Journal of African American Studies

, Volume 22, Issue 1, pp 94–108 | Cite as

Oppressive Curriculum: Sexist, Racist, Classist, and Homophobic Practice of Dress Codes in Schooling

  • Rouhollah Aghasaleh


In this paper drawing on a study about school dress code policies and related issues—such as multiculturalism, racism, sexism, and homophobia, in the professional discourse—I show how similar the two patriarchal and White supremacist structures of education (school) and law enforcement (police) work. I argue that sexism, racism, homophobia, and classism in formal and hidden curriculum could be as mortal and brutal as it happened in cases of Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and others. Dress codes convey sexism with a male center gaze and racism with White middle-class norms that serve as a hidden curriculum with inherent biases. That is, not acting White, not being lady-like, wearing butch-tomboy or ragged clothing, is disruptive to academic success. Discussing a dress code in a high school in a working-class Black community, I argue that like police officers, educators tend to make dangerous judgments about bodies. Finally, to stop the harmful reproduction of such judgments, I suggest what Judith Butler calls “subversive repetition” and “subversive citation” (Butler 1990, p. 147) which allows resisting the everyday experiences that produce oneself to address the question that how can we, as teachers, school administrations, and teacher educators, resist those practices that produce our bodies as vulnerable and potential victims and others’ bodies as dangerous and potential violators. To problematize, to conceptualize, and to enhance the above-mentioned argument, I will draw on several feminist frameworks such as performativity (Butler 1990), intersectionality (Crenshaw 1989), and objectification (Fredrickson and Roberts 1997).


White supremacy Racism Sexism Dress codes Public school Body Surveillance Policing Care of self Intersectionality 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


