They are almost completely unneeded, almost entirely aimed at policing women, with a tiny amount of sub-culture/minority policing added on top. Let’s ask ourselves if ‘canes’ was actually any sort of problem, or some sort of weirdly racist idea that black teenagers might dress as pimps and that was some sort of problem.

      My bank has a dress code. It is, quite simply, that you can’t wear sunglasses or a hat when inside it. This code exists to deal with a specific problem: People attempting to conceal their identify in prelude to a crime. So they can’t wear the two common ways of disguising their face.

      You will notice it is gender neutral. You will notice that has no opinion on how much leg someone is showing. It does what it is trying to do, as simply as possible. This is because my bank respects its customers.

      Schools do *not*. They do not respect their students, at all. They show it in their dress code.

      If schools don’t want to deal with ‘litigating minutiae’ or ‘dealing with things they didn’t think of’, perhaps they should stop *caring about stupid shit*. Who cares what sort of shoes someone wears? Who cares how long the dresses are?

      Here’s the dress code I would have if I was in charge of a school:

      Students may not wear hats or sunglasses inside, or wear or carry unwieldy accessories or clothing that impedes other traffic. Students must wear shoes. Exceptions to these rules will be granted on religious and medical grounds. Students also must not violate public indecency laws.

      Done. Look at that. The school doesn’t have to *worry* about minutiae, or things they didn’t think of, because it’s not trying to police dumbass things. (Schools with younger students might also need a ‘appropriate for the season’ rule so idiot parents don’t send kids to school without coats, but that’s more a parental rule than a ‘dress code’.)

      ….and as for optional formal dances, yes, trying to create an atmosphere can require some sort of real dress code. This requires a) non-stupid people to write that dress code, b) it be gender neutral, and c) some sort of pre-authorization for edge cases. And a woman wearing a tux is not actually going to break any ‘atmosphere’ anyway!Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to DavidTC says:


        “Students may not wear hats or sunglasses inside…”


        • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Kazzy says:

          For basically the same face-concealing reasons as a bank. Students are liable to be using those things to conceal the fact they aren’t paying attention, or are even asleep.

          Granted, I’m not sure it’s very *good* logic, (1) I was thinking of it as a *reasonable* rule that *could* be in the dress code.

          Plus, teachers often are asses about the hats, for some reason. Seriously, the high school I went to had no rule about hats, but I had at least *two* teachers that made students take them off in class. And another teacher who didn’t allow sunglasses. If we’re going to have that sort of nonsense going on, let’s just not allow them worn inside for anything.

          Of course, the nice thing about that sort of dress code is that it works out to be ‘Take off that accessory’ or ‘Put back on your shoes’ demands instead of ‘I’m going to send this young woman home and deny her an education because apparently her clothing attracts too much male attention’ nonsense. I.e., the problems are *correctable*, right then and there, as opposed to someone having too short a skirt probably not having any other clothes to change into.

          Well, I guess, technically, students could show up at school without shoes, and get ‘sent home’ because they can’t put on shoes they don’t have with them…but at that point we’re just getting silly and if that actually happens the odds are they don’t *have* shoes, and we should probably give them some.

          1) And frankly, if I were the dictator of a school, I have a *much* better way to make sure students aren’t falling asleep. Namely, not starting school at times that are completely insane to expect teenagers to function at.

          EDIT: Actually, a better rule might be to say ‘Sunglasses and hats must removed be in indoor classes, except by the permission of the teacher or a medical/religious exception’. It doesn’t actually matter what they wear when walking the halls.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy in reply to DavidTC says:


            Is that the school’s job to teach?


            I find that positively framed rules are better for such situations: “Eyes must be visible.” So a ball cap worn backward is fine but a ski c ap pulled low isn’t.Report

        • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Kazzy says:

          “Students may not wear hats or sunglasses inside…”

          Wax On, Wax Off.

          The point is not the hat or sunglasses, the point is accepting that there are places where one is expected to be dressed in a certain way.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to DavidTC says:

        My school’s dress code was only enforced in gym class. It said “no advertising alcohol or drugs on your clothing”. Apparently the gym program got burned when the paper came by.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to DavidTC says:

        And dressing like a pimp is okay? That’s the hill you want to die on? That it is somehow morally okay or even acceptable in polite society to dress like someone who in all likelihood runs a protection racket for prostitutes? #notallpimpsReport

        • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Murali says:


          It is perfectly morally acceptable to dress like some stereotypical pimp. There is no ethical rule I am aware of that would cover ‘purple suits’ or ‘canes’ or anything like that. It is perhaps worth pointing out that pimps do not, and have never actually, dressed in any sort of general manner, and that stereotype is basically just invented out of thin air, mostly based out of somewhat extreme black fashions in the 70s.

          It is, perhaps, a fashion crime, but *morally* it seems fine.

