Many of you, no doubt, have heard the story by now. It actually played out according to an almost cliched trope: the anonymously passed note, from the brave male standing up for standards, to the inadequately covered female flaunting same. Here is the text from the note:
You may want to consider that what you’re wearing has a negative effect on men (and women) around you. Many people come to this university because they feel safe, morally as well as physically, here. They expect others to abide by the Honor Code that we all agreed upon. Please consider your commitment to the Honor Code (which you agreed to) when dressing each day. Thank you.
There’s a lot of low-hanging fruit here, but I want to limit my commentary to two points.
The first involves the only defense I’ve seen made of the note, in all the public fora in which it has been debated: that her outfit, the combination of leggings and a dress with an above-the-knee hemline, is, in fact, in violation of the Honor Code. That may or may not be true (thought the rather startling implications of the fact that the leggings/skirt combo was recently considered modest at BYU and that we, therefore, are moving in a more puritanical direction in such matters has been discussed at some length here). I’ll concede that it’s a technical violation.
What irks me is that the anonymous note-writer doesn’t open with that and doesn’t try to make a technical argument about the conformity of her outfit to policy X. He begins with the “effect” her dress/body is having on the people around her, on how her self-presentation creates a (physically? morally?) unsafe environment for people who seek refuge at BYU. In her current form she is an Honor Code violation because of the effect she is having on her environment and the people around her. Note how the circle or reasoning closes on itself: she is having a morally compromising effect on people around her, and is therefore in violation of the Honor Code. And why is she having this effect? Because she is technically in violation of the Honor Code.
If you ever needed a data point to support the claim that telling women to cover their ankles hyper-sexualizes their ankles, this is it. Her manner of dress is inappropriately alluring/tempting/distracting/titillating/whatever not even because it reveals her intrinsically pornographic form, but precisely because it violates HC standards.
Second point (not unrelated to the first): Honor Code dress standards for females and the way those standards are discursively rationalized (as protecting virtuous men’s minds from pornographic female forms) and enforced (students encouraged to pressure other students into obeying) actually creates an unsafe environment—an environment in which behavior that in virtually any other setting would constitute sexual harassment is not only excused but implicitly encouraged.