life skills

School is important. 
All students deserve a distraction-free environment 
to learn life skills.


I go to a school with a dress code:
No jeans, no tees.
Boys wear chinos or cords with tucked-in shirts with collars.
They stuff their shirts into their pants
when Mr. Warner walks down the hall. 
Girls wear the same, or skirts with fingertip rules.
I go to a preparatory school.
You could call it an academy.


tuck those shirt in gentlemen.

and madison
we need to talk about those shorts

I wear a black v-neck collared shirt and yes, you can see that I have breasts when I wear this shirt. Or any other shirt. You can see them clearly. They are loud, the mouthy little bitches. They're not embarrassed, even if I am, constantly. I'm 12. Spontaneous self-immolation caused by embarrassment is the leading cause of death for 12-year-old girls.

I think I hate them, my little boobs, but again, I'm 12. I still forget to put on deodorant every day. I still watch Animaniacs on Saturday morning and I just stopped sleeping with my doll, Carol. Yes, I named my doll Carol when I was maybe 6 or 7. No, I am not an ageless vampire who was born during the Great Depression. I just named my doll a weirdly old-fashioned name. I have never been able to tell when I am being somehow inappropriate.

I get pulled out of history class and taken to the office.

Everyone laughs when I walk out of class. Someone says, "Oooooh." The teacher rolls her eyes. "Alright, alright. Settle down."

In the counselor's office, I have a choice.
I can pick something out of the Bin of Shame,
or they will call my mom to pick me up
so I can go home and change.

I don't want them to call my mom. I don't want to be in trouble.

So I pull the first thing out of the bin. It is turquoise and shiny. It crackles with static electricity when I try to pull it apart to see what hellish garment I'm holding. It is a size 2X button-up shirt with a bedazzled collar whose paste jewels dangle from loose threads. It is from the Kathie Lee collection. The tag says clearance.

I put it on and cuff up the sleeves four times but the shiny fabric slips back over my hands almost immediately and when I button the buttons all the way to the top (under the cool eye of a teacher who is everyone's favorite and whose approval I want as badly as I want a note in the sweetly neat handwriting of the Lacrosse goalie who is so cute and in my Spanish class) my breasts are still there.


Unlike the shirt, I didn't get to choose them.

Regardless, I am allowed to go back to history class.

Everyone laughs when I walk in and I smile a sharp smile and strike a quick pose (which I would not have done in my black shirt from home) (which I would not have needed to do in my own shirt from home. I didn't want to draw laughter when I got dressed that day. Have I mentioned I was 12? Have I mentioned I was new?)

The teacher smiles at me and I can see she's pleased with my attitude. Everyone loves a badass in a costume. The sleeves slip over my hands again and I wave, flapping the overlong, shitty sleeves like a seal. Zing! The crowd goes wild.

Everyone sees it: This is hilarious. I am in on the joke. If it happened today I'd ask someone to post it on Insta. No really, this is great for me. I'm fine.

I am learning how much safety it can buy me, this pleasing pose.

This is a life skill.


(What I didn't know then is that they might as well write in school dress codes, "If the clothing you wear confirms that you have a body that makes me, a school administrator or educator, think about ripeness, or budding, I will need you to remove it (your ripe, budding body) from my sight because I am uncomfortable with my thoughts about ripeness, and your body. And my discomfort is your fault."

Well gosh. If we're talking about discomfort, I'd like to share that I am uncomfortable wearing this painfully ugly shirt that you picked to embarrass me.

I didn't know that then.)

I'm 12 and I am learning.

The only thing I can think when I look down at my binder and try to listen and take notes (on Margaret Sanger, of all things, I remember) is everyone knows what I am. I don't know what I am.

I am aware of my face. I am learning how to look like nothing.

I am learning how to say fuck you with unenthusiastic compliance.

This is a life skill.

I am learning how to anticipate, and meet, other people's opinions about how I should be.

I am learning to apologize for disappointing you with my shirt. I am learning shame.

I am learning how critical it is that you like me. I really need you to like me. If you don't like me my day stops until you change me so that I'm likable again. I hate getting pulled out of class. I like history.

I am learning that I can't take notes in this shirt; the sleeves keep slipping over my hands.  I am trying to listen and take notes, but 20% of my brain is just thinking sleeves, sleeves, sleeves. I don't know yet, but I will feel this way about high heel shoes and red lipstick, too. I will go to meetings thinking about my presentations, and 20% of my brain will be thinking shoes, shoes, shoes, lips, lips, lips.

Do you like me? Am I what you thought I'd be?

I am learning that no matter what,
I can gut it out. 
I just have to work harder
to make sure you're okay with me
while I do.
This is a life skill.
Maybe the most important one.

I am learning to accept punishment, even cooperate with it, even strike a pose into it and make you laugh while you're doing it.

This is a life skill.

