Dress Codes for Female Students

My 16-year-old daughter was asking me about dress codes at her school. She thinks it unfair that girls should have to watch how they dress. I told her that boys/men are far more visually stimulated, not only by looking at beautiful women but by watching/participating in sports, using vision to hunt, etc. “Why can’t we teach the boys to be respectful and not look?” I told her God created men this way; and young boys have a much harder time with controlling that impulse than men.

I tried to explain that boys are taught to be respectful, but in the case of dress codes it’s far easier to have the girls dress more modestly than to “train” the boys. She was not satisfied with that answer–what else can I do to explain it to her? Or am I wrong in my thinking?

Jeff H.

Dear Jeff,

Your facts are right but in our humble opinion, your thinking is wrong. What you said to her was that it was easier to regulate girls’ clothing than boys’ nature. We never select our morality on the basis of what is easier–only on the basis of what is right. This is why your daughter was dissatisfied.

You are correct; males are more visually stimulated than women are. Demanding that they not be so is a bit like instructing a woman not to cry when she is emotionally moved. Not every man is equally stimulated and not every woman cries when joyous or upset but forcing either gender to clamp down on their own instinctive masculine or feminine reaction harms both society and the individual. This is not like encouraging a person to learn how to manage anger. In that case, we are helping someone tamp down a negative reaction and channel his or her feelings into a more productive and positive direction. In the cases we mentioned above, it is good for men to react to visual stimulation (but not necessarily to act in accordance with that reaction) and it is good for women to react strongly emotionally (but not necessarily to act in accordance with that reaction). That is why both men and women should learn to control their behavior. But destroying those instincts leads to damaged people and a sadder world. (We explore this idea in depth in chapter 6 of our book, The Holistic You)

Your daughter is absolutely correct that boys and men must treat women respectfully, no matter how a female is dressed. We are all obligated to treat each other respectfully. While we don’t know what her school’s dress code is, we feel certain that the goal is not to “manage the boys” but for both boys and girls to treat themselves and their education respectfully. For example, in a school with a dress code, we doubt if the boys are allowed to come in sweatpants and T-shirts. Doing so conveys a lack of seriousness and respect for teachers and the material being taught.

As for the girls, we suggest that your daughter ask herself whether her dress is respectful both to her and to her studies. If, for example, she wants to wear a top that shows her cleavage – why is that so? A dishonest and naive answer would be because she likes it. That top is designed to draw the eye to the chest. If she wants to be respected for her character, personality, and mind, then why would she want to distract others and guide them to focus on her body? Is her goal to establish meaningful relationships with other students and to get an education or is it to offer herself as an attractive girlfriend to the right boy?

Furthermore, another feminine instinct built into women is modesty. No men’s clothing advertisements ever included words like “opaque panel for modesty” such as one commonly encounters in women’s clothing catalogs. Popular culture is trying to condition women to jettison this instinctive modesty, but strong women resist that pressure. Think of the school’s dress code not as a way to regulate boys but a way to formalize feminine modesty. The definition of immodest is anything which emphasizes body over soul.

We object to dress codes that force girls to look dowdy. Women should feel and look attractive. Yet, as the administration in our daughter’s school used to say, “There is a difference between attractive and attracting.” Seduction belongs in a marriage, not in a high school.

It is wonderful that your daughter discusses these vital but delicate issues with you,

Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin

This Ask the Rabbi is dedicated in memory of Yuri and Rosa Yadgarov, ages 78 and 80. They were murdered on October 7, 2023, by Hamas terrorists outside their home in Ofakim, Israel. Yuri and Rosa came to Israel from Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Their son, who survived the attack, said about his parents, “…my mother would be waiting for me with a smile on her face. She would give me a hug all the time, every morning, all the time she would be blessing me, always telling me ‘Thank you that I have you.’”
His father, he said, “felt that he found a home here [in Israel]. He was a simple man, with a smile on his face, always smiling. Everyone knew him, everyone in the city knew him.”

And with prayers for the safe release of all the remaining captives and among them Maxim Herkin, age 35. Maxim has been missing since October 7, 2023, and his body has not been found. He is presumed to be a hostage. Maxim is the father of a three-year-old and the support of his mother and 11-year-old brother. This was the first music festival he was attending.

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