          My point was more that I was suspect it was a completely meaningless rule, invented because of the vaguely racist idea that evil-doing black people might dress that way. There has, almost certainly, not *actually* been a problem of students carrying around canes.

          Now, to preemptively counter discussion about a *logical* reason for such rule in school, it is hypothetically possible that blocking ‘canes’ is intending to stop people from carrying around weapons (Or just carrying around utterly pointless things that get in everyone’s way.), but a) Odd that rule only applies to boys, b) Odd that rule doesn’t mention to baseball bats and other such things, and c) Odd that rule seems to group them under ‘props’.

          If it actually was a *weapon* issue, there’d be some phrasing like ‘canes, bats, golf clubs, and other things that could be used as weapons’, and also it would apply to all students.

          By talking about them as ‘props’, and just mentioning them, and just when carried by boys, the implication seems be about how a ‘teen boy carrying a cane’ *looks*. And it’s hard to explain that except via some weird stereotype about wrongdoers. At *best* it can be argued it’s not actually *racist*, that maybe the idea of pimps dressed like that has become race-neutral…but it’s still bugshit stupid.Report

          • Avatar Murali in reply to DavidTC says:

            Dressing like a stereotypical pimp seems about as problematic as dressing like a stereotypical southern plantation owner. The reality is that there are morally unsavoury associations with the image. Perhaps the style got that association for bad, racist reasons, but given the association, it is at the least problematic to dress in that style. A few years back, I remember some controversy about plantation chic. I think a similar principle applies here.Report

            • Avatar mark boggs in reply to Murali says:

              Is it me or is one of the biggest chicken-peddling, fast-food restaurants in the whole world spokespersoned by a guy who looks like a southern plantation owner? Or am I not well-versed in plantation-era garb?Report

            • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Murali says:

              Dressing like a stereotypical pimp seems about as problematic as dressing like a stereotypical southern plantation owner.

              Uh, no.

              In some hypothetical universe where you could tell someone was dressing *as* a pimp, instead of just dressing *like* you think a pimp dresses, maybe. (Although that’s still stupid.)

              But we don’t happen to live in that universe. In fact, people are almost never dressed *as* other people. That happens so rarely that when they do dress as other people, we call it a ‘costume’.

              Someone carrying a cane is not wearing a costume.

              The reality is that there are morally unsavoury associations with the image.

              ..pretty much any time a school tries to deal with ‘morally unsavoury images’, they’re just operating off blatant prejudice that has no grounding in reality.

              A few years back, I remember some controversy about plantation chic.

              You remember wrong.

              Plantation chic is a *architecture* style, not a clothing style, and there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s essentially just mimicking what people *think* large houses in the south looked in the past. (Except not really. The actual past was much less decorative and rougher.)

              There have, however, plenty of controversies over the years as random different places that are plantation chic have decided the decorations such places need is *slaves*, and decided to pay black people to dress up as such and pretend thusly.

              Now, the name is, admittedly, somewhat stupid, but *all* names like that are. Also, plantation doesn’t mean what you seem to think it mean. A plantation is a name for a single-crop farm worked on by live-in workers. Sometimes these workers were slaves…sometimes not. Depends on the location and time period.

              *Clothing* from before the civil war is called ‘antebellum’. There is *also* nothing wrong with it. (Well, in the moral sense. It’s quite absurd to actually *wear* it.)Report

    • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Burt Likko says:

      I have to remember when I read “Catholic school” in a US context, to read in “private,” and so to temper my outrage slightly.

      Where I live, “Catholic school” means “one of the two entirely taxpayer funded options – specifically, the one that magically gets exemptions from parts of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms that would apply to any other taxpayer funded institution.”

      It’s an absurd anachronism, and one that the most heavily Catholic provinces have already done away with.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to dragonfrog says:

        Where are you, @dragonfrog ?Report

        • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Kazzy says:

          Alberta, Canada.

          Treatment of transgender students at Catholic schools in Alberta is a recent controversy, with the education minister recently having required all boards to draft and submit policies on the subject, and some boards having made quite a stink over it.

          Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario have publicly funded denominational schools.
          Manitoba got rid of them in 1890, Quebec and Newfoundland in 1997.
          British Columbia, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island never had them.

          (I grew up in Saskatchewan, and went to probably the least Catholic “Catholic” school in town – it was a French immersion school, that ended up joining the Catholic board because they were willing to fund it with smaller class sizes than the public board was)Report

  15. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    The issue of public vs. private might count here, if we were discussing only the narrow legal aspects.
    But that’s not really whats happening.

    The Church is being caught by shifting social norms and etiquette, the very thing it is dedicated to policing.

    We could take a laissez faire approach and say everyone should show tolerance, but that isn’t really what anyone wants, not transgender folk, not the Church.

    I mean, both want social norms that disregard the public/ private boundary, norms that are universally enforced.

