Do you remember the first time you felt sexualized in school?
Alexi Halket does.
In an interview with MTV News, the 18-year-old high school student -- whose “Crop Top Day” message has spread far and wide since yesterday -- shared a disappointing, yet fairly common anecdote from childhood. “In 7th grade, all the girls were kept after dance class one day and told that, ‘Now that your boobs are coming in, it's time to cover up! We don't want boys looking down our shirts now, do we?'
“They really should have kept the boys after class and told them that women aren't objects, and that looking at them that way is disrespectful," she explained. “In these situations, the boys are rarely talked to. It’s always the girls.”
The message behind Crop Top Day, which Halket organized at her Toronto high school on Tuesday (May 26), is about way, way more than being able to wear what you want in class. It’s about how school dress codes make young women feel -- that they are being unfairly judged in a place where the focus should be what’s inside their brains, not what's on their bodies.
We spoke to Alexi Halket on Wednesday (May 27), the day after her initiative took the world by storm. Here’s what she told us about teachers' reactions, slut-shaming, and the support she’s received in spreading her message of equality.
MTV: Can you explain exactly what happened when you wore the crop top to school on Monday?
Alexi Halket: I was pulled into the Vice Principal's office after lunch and told that teachers (including a male teacher) had informed her of my outfit, saying that my shirt looked "too much like a sports bra" and that it was inappropriate. She asked me to find something to put on top of my shirt, and that if I didn't have anything they would provide a shirt for me. I did protest her remarks, then said that I'd check my locker for something. However, I didn't. After class, I went back to the office and kindly stated that I would not cover up, and was willing to discuss why. I then spoke with the Principal and we discussed both of our points of view, and respectfully disagreed. After telling them both that tomorrow (Tuesday) was my birthday and I had very similar outfits planned for the week, they said, "You wouldn't want to be pulled into the office on your birthday would you? So I suggest changing those outfits." But they never threatened suspension, expulsion, or sending me home.
MTV: Can you elaborate on why you felt so compelled to organize the event?
Halket: After leaving the office I was greeted by my friends that said what I was dealing with was unfair and ridiculous, and that they would wear crop tops the next day to support me. That's when I took to Facebook and started an event, inviting only about 300 students from my school. It quickly erupted, leading to over 500 people of all gender identities at my school as well as people across the world participating! There was no way after that meeting that I was going to sit back and be quiet about something that was a small part of a much bigger issue. This is about women's rights, their ability to make choices about their own bodies, and the blatant objectification and sexualization of the female body by society. This issue encompasses much more than dress codes, including a woman's right to breastfeed in public. All of these actions and behaviours by women are deemed inappropriate and offensive, and I wanted to ask WHY. What is so inappropriate about the human (especially female) body? Why do exposed shoulders, for example, cause so much controversy?
MTV: What was the reaction like in school from students, teachers, and other staff members? Did you feel supported throughout the day?
Halket: Everyone was supportive. Even if they personally disagreed with what I was saying, they were supportive and proud that I made my voice heard about something I care about. SO many students got involved and contacted media to spread the message even further! I got an email from my photography teacher telling me how proud he was, as well as multiple hugs from teachers, staff, and students that all stood behind me. I am lucky to go to a very progressive and open minded school. But for me, I wanted to stand up for those who have even more severe limitations forced upon them.
MTV: Were you encouraged by your parents?
Halket: Absolutely. They stand by me 100% and have helped me every step of the way.
MTV: It was reported that your movement sparked a meeting with the school Principal inside the library with over 200 students. What happened, and do you feel happy with how the discussion went?
Halket: Unfortunately, I couldn't attend the meeting at lunch as I was speaking with media to try and get the message heard. However, I was informed by students that did attend that the discussion was very open, but also came to no real conclusions.
MTV: What would your response to critics be, or to those who say you shouldn’t “dress inappropriately” in school?
Halket: I would tell them what they're trying to tell me. I'm there to learn. End of story. What I wear in no way affects my ability to learn. In fact, on a hot day, wearing more clothing and sweating gets more in the way of my learning than if I dressed comfortably for the weather. I currently identify as asexual, and am not attracted to anybody sexually, nor do I desire that in return. Me showing skin has nothing to do with attention and everything to do with my own personal comfort. The idea that showing skin means that a woman is being "provocative" is a blatant example of not only judging a book by its cover, but also the sexualization of every part of a woman's body.
MTV: Do you think school dress codes can be early examples of victim-blaming, slut-shaming, etc? Do they perpetuate rape culture?
Halket: Hell yeah! School dress codes teach female students that their bodies are a problem and they have to cover up. They should really be teaching acceptance and body positivity, and also human rights. A woman wearing something comfortable isn't an issue; telling her that she needs to cover her body is. Sending girls home because what they're wearing is “disrupting” the learning of their peers, especially males, is sending the message that a male's education is more important than a female’s. You're telling a girl that her body and her skin are symbols of her sexuality, and that if she wants respect and to avoid sexual harassment, particularly from male students, she has to cover up. That is so messed up. Nobody should be harassing them in the first place and it is definitely not their responsibility and they are not at fault! Girls go to school to learn. What they are wearing should not matter. It is NEVER the woman's fault!
MTV: What do you hope to gain from starting this movement? Are you happy with all the attention it's received so far?
Halket: I hope to keep the conversation going and start a change in the way the world views women of all ages. I also want to see schools realize that the priority should be education, as well as respect for everyone and their individual choices. Everyone is different, and one human's opinion does not have authority over another's. I'm so amazed at all the support and how talked about this has become! There is some negativity out there, but I've made sure to not let it distract me from these goals.