This week Chelsea Sarvis, a female student in Chapin, SC, won the right to wear pants to her high school graduation. No, seriously, this really happened this past week, and at a public school. It only feels like 1950. Apparently the principal, Mike Satterfield initially backed the school’s antiquated dress code, which forbids girls from wearing pants, even dress pants, at the commencement ceremony. Said the local news station:
Satterfield initially stood by the dress code and said he believed it was fair.
“It’s certainly appropriate to ask young ladies to wear a dress or a nice shirt and a nice outfit and young men to wear slacks, a shirt and a tie,” said Satterfield. “If a young man showed up in flip-flops and shorts, and said I wanted to walk, we’d say no you can’t.”
Give me a fucking break. Since when do women’s dress slacks not constitute a “nice outfit?” They’re not the equivalent of shorts and flip-flops and never have been. I don’t know if Mr. Satterfield has been hiding under a rock for the past, say, 30 years or so, but women–including a recent presidential candidate, a couple of Supreme Court justices, a whole bunch of Senators, and the Speaker of the House–have been flagrantly wearing pantsuits in much more august places than Chapin High School.
Ms. Sarvis, who recently won the “Heart of Chapin” Award for her exceptional school spirit rightly pointed out: “I just don’t see why girls have to wear dresses…If it looks nice, why can’t they wear it?”
Well, yeah. The ban on dress slacks was so obviously outdated and sexist that Principal Satterfield began receiving e-mails from former students, parents and “concerned community members” about it.
Ultimately Satterfield backed down in a letter he sent home with students, and managed to admit he was wrong, even if his excuse for enforcing the policy was a little suspect:
“You should also know that the guidelines regarding appropriate attire for graduation have been the same for at least 25 years, well before I arrived at CHS. To my knowledge there has never been a complaint of this nature. Most importantly you should know that I am not opposed to young ladies wearing dress slacks to this or any other event, regardless of how it was portrayed in the news.”
Okay, maybe the fact that the policy is 25 years old might have been a tip-off that it needed revisiting? And if he wasn’t opposed to young ladies wearing dress slacks, then why would he initially try to prevent this young lady from wearing them?
My guess is he’s one of those male principals who loves rules for rules’s sake–an attitude that 99% of the time goes hand-in-hand with Patriarchy and privilege. My own high school principal was the same way, and he and I wound up at loggerheads more than once when I was a student (but I was lucky: my mother was also a principal in the same school system, which protected me from retaliation. Other kids were not as fortunate and paid a high price for questioning authority.). Principal Satterfield had a knee-jerk reaction: someone was questioning the rules and rules must be defended! It wasn’t until a number of people pointed out the obvious that he realized the rule was ridiculous and indefensible, and, if his letter is to be believed, contrary to his own views.
At any rate, I really wish Ms. Sarvis well. Apparently she also wore a tuxedo to prom, which, IMHO, is totally kick-ass. It may seem like a small thing to get this petty rule overturned, but I think small victories matter, and it clearly got a lot of people in her hometown thinking about fairness and sexism, including–if belatedly–the man in charge.