    I doubt that the Church would be happy to see Catholicism tolerated, the way we tolerate sexual fetishes; that the celebration of the Mass would be acceptable, but only between consenting adults behind closed doors.

    Trumping these sorts of cultural clashes up into epic battles over “rights”, in my experience doesn’t usually lead to a good outcome, since it demands an all-or-nothing outcome of total victory or utter defeat.

    Would it really be so objectionable if church schools accepted cross-gender clothing? Could they work with transgender people to draft rules for attire that weren’t obscene or disrespectful to human sexuality?

    Would it be possible that transgender people themselves carry common attitudes towards body image and sexuality that are consonant with Catholic doctrine?

    This is kind of what I was referring to in the other thread, about how the mission of churches generally is to explore human interaction in all its aspects, and foster dignity and well-being of all people. In order to fulfill that mission, it needs dialogue with those who see things differently.Report

    • Avatar veronica d in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      I certainly wouldn’t show up to a Catholic sponsored event in a miniskirt. I’d probably not wear a dress, since it is profoundly difficult to find dresses that fit me well. However, I’d wear a longer skirt and nice blouse, or something. If it were a more “casual is okay” kinda thing, I might just wear jeans.

      Which is all to say, I don’t want to feel wildly uncomfortable, being the one oddball dressed at odds with the norm.

      But I’m gonna dress as a woman.

      Basic decorum is pretty orthogonal to gender expression.Report

      • Isn’t every single woman who puts on clothes dressing as a woman?Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

          If the aformentioned person can dress in a tux, and not be counted “dressing as a girl”, then no.
          Kilts too.Report

        • Avatar veronica d in reply to Sam Wilkinson says:

          @sam-wilkinson — On the path to queer utopia, yeah. In reality, no. We live in a society with gender-coded clothing. Certainly men can wear dresses. And indeed we find Eddie Izzard pretty clever when he explains, “These aren’t woman’s clothes. They’re my clothes.”

          Of course, Mr. Izzard. I’m totally down with that.

          So yeah, I can wear baggy jeans and a baggy tee and I’m still a woman, and they are my clothes, thus a “woman’s clothes” — but it’s hard enough for me to “pass,” and looking like that I’d read as “kinda femme dude” instead of “transgender woman.”

          Which would perhaps make using a restroom even more awful than it currently is.

          Cuz of course there are men’s and women’s clothing. Obviously. Duh. Have you ever been clothes shopping?Report

          • “Have you ever been clothes shopping?”

            From the state of my dress, most critics conclude, “No!”Report

          • Avatar Kazzy in reply to veronica d says:

            “Cuz of course there are men’s and women’s clothing. Obviously. Duh. Have you ever been clothes shopping?”

            This is something I wonder about with my boys. I often take them shopping for their clothes. Mayo is at the point where he can actually be very particular about his “style” and will insist on certain shirts with certain designs. If we go to the store, I naturally go to the “boys” sections. And, yes, every store is divided this way. But typically the store is arranged such that all sections are visible and accessible and we often walk through/past a “girls” section at one point or another. Should I make an explicit point to go to the girls section? Should I offer him dresses and skirts? I don’t know.

            Online shopping is even harder because it is more segregated. There is a girls page and a boys page and you have to click between them; you can’t just glance over and see everything the way you can in a store.

            Am I overthinking this? He prefers t-shirt and jeans but is that because that is what I wear and he is with me most of the time? Does he prefer shirts with sports and dinosaurs and animals because we have socialized him that way? Or is it inherent? He has ALWAYS been drawn to sports and the naturalness with which this comes makes me think at least some of that is inherent… and yet, ever since he was a wee one we have watched sports together. Not so much because he is a boy and that is what I wanted my boy-kid to do but because *I* like sports and that is what *I* wanted to do and he was too damn little to object!

            Oy… this shit is hard.

            I’ll let him where whatever he wants provided it is seasonably appropriate. For a very few selection occassions a year (holidays at my mom’s), I will have him “dress up” because that is important to her and I think it important to let him know that sometimes you need to honor a host’s preferences. Otherwise, he can roll how he wants. I actually fight my friend on this a lot. “You can’t let him wear sweat pants with dress shoes!” F that. Though she also objects (or objected… she has realized it is a lost cause) when I go to the corner store in flip flops and pajama bottoms. She is much more one for “rules” where I say, “Have at it, bruh!” I just don’t know if I have limited him in some way.Report

            • Avatar veronica d in reply to Kazzy says:

              @kazzy — Well, I’m neither a parent, nor do I have any training in child development. My kinda-common-sense answer is, we’re all being “socialized” into some gender all the time. You cannot avoid it. Don’t try.

              Most kids are cis and gender conforming. Thus, if you enjoy sports with your kid, and he enjoys sports with you, and he wants to wear sports tee-shirts, then you should play sports with him and buy him sports tee shirts. If he smiles a lot, then this is working.