  1. Anderson, W. (2002). School dress codes and uniform policies. Policy Report. 4. ERIC ED-99-CO-0011 Google Scholar
  2. Aued, B. (2013). UGA students protest racist Facebook post. Flagpole. Retrieved May 19, 2015, from
  3. Bernauer, J. W., & Rasmussen, D. M. (Eds.). (1988). The Final Foucault. MIT Press.Google Scholar
  4. Blickenstaff, C. J. (2005). Women and science careers: leaky pipeline or gender filter? Gender and Education, 17(4), 369–386.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brownmiller, S. (1975). Against our will: men, women, and rape. New York: Simon and Schuster.Google Scholar
  6. Burt, M. R. (1980). Cultural myths and supports for rape. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 38, 217–230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Butler, J. (1990). Gender trouble: feminism and the subversion of identity. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  8. Cheng, A. (2010). Second skin Josephine Baker & the modern surface. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Clark, K. B., & Clark, M. K. (1939). The development of consciousness of self and the emergence of racial identification in Negro preschool children. The Journal of Social Psychology, 10(4), 591–599.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Collins, P. H. (1986). Learning from the outsider within: the sociological significance of Black feminist thought. Social Problems, (6), S14–S32.Google Scholar
  11. Collins, P. H. (1991). Black feminist thought: knowledge, consciousness, and the politics of empowerment. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  12. Crenshaw, K. W. (1989). Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: a Black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics. University Of Chicago Legal Forum, 139–167.Google Scholar
  13. Crockett, D., & Wallendorf, M. (1998). Sociological perspectives on imposed school dress codes: consumption as attempted suppression of class and group symbolism. Journal of Macromarketing, 18(2), 115–131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Davis, A. Y. (1981). Rape, racism and the myth of the Black rapist. In A. Y. Davis (Ed.), Women, race, & class (p. 1981). New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  15. DeMitchell, T. A., Fossey, R., & Cobb, C. (2000). Dress codes in the public schools: principals, policies, and precepts. Journal of Law Education, 29(1), 31–50.Google Scholar
  16. Duits, L. & van Zoonen, L. (2006). Headscarves and porno-chic: disciplining girls’ bodies in the European multicultural society. European Journal of Women's Studies, 103–117.Google Scholar
  17. Dworkin, A. (1976). Our blood: prophecies and discourses on sexual politics. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
  18. Estrich, S. (1987). Real rape. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Foucault, M. (1975/1977). Discipline and punish: the birth of the prison. (A. Sheridan, Trans.). New York: Vintage Books. (Original work published 1975).Google Scholar
  20. Foucault, M. (1978). The history of sexuality: An introduction, volume I. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Vintage.Google Scholar
  21. Foucault, M. (1984/1988). The history of sexuality, vol. 3: The Care of the Self (R. Hurley, Trans.). New York: Vintage Books. (Original work published 1984).Google Scholar
  22. Foucault, M. (1984/1990). The History of Sexuality, vol. 2: The Use of Pleasure [by] Michel Foucault and translated by Robert Hurley: New York, NY. (Original work published 1984).Google Scholar
  23. Foucault, M. (1984/2004). The ethics of the concern of the self as a practice of freedom in Baker, B and Katharina, E. (Eds.). Dangerous Coagulations? The Uses of Foucault in the Study of Education (vol. 9). New York: Peter Lang. Speech Originally given in 1984.Google Scholar
  24. Fredrickson, B. L., & Roberts, T. A. (1997). Objectification theory. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 21(2), 173–206.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Frye, M. (1983). The politics of reality: essays in feminist theory. Trumansburg: Crossing Press.Google Scholar
  26. Gabrielson, R., Sagara, E. (2014). Deadly force, in black and white. ProPublica. Retrieved from , 13 May 2015.
  27. Garot, R., & Katz, J. (2003). Provocative looks: gang appearance and dress codes in an inner-city alternative school. Ethnography, 4(3), 421–454.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Gay, R. (2012, March 23). A place where we are everything. Retrieved July 3, 2015, from
  29. George, W., & Martinez, L. (2002). Victim blaming in rape: effects of victim and perpetrator race, type of rape, and participant racism. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 110–119.Google Scholar
  30. Goodman, M. E. (1952). Race awareness in young children. Cambridge: Addison-Wesley.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Greenwald, H. J., & Oppenheim, D. B. (1968). Reported magnitude of self-misidentification among Negro children: Artifact? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 8(1p1), 49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Harraway, D. (1991). A cyborg manifesto: science, technology, and socialist-feminism in the late twentieth century. Simians, cyborgs and women: the reinvention of Nature, 149–82.Google Scholar
  33. Heath, B. (2014). Racial gap in U.S. arrest rates: ‘Staggering disparity’ Retrieved May 13, 2015, from
  34. Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Giga, N. M., Villenas, C., & Danischewski, D. J. (2016). The 2015 national school climate survey: the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth in our nation’s schools. Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). 121 West 27th Street Suite 804, New York, NY 10001.Google Scholar
  35. Kuperinsky, A. (2012). Hoodies: danger or fashion?, Retrieved May 19, 2015 from
  36. Lerner, G. (1973). Black women in White America: a documentary history. New York: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
  37. Lewis, C., & Biber, B. (1951). Reactions of negro children toward negro and White teachers. The Journal of Experimental Education, 20(1), 97–104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Lorde, A. (1984). Sister outsider: essays and speeches. Trumansburg: Crossing Press.Google Scholar
  39. MacKinnon, C. (1987). Feminism unmodified: discourses on life and law. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  40. Murray, S. J. (2007). Care and the self: biotechnology, reproduction, and the good life. Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine, 2(6), 1–15.Google Scholar
  41. Myhra, A. G. (1999). No shoes, no shirt, no education: dress codes and freedom of expression behind the postmodern schoolhouse gates. Seton Hall Constitutional Law Journal 9(2), 337–400.Google Scholar
  42. National Center for Education Statistics (2015). Percentage of high school dropouts among persons 16 through 24 years old (status dropout rate), by sex and race/ethnicity: selected years, 1960 through 2013. Retrieved May 19, 2015, from
  43. NBC News. 2012. Geraldo Rivera blames hoodie for Trayvon Martin’s death: critics tell him to zip it up. NBC News, March 23. Retrieved May 20, 2015 from
  44. Nguyen, M. T. (2015). The hoodie as sign, screen, expectation, and force. Signs, 40(4), 791–816.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Noguera, P. (2008). The trouble with black boys: and other reflections on race, equity, and the future of public education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  46. Palmer, B. (2012). When did hoodlums start wearing hoods? A history of the controversial head covering. Slate, March 22. Retrieved May 19, 2015 from
  47. Pomerantz, S. (2007). Cleavage in a tank top: bodily prohibition and the discourses of school dress codes. Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 53(4), 373–386.Google Scholar
  48. Raby, R. (2010). “Tank tops are ok but I Don’t want to see her thong” Girls’ Engagements With Secondary School Dress Codes. Youth & Society, 41(3), 333–356.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Rajchman, J. (1985). Michel Foucault: the freedom of philosophy. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  50. Retallack, H., Ringrose, J., & Lawrence, E. (2016). “Fuck your body image”: teen girls’ Twitter and Instagram feminism in and around school. In J. Coffey, S. Budgeon, & H. Cahill (Eds.), Learning Bodies. Perspectives on Children and Young People (Vol. 2). Singapore: Springer.Google Scholar
  51. Ritzer, G., & Stepnisky, J. (2013). Contemporary sociological theory and its classical roots: the basics (4th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  52. Schneider, L. J. (1992). Perceptions of single and multiple incident rape. Sex Roles, 26, 97–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Seymour, E. (1995). Why undergraduates leave the sciences. American Journal of Physics, 63(3), 199–202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Sonnert, G., & Holton, G. (1995). Gender differences in science careers: the project access study. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  55. Symes, C., & Meadmore, D. (1996). Force of habit: The school uniform as a body of knowledge. Pedagogy, technology, and the body, 171–191.Google Scholar
  56. The Sentencing Project (2013). Report of the sentencing project to the United Nations Human Rights Committee Regarding Racial Disparities in the United States Criminal Justice System. Washington DC: The Sentencing Project, 2013. Retrieved from, 13 May 2015.
  57. Ward, C. A. (1995). Attitudes toward rape: feminist and social psychological perspectives. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  58. Weinburgh, M. (1995). Gender differences in student attitudes toward science: a meta-analysis of the literature from 1970 to 1991. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 32(4), 387–398.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Wilson, D. (2012). The history of the hoodie. Rolling Stone, April 3. Retrieved May 19, 2015 from

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Georgia State UniversityAtlantaUSA

Personalised recommendations