Opinion Columns & Blogs

Lois Henry: Let me tell you about my Clovis dress code experience

Lois Henry, columnist for the Bakersfield Californian
Lois Henry, columnist for the Bakersfield Californian The Bakersfield Californian

News of Clovis Unified School District’s refusal to change its sexist dress code even in the face of a possible and, if filed, sure-to-win ACLU lawsuit put me right back in the 11th grade.

In the present day, William Pleasant, a senior at Buchanan High School, was initially barred from registering for classes last fall because his hair descended, GASP!, below the mid-point of his collar.

He pointed out there is no such hair length restriction for girls but Clovis didn’t back off until the ACLU started prowling around.

The district agreed to stop hassling William about his hair, but has refused to change the official dress code. The ACLU hasn’t filed suit yet, but I think it’s only a matter of time.

Of course it’s ridiculous that Clovis tells male students their hair must be a certain length and they can’t wear earrings without a similar restriction for girls.

Look at just about any other high school dress code and you see the standards are applied equally, as they should be.

Clovis could easily amend its code without allowing students to run amok or destroying “the Clovis way of life,” whatever that is.

This is discrimination 101 and the four school board members who voted last week to keep the sexist code intact ought to be required to pay the district's inevitable legal fees out of their own pockets.

Buchanan students protest district’s dress code

Such silliness.

But back to me, a proud 1982 Clovis High graduate.

Yeah, that’s right, I’m a “Cougar,” which didn’t have the same unfortunate connotation then.

I was walking to class after a dentist appointment, excuse slip in my hand, when a PE teacher stopped me.

This wasn't just any PE teacher.

She was in charge of our award-winning cheer squad, a highly coveted and much vaunted position. She was young. She was a winner.

There I was.

NOT a cheerleader.

NOT involved in sports.

NOT even in band.

A three-striker by Clovis standards

“Why aren't you in class?” she demanded, whistle swaying against her shirt front, hands on her polyester-gym-short-covered hips.

I handed her my papers.

She handed them back without even looking.

“You’re coming with me to the dean's office.”


“Dress code violation,” she snapped.

I was a junior at the time and you can probably guess this wasn’t my first trip to the dean’s office. Not even my first trip for a dress code violation. (School officials viewed the “anti-Cougar club” T-shirt I’d worn the year before especially dimly.)

So, I knew the ins and outs of the dress code. Most of the kids I hung out with were similarly well-versed.

In fact, one boy in our crowd wore a wig his entire four years after running up against the male hair length restrictions. Exactly the same restrictions that are still in place today and about to get Clovis sued.

The boy’s plan was to go on stage at graduation, get his diploma and then doff his wig, letting his long blond locks wave in the principal’s face.

Curse my age, I can’t remember if he actually pulled it off.

Anyway, the dress code prohibited bare shoulders.

That day I was wearing a white skirt, a lavender tube top — don’t judge, it was the ‘80s! — and a semi-sheer white top over.

My shoulders were not bare.

The dean agreed that I was, technically, in the clear. But, he noted, it appeared I wasn’t wearing a bra.

That wasn’t in the dress code. Even back then Clovis had realized it would be highly sexist to mandate particular undergarments for girls and not for boys. Besides, who was gonna check?

Again, the dean agreed with me that the dress code was silent on bras.

I got a one-day suspension anyway: Insubordination.

Which also got me grounded as my parents were, by then, exhausted by my “Norma Rae” battles and just wanted a normal kid.

Story of my life.

Anyhow, I’m glad to see someone’s still fighting “the man” and I wish young William Pleasant the best of luck.

From one generation to the next, rock on.

Lois Henry is a Bakersfield Californian columnist. Read archived columns by Lois Henry at bakersfield.com.