              In other words, it is less important that he “thrives with correct gender politics” than that he “thrives, but is tolerant and wants others to thrive also.”

              Gender-non-conforming kids get lost on the inside. They turn dark, sullen. They hide in books, run through the woods alone, daydream constantly. They can be so happy, precisely until they have to do something. Usually they show signs of anxiety. You’ll notice.

              The hope is, if you have created an environment of tolerance and trust, then they will share their feelings, insofar as they understand them. A simple, “It’s okay for boys to be girls and girls to be boys. Plus, some people are neither girls nor boys, although that’s weird and tricky and hard to understand. Anyway, you can be any of these things if you want, or even just dress like a girl or a mix of girl-stuff and boy-stuff. Whatever.”

              To which most boys will respond, “Ewwwww! Don’t be silly!”

              Which fine. But it’s the choice, the trust, the acceptance. These things are priceless.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to veronica d says:


                I teach 4- and 5-year-olds, who developmentally live in a very black-and-white world; nuance is a foreign concept. They are also naturally inclined towards sorting and classifying which is why gender segregation tends to begin. It isn’t hostility towards the other but gender provides a (seemingly) easy way to separate everyone into two neat little groups. That is sometimes why gender non-conformity can be so off-putting to them. Their little brains are thinking, “I HAVE A SYSTEM AND IT WORKS PERFECTLY EXCEPT FOR YOU!”

                My group has been exploring this for a couple months now, though in a much more friendly way than is typical. However, one aspect of their play has centered around changing gender. This is upsetting to many of them but not because of any hostility towards the other gender but rather because the “transformation” is often done unto them against their will. “OOO, you touched the green square. You’re a boy now!” One of the things I emphasize with my kids is their agency, so to be told that something fundamental about them is being changed against their will is a no-go.

                When I talk with them about it I stop short of saying, “Boys stay boys and girls stay girls,” or “You can’t change from a boy to a girl or a girl to a boy,” because, well, that isn’t really true. So I flip it. “Jenny is the expert on Jenny and she said she is a girl and we’re going to listen to her about that.” A goal is to teach them to respect other people’s truths and stories. And it generally works. Then again, all my kids are more-or-less gender conforming; would this system work if Joey insisted he was a girl?

                But I don’t know if this is right. If you will, what would 4-year-old Veronica have wanted to hear from her teacher? What would she have wanted her classmates to hear?

                I don’t want to just kick the can down the road but to an extent I have to because 99% of kids this age just conceptually can’t understand the complexities of gender (hell, many adults can’t!). But I also don’t want to give them misinformation that then needs to be unlearned.


              • Avatar veronica d in reply to Kazzy says:

                Well, four year old veronica was dealing with (at the time) undiagnosed ADHD, along with her soon-to-be-diagnosed dyslexia — except somehow my sister taught me to read when I was 2-3 years old, which is supposed to be hard for dyslexic kids, which makes me wonder if that was a big hairy misdiagnosis. But in any case, I was weird-brained, certainly had faceblindness and APD. I did not fit in.

                To understand this in terms of gender would have required a level of insight beyond my capacity. It wasn’t until much later that I could articulate my gendered feelings.

                From Vitali’s typology:

                Group One (G1) is best described as those natal males who have a high degree of cross-sexed gender identity. In these individuals, we can hypothesize that the prenatal androgenization process–if there was any at all–was minimal, leaving the default female identity intact. Furthermore, the expression of female identity of those individuals appears impossible or very difficult for them to conceal.


                Group Three (G3) is composed of natal males who identify as female but who act and appear normally male. We can hypothesize that prenatal androgenization was sufficient to allow these individuals to appear and act normally as males but insufficient to establish a firm male gender identity. For these female-identified males, the result is a more complicated and insidious sex/gender discontinuity. Typically, from earliest childhood these individuals suffer increasingly painful and chronic gender dysphoria. They tend to live secretive lives, often making increasingly stronger attempts to convince themselves and others that they are male.

                I’m a pretty typical example of her Group 3. My ex-g/f, on the other hand, fits the Group 1 profile. She had explicit cross-gender feelings from a very young age (although perhaps not at age four).

                Later in the essay:

                As early as age two and half, most children begin showing a preference for behaviors and activities consistent with their assigned sex. By age three, they actually refer to themselves as a boy or a girl. Interviews with three-year-olds reveal that they agree with statements such as girls like to play with dolls, ask for help and talk more than boys, while boys like to play with cars, build things, and hit other children.

                Even the casual observer can see that children place a high priority on gender-appropriate behavior at an early age. Most individuals with gender expression deprivation anxiety report becoming aware that something was not right with their original gender assignment as early as age four. Males emphasize their experience that, unlike other problems a four-year-old boy may be able to discuss with friends or parents, wanting to be a girl was definitely to be avoided.