I am learning that flat-chested girls wear black v-neck shirts all the time and go home at the end of school unmolested. I am learning that flat-chested girls wear sweatshirts and get pinched. I am learning that there are no rules.

I am learning what the problem is. It's not the shirt.

I am learning that my body is very, very dangerous.

I am learning that I cannot be trusted to handle my body,
little girl that I am,
wild tramp that I am.


Here's a question. Let's go there. 
What if there were no dress codes?

I'll tell you one thing that would not happen. 

Girls would not all start showing up to school in mesh dresses over sparkly thongs and Wonderbras. We wouldn't show up naked but for a thin coating of baby oil, panting and writhing in math class, to draw our male classmates' attention from the really important work of geometry.

We don't actually want your attention that much. We like geometry too. Well, I don't. But I like history. And being able to dress myself.

But even if they all did - even if every girl on Earth grew suddenly single-minded, hell-bent on seducing all the boys from their studies, what would happen?

Mass adolescent male insanity in the classroom?

And what would that look like?

Thousands of rapes per day?

The highest rate of teen pregnancies in the Western world?

Formerly straight-A students skipping trig to bone in the equipment room?

Or thousands of fumbling teenagers thinking about sex 24/7, and tucking their boners in the waistbands of their baggy pants?

Tell me. Seriously. 
How is that nightmare scenario
any fucking different

I am learning what the problem is. It's not the fucking shirts.

Are we afraid of ruining our boys, or are we afraid of our ruined girls - all those unplanned pregnancies from hallway heat turned on by the reckless revelation of a single bra strap?

Ha, I'm just kidding.

Nobody cares about the girls.

HEY. Don't roll your eyes. This isn't a fucking joke.

"Nobody cares about the girls" reads like feminist propoganda, but is also the only conclusion you can draw when you read dress codes that tell girls to focus on controlling their appearance (which they did not choose) so that boys can focus on learning.

Read a dress code and a high school sex education curriculum and tell me you don't see the many ways that our kids are learning to strip female power to support male comfort.

Possibly-related fun fact:

Did you know that the movie "Boys Don't Cry," was originally rated NC-17 not because of the rape scene, but because of a scene in which Chloe Sevigny has a good, long, chewy O.

oh she's enjoying herself
in a consensual sexual encounter?


The director had to cut not the rape but the pleasure to make this film okay.

Meanwhile, "Taken" was rated a chill PG-13. I don't know if you remember, his underage daughter is kidnapped and sold as a sex slave.

oh she's draped in chains
and looks terrified
while the male gaze
surrounds her?

that's fine
we can probably even go pg
if we don't linger on that side boob too long

So to recap, the MPAA is cool with 13-year-olds buying tickets to see young girl screaming, dragged out of an apartment and sold to be raped for male pleasure, but is NOT OKAY with 16-year-olds
buying tickets to see a young woman's face as she delights in consensual, female pleasure.

(It makes me wonder, did I have to wear that ugly fucking shirt to protect myself from predatory classmates? To protect other students from distraction? Or to protect the office from the discomfort
of a girl that is aware and in charge of her own body?

Because we keep our girls silent or screaming. Either way, we make sure they're pinned down.)


If I had gotten to wear whatever I wanted in high school I think I would have worn some short skirts and some tight shirts and some sweatshirts and some baggy pants.

I think I would have just picked what felt right on my body, what I could pull on in time to leave the house by 7:40. I used to fall asleep on the floor in the shower, the warm spray a lullaby on my chest and belly, and my mom was always rushing me out the door.

I think on the days I wore tight shirts I would have been brushed in the hallway. That actually happened and I didn't like it. But it was interesting. I learned something.

I think on the days I wore hoodies I might have been brushed anyway. But I also might have learned how it feels to be invisible. That actually happened and I didn't like it. But it was interesting. I learned something.

I think I would have learned for myself how my appearance affects my power.

I don't think the boys needed any protection.

I don't think I did either. Not from my shirt anyway.


I get taken to the office for hitting a boy. I am 13. I punch him in the stomach. He isn't expecting it and my fist sinks deep into his soft belly and it feels so fucking good.

The teacher asks what happened
and this is the very worst part.

The boy who said it is spooning an ice pack in a quiet room. I have to say it.

I have to say, alone in a room with this man teacher with a thick brown mustache, "He called me Whoppers."

I hear my voice say it and I wish I could burst into flames.

I didn't choose the name but I have to say it. I didn't choose this shape but I have to wear it. Like I have to wear this fucking shirt. And I have to pose with a face full of fuck you and nothing. And I have to keep up with my sleeves falling down.

And I have to learn not to hit. It's not nice.

The teacher looks at the top of my head, says, "Ah," and then, at middle school assembly, tells the whole school about how girls are sensitive at this age.

It's not untrue.

It's just


I know what you're wondering.

I was wearing a sweater, asshole.

This is my work.

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with Ronit Feinglass Plank


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