Skirt and pants at Cathedral Catholic
Skirts and pants at Cathedral Catholic High School. Section of uniform photo from school website

I graduated from Cathedral Catholic High School a year ago. Cathedral is not perfect, but I am extremely grateful for the education and friendships I gained there.

From my younger sister, a student, I quickly heard about the skirt ban. The email message that the school sent to students and parents was not especially well written. It blames the ban on both student violations and male teachers’ discomfort in enforcing the code.

At first I was annoyed that the administration had imposed such an abrupt change in the dress code, but then quickly remembered the much bigger issues beyond my former high school community. In just the past few weeks, we have seen major efforts to strip American women of their autonomy, widespread failure to address climate change, and a humanitarian crisis affecting asylum seekers at the border.

On Tuesday morning I drove my younger sister to school. As we turned into the parking lot, we saw a blockade of students and parents with signs protesting the skirt ban. Signs articulated, for the most part, statements about sexism on the campus having to do with banning the skirts.

The signs did not speak to the lack of women in the sciences, the occasionally frightening prospect of speaking up in class, or the protocol of girls doing most of the work in coed group projects by default. Instead the signs said it was sexist for girls to wear pants to school.

Ironically, that very same day was 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment passing in the House of Representatives. After winning the right to vote, American women still had many rights to fight for, and social norms to change–including the privilege to wear pants.

Another sign read “My Body My Choice” and featured a drawing of a tan skirt. This sign angered me the most because it used pro-choice language to promote wearing a skirt at a private school, rather than to promote access to safe birth control.

Skirt enthusiasts have left comments on Facebook such as “What century is this?” and “I will not quietly go back to the 1950s.” But it’s important to remember why women were required to wear skirts in the first place — to enforce gender norms in an educational setting.

What upset me the most about the outrage against the skirt ban was that I have never seen the school community more infuriated. While asylum seekers suffer at the border, mass incarceration continues, and people die every day due to gun violence, it takes a new uniform policy to get these students to their feet.

Even when the school administration sent out an email forbidding us from kneeling during football games to protest police brutality, we barely saw a speck of rage. After the Parkland shooting, it took a visiting nun who spoke later that week to even mention the dangers of assault rifles. It is truly disheartening to see this much indignation and activism for something so minuscule rather than for issues that cause major rifts in society.

I am lucky to have the privilege I do. My parents always taught me to use my privilege to help others, and I call upon Cathedral students to do the same.

Rather than being bitter about a uniform change, try to make it easier for students for whom it might be a financial hardship to obtain new clothing. Use your passion to create positive change on the Cathedral Catholic High School campus. Make it a more welcoming place by advocating for your LGBTQ peers and make the classrooms a more comfortable place for women through social change.

Use your enthusiasm for change to promote the Catholic message of equality and love, both in your own community and abroad.

Claire Hoffman is a rising sophomore at George Washington University and an alumnus of Cathedral Catholic High School.