                Given the nature of the disorder and the ability of some children to conceal it, I believe that most children with gender dysphoria are never diagnosed as such. Those children cope by sticking rigorously to the role expected of them. Privately, however, they continue to go deeper and deeper into a highly guarded parallel world of cross-gender envy and fantasy. Given their propensity to be studious, detached and self absorbed, I have come to think of these children as living cloistered lives. These children grow up to form the core of Group Three.


                For cloistered gender dysphoric boys it was in the area of peers and activities, especially sports, that the problem was most noticeable. Unable or uninterested in competing in organized boys’ activities and having been shuffled decidedly away from playing with the girls, many became reclusive. To add to their confusion, and counter to behavior typically reported in openly gender dysphoric boys, many cloistered boys actually preferred solo play with boys’ toys and had little or no interest in girls’ toys. For example I have heard more than one long-time post-op male-to-female transsexual speak fondly of having spent countless hours playing with an Erector Set or a Lionel model train set-up that their father had helped them build. Others described of designing and making detailed model airplanes, race cars and sailing ships. The more academic of this group report little or no interest in sports and rough and tumble play. To avoid castigation from their peers, they report spending a lot of time reading and studying. However, although these children appeared to be normal boys doing what most people would consider some normal boy activities, they may very well have been doing so while secretly wearing their mother’s or sister’s underwear, fantasizing about being a girl or both if they could manage it.

                So basically, we are nerds.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to veronica d says:

                Soooooo… I should just read all that to them?Report

              • Avatar veronica d in reply to Kazzy says:


                Yeah, that’ll work.Report

              • boys like to play with cars, build things, and hit other children.

                While girls like to play with dolls, dress up, and manipulate boys into hitting other children.Report

              • Avatar veronica d in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                @mike-schilling — We only do that when strategically necessary.Report

            • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Kazzy says:

              I think most kids fall into their default gender without any input from the parents. In my case, my girls took to girly stuff like the proverbial ducks to water. I imposed a Barbie embargo for a while, but eventually succumbed. A Disney Princess embargo would have been essentially impossible short of moving to a cabin in Idaho.

              This is why I am very sympathetic to trans kids. I don’t believe it is just a whim. There may be some kids so stubbornly contrary as to put themselves through hell just to make a point, but I can’t believe there are many. It seems far likelier that they have to pick which hell to go through. This also is why I have so little sympathy for the adults making sure that it is as hard on these kids as possible.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

                I don’t think it is quite that simple. Socialization is ALWAYS happening. Would they have sought out “girly stuff” if they never laid eyes on them? Is the drive for Barbie innate?Report

              • Avatar Atomic Geography in reply to Kazzy says:

                Thinking about this stuff is interesting and important. But Veronica’s and Richard’s advice is sound in the operational/parenting mode. Love and support your child for who he is in this world. Sometimes/surprisingly frequently what you need to do as a parent is the same no matter what frame you apply. Just that can be hard enough without complicating it with alternate universes.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Kazzy says:

                “Would they have sought out “girly stuff” if they never laid eyes on them? Is the drive for Barbie innate?”

                We’ve had this conversation before.Report

              • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Kazzy says:

                Of course socialization is happening, and I suspect that a lot of what gets assigned as “girly” or “boyish” is essentially random. In the 19th century, for example, some military uniforms were pink, and a lot of baby pictures of boys from back in the day are incredibly girly by modern standards.

                What I don’t think is socialization is that the division into girly and boyish categories occurs, though I would expect that how this manifests itself could vary wildly between cultures. Within any given culture, kids will naturally sort themselves out between the categories. Some percentage will sort themselves into the “wrong” side.

                My point is that I don’t believe this is due to whimsy or contrarianism. There is something deeper going on about the kid’s self-identification.Report

              • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

                In the 19th century, for example, some military uniforms were pink, and a lot of baby pictures of boys from back in the day are incredibly girly by modern standards.

                Red and blue used to, sorta, be the colors of men and women, in that order…and pink is a light red, suitable for male children, just like girls got light blue. (It’s weird we have a name for pink, but not any other ‘mixed with white’ color.)

                What I don’t think is socialization is that the division into girly and boyish categories occurs, though I would expect that how this manifests itself could vary wildly between cultures.

                I don’t follow that. What happens if society *doesn’t divide things*?

                Right now, there are a lot of spectrum people can be on. Like the extrovert/introvert spectrum.

                If we had some sort of test when people were born that had a 95% chance of being correct as to where they were on that spectrum, we could then have entire categories of ideas about how differently those sides behaved (Extroverts should be public speakers, and introverts should be librarians. Extroverts play with dolls, introverts read books.), and off course, we’re have the tom-boys and whatever the male version of that is that like the ‘wrong’ thing, in addition to people who have actually been classified wrong.

                And all this is basically just stuff we made up, and seems to serve no purpose. Of course, in this world, we *don’t* divide things up like that…if someone likes doing certain things, we might *decide* they’re an extrovert, but there’s no assumption that people with that specific label should act in certain ways.

                But we do divide up stuff by gender.

                My point is that I don’t believe this is due to whimsy or contrarianism. There is something deeper going on about the kid’s self-identification.

                I agree with that first sentence, and then disagree with the second.

                Children like to do different things. Sometimes they can be encouraged into liking specific things, sometimes they can’t.

                I seriously doubt they’re doing it because they identify in a specific way. I mean, yes, an assigned-male, going-to-be-transgender five year old might be playing with a Barbie because he identifies *with* Barbie (1), but he’s probably not playing with it because he thinks girls play with dolls and he identifies as a girl.

                What you’re talking about probably shows up more with clothing, which is closer to self-identity than toys.

                1) Along a whole bunch of other reasons kids could be playing with Barbie. You give a kid of either gender a Barbie, they’ll play with it. Kids seem handwired to simulate people, as evidenced by dolls being some of the earliest toys. In fact, basically every children’s toy is to simulate adults.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to DavidTC says:

                Pink’s a flower. We use all sorts of flower names to describe pale yellows, purples (lavender ought to ring a bell, don’t it?), most of the rainbow, really.

                Why do we divide the sexes? Because if we don’t, “playtime” happens. [this is predicated on lack of sexual education, but so are a lot of old things].Report

              • Avatar El Muneco in reply to DavidTC says:

                Also, pink is still a respectable, if not conservative, color for men’s business shirts. Probably more so than the equivalently light blue.Report

  16. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    @jason-kuznicki @kazzy et al : Out of curiosity, is it acceptable for writers/pundits/commentators to have public conversations about the way Beyonce dresses to an awards show?

    I get what Jason is saying about what’s going on here vs. a private party that you or I hold. But a prom seems to come down somewhere in between a private event that Beyonce publicly attends and a private function I hold at my house. Which isn’t to say that the church needs to be made to change. (It absolutely shouldn’t.) But is there no room for the rest of us to look at this prom and use it as a way to determine Where We Are Now?

    It’s interesting to see the juxtaposition of the comments in this post and the one’s in Mike’s cemetery post earlier this week. Part of it is obviously Sam’s tone vs Mike’s, because they are worlds apart. But I wonder if there isn’t something more: One religious institution does something somewhat discriminatory but not at all hostile that we all agree is legal, and therefore it is deemed acceptable to talk at length about that institution and its decision. A different religious institution does something much more discriminatory and (likely) purposefully hostile that we all agree is legal, and because there is a ratcheting up on the discrimination and hostility scale, it is therefore deemed in poor taste to talk about their policies and decisions.

    Not a call for people here to act differently. Just damn interesting to my eyes.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      “…it is therefore deemed in poor taste to talk about their policies and decisions.”


      Who made this determination? Did I? Oy! Because I certainly did not mean to!

      I think we should talk about their policies and decision. Hell, man, that is what I do for a living! My position is just that we need to understand the likely motivation for such policies and decisions. And as someone who has spent the past decade+ in schools, I can tell you that the thinking and effort that goes into policies and decisions would often appall most people.Report

    • Out of curiosity, is it acceptable for writers/pundits/commentators to have public conversations about the way Beyonce dresses to an awards show?


      Beyonce is a public figure. Cultural commentators have every right to talk about her in both positive and negative ways. It would be sort of irresponsible if they didn’t, because Beyonce really matters.

      Further: Beyonce wants the attention, she’s ready for it, and she can definitely handle it. That isn’t necessarily the case with every gender-bending high school lesbian in the world: not all of them will have Beyonce’s fortitude, her publicity staff, or her security detail. We ought not to assume that a high school student’s gender-transgressive behavior automatically makes them the stuff of national news. It just… shouldn’t. Local news, maybe. More than that, no.

      Further, the society-wide downside risk of talking about Beyonce is negligible, because it is vastly unlikely that any Beyonce-specific legislation will result. As to anti-Catholic legislation, there has been plenty, there is arguably some right now, and there could easily be much more in the future, if present trends continue. Conversations like this one are unseemly to me because they incline in that direction.Report

      • What sort of “anti-Catholic” legislation are we talking about exactly?

        I am also dubious of the idea that anybody on this thread is proposing legislation that would prevent this from happening in the future.Report

        • @sam-wilkinson

          It shouldn’t be too difficult to figure out. Laws dictating what the Church may teach, what it may not teach, and whom it must marry would all be welcome for some on the left.

          It hardly matters that you personally wouldn’t welcome these laws. There’s a trend here, and I am resolved to point it out and oppose it. It’s part of the deal that I’ve made as a libertarian and a (classical) liberal.

          The deal goes like this.

          Once, as a gay guy, I was actively oppressed by the laws of this country. Just having sex with my boyfriend was an actual felony. That was terrible, and I worked hard to change it, along with millions of others. I am confident that we are better off now than we were back then.

          But things aren’t terrible merely because they happen to fall on my head. So now I recall how it was back in the day, and I imagine others in the same situation. And I try to help them too.Report

          • Avatar Francis in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            Some on the left? So you’ve found a website where a few people think that the First Amendment ought to be abolished? Where is the trend of laws dictating to the Church its message?

            The school at issue seemed to be perfectly happy to enroll this student and get paid substantial sums of money for educating her. Last I checked, Catholic Doctrine teaches that deep-seated homosexual tendencies are “objectively disordered” and that homosexual acts are acts of “grave depravity”.

            I get the whole love-the-sinner, hate-the-sin argument. And since the school has accepted her presence apparently without question for years, it seems particularly cowardly, and inconsistent with the school’s own message, to enforce a poorly written dress code against one student only.Report

    • Avatar veronica d in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      Basically, the libertarians on the forum suck at their own principles. The conservative — well I cannot really speak for them. In the end, yeah the Catholic Church is a mess, full of false and hurtful beliefs. It’s regressive and tied to a dark past. They should change.

      Will I force them to change? Well, in some ways, insofar as they operate public institutions, yeah they’ll have to. In other ways, such as how they conduct mass, or what constitutes an appropriate burial, things that clearly are sacred, I’ll leave that to them. In other words, it’s complicated.

      But my broader goal is to expose their inequity, and let people see them for what they are — regressive, irrational, and cruel. Then people can act accordingly. Some will leave. Some will work within for change. Whatever happens, the church will find the modern world less hospitable to their worst aspects. What remains will, perhaps, be their better aspects. Their choice.

      From Popehat:

      The fact that a viewpoint is contained in your holy book does not insulate it from criticism. The fact that a viewpoint is part of a person’s faith tradition might lead you to consider proportionality, love, charity, grace, empathy, forgiveness, humility, and self-awareness in framing a response to it. On the other hand, it’s reasonable to exercise proportionality, love, charity, grace, empathy, forgiveness, humility, and self-awareness in thinking about how your faith doctrines make other people feel. “You’re going to Hell, but you shouldn’t be offended when I say so, because it’s in my holy book,” is not a cunning argument.


      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to veronica d says:

        The tension is always between the question of “what is the sphere of the individual?” and “what is the sphere of the society at large?”

        We know that the people who say “everything is the sphere of the individual” are batshit crazy and the people who say “everything is the sphere of the society at large” are even batshit crazier but the problem is that the people who say “some things are the sphere of the individual and some other things are the sphere of the society at large and I draw the line *HERE*” are arbitrary as hell and the people who say “some things are the sphere of the individual and some other things are the sphere of the society at large and I draw the line *HERE* (but, in practice, it’s actually over there somewhere because only so many things are workable)” are hypocrites.

        A monoculture fixes this problem.Report

  17. Avatar Kazzy says:


    Private, independent, and parochial schools have essentially minimum oversight. Any that does exist is done at the state and/or city level and typically does not wade into pedagogical issues. Basically, the government wants to know if the school is minimally safe and follows base rules related to health and the like.

    However, almost any school worth its salt is going to seek accreditation, usually by a state or regional group. There is a primary national organization (National Association of Independent Schools or NAIS) which most schools are going to be members of but they do not offer accreditation. Instead, the local groups do. So my school is accredited by NYSAIS (New York State Association of Independent Schools). What is interesting is that accreditation is not earned by meeting some objective set of standards. Rather, the school drafts a number of documents (based on materials provided by NYSAIS) which essentially map out who the school is, what they do, why they do it, and how they do it. An accreditation team then comes in and reviews these documents and observes the school in action and meets with various constituent groups and writes a report. That report essentially seeks to determine if the school is who it says it is. If the school says it holds traditional Catholic values, is this demonstrated? Or are they merely paying lip service? If the school says they offer after school programming, what is actually in place? Etc. Ultimately, the question is: Are you fulfilling your stated mission?

    I offer this because situations like this often make us thing that egregious behavior by independent schools should somehow undermine their very existence. But so long as their is a market for that egregious behavior and the behavior isn’t illegal, it can continue. Like it or not, this is the system. And, in a way, this sort of has to be the system; anything else would lead to a degree of standardization that would essentially make the independent school model moot. While NAIS and its subsidiaries do have certain basic standards they hold school to, these are vague enough to only be employed in the real extreme. And schools that fall outside those bounds can simply choose not to get accredited and all they lose are the gold sticker they got from a non-governmental organization. In fact, parochial schools (of all stripes) probably have the lowest rate of accreditation via these organizations because they are more likely to find themselves at odds and/or they can get their bona fides through other means.

    So an unfortunate reality is that we have to tolerate schools like this existing unless or until such behavior is either deemed illegal OR there is insufficient interest in such schools that they go out of business or are forced to change.Report

  18. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Funny story…

    A colleague of mine works at an all-girls high school. She likes to challenge the status quo, especially around gender identity, gender conformity, and sexual orientation. One day she wore a tie to work. A student challenged her say, “Ms. Lee… Why are you wearing a tie???”

    My friend was all prepared to start a dialogue about gender norms and dress codes and the like. She had intentionally provoked her students into a “teachable moment”.

    “Why do you say that?” she responded.

    “Because we’re not a shirt-and-tie kinda school! No one wears ties here, Ms. Lee!”

    Pwned. Her students had no qualms with her, as a female, wearing a tie. They just objected to her wearing a tie in such an informal environment!Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to Kazzy says:

      the classic response to that is “job interview”Report

    • Avatar El Muneco in reply to Kazzy says:

      At my last job, I wore a tie for the first six months or so specifically because the “programmers’ uniform” seemed to be T-shirts and jeans, and I wanted to signal that I had no interest in conforming for conformity’s sake. Once that was established, signalling was no longer necessary and we could all just be ourselves.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to El Muneco says:

        When I interviewed for a staff job at the state legislature, one of the interviewers at some point brought up “costuming requirements.” That’s how he described it. Some places require that you wear scrubs; some that you wear a specific uniform; the Colorado General Assembly requires some variation on coat-and-tie for everyone.Report

        • Avatar El Muneco in reply to Michael Cain says:

          Quite. Where it’s not explicitly spelled out, it’s situational.

          Yesterday, I wore a suit to an interview where everyone across the table was in polos and khakis – and the only comment was that a previous candidate had come in dressed for the beach, which they felt was taking it a little too unseriously. And when I was on a contract for a beltway defense contractor where it was made clear that we were representing the company’s image, it was button-down with tie (jackets were optional, the east-coast guys wore them, us left-coasters didn’t), but I cheated by wearing all-black walking shoes instead of dress shoes due to blistering issues.

          Like Heinlein said, when the natives are rubbing blue mud into their navels, the best way to get by is to solemnly pick up a handful for your own use.Report

  19. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I do find interesting that it would have been okay to treat this student like this had the other students been wearing staid Victorian prom dresses.

    As if discrimination is fine just so long as we aren’t hypocrites about it.Report

  20. Jason Kuznicki: The host making the rules is better than the only possible alternative. It is better than politicizing, at the national level, every two-bit prom at every Catholic high school in Pennsylvania and everywhere else in the country.

    Politicizing is not an alternative to the host making the rules. If the host is a screamingly transparent bigot, as in this case, people will complain about it (and why not; people complain about everything else) and attempt to shame said host into adhering to the minimal basics of human decency. In this case the host politicized the whole shebang in the first place by making up rules on the fly to exclude one (extraordinarily modestly dressed) person while (as the pictures showed) ignoring the published rules for everyone else.


  21. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    So,this happened.


    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Oscar Gordon says:


      Without weighing in on what the school should have done (frankly, I’m not sure), it strikes me that the stated purpose of the gap-and-gowns (“The tradition of cap and gown regalia is aimed at the idea that our graduates are celebrated as a whole and in similar attire.”) is not dissimilar from the military’s purpose behind uniforms.

      While the optics are pretty awful, I can at least understand the school’s perspective: this was a high school graduation ceremony — not a military function of any kind — and they wanted all students to dress as such.

      Again, I’m not sure they were right to handle it as they did. I just think it is a really complicated issue without an obvious answer.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy says:

        Thinking more about this, I see a pretty fundamental difference:

        – In the prom scenario, there is debate as to whether the young lady in question was actually in violation of the dress code and whether she was being targeted for punishment for other reasons.
        – In the graduation scenario, it seems there is no debate as to whether the young lady in question was actually in violation of the dress code. The discussion revolves around the refusal to offer her an exemption to the dress code.

        Again, not sure the proper way to handle the latter but I think it is a very different scenario (though still falls under the broader umbrella of “What to do about dress codes?”).Report

  22. Avatar Kazzy says:


    The school’s general dress code allows for females to wear pants…

    a. A navy and white plaid kilt or box-pleated skirt or a solid navy kilt purchased from Flynn & O’Hara; or
    navy blue or tan pants purchased from Flynn & O’Hara. The skirt must touch the top of the knee.
    Students who are sophomores, juniors, and seniors during the 2014-2015 school year may wear skirts
    that are worn no more than 3” above the knee if they also wear opaque navy or white tights. Skirts must
    not be rolled. Pants must be hemmed to the top of the shoes.”Report