RSS Feed Visit our Tumblr blog Visit us on Facebook Follow us on Twitter Write us an emailDonate to SPARK!

Reimagining School Dress Codes

By Ejin Jeong, SPARK Action Squad

Clothes have always been an important part of our lives.  They allow us to characterize our era, culture, and personal tastes.  In many ways, clothing helps us express ourselves as individuals through various different styles. However, whenever it comes to expressing ourselves and being an individual, society has morphed fashion into another monster. From cultural appropriation to body shaming, society has shaped clothing to bring positive and negative impacts among young girls.

One of the most positive benefits of clothing is that there is such a wide variety that fashion allows us to be stylistically involved and think of creative, innovative ideas that can drive our personal tastes. For many years fashion designers have used clothing as a means of proving their artistic genius. Many people enjoy fashion because they can choose from a wide variety of styles in order to convey their own personal style to the public. However, there is a difference in what contributes to your individuality and what defines you. Most of society attempts to assume that a person’s clothing style defines their personality, and from this, many stereotypes are linked to different styles of clothing that can be harmful and prevent people from being free to wear whatever they want without being judged. Women are at many times slut-shamed for wearing shorter, more revealing clothes but when a woman wears more covered clothing she will be judged for being “drab.”

Society has constantly policed women’s clothing in the past decades. Women have been judged by their clothing to define their bodies, personalities, cultures, and lifestyle. Another huge part of how society has misused clothing is in cultural appropriation. Many people simply are unknowledgeable on what cultural appropriation is and how harmful it is. The lesson to take from these issues is in valuing the importance of education and activism. Much of the harm from stereotyping and racism comes from ignorance and a lack of knowledge on the sensitivity of such issues.

Consistently mirroring the misconceptions that society has about women’s clothing, schools and workplaces have also established rules that have deemed women’s bodies as automatically inappropriate and sexual. In the month of August and September, the SPARK Action Squad discussed several different topics related to clothing and feminism. Body-shaming, identity, judgment, and cultural appropriation are only a few of the major issues that is related to clothing. The SPARK Action Squad has complied a “universal dress code” that lists established rules that work places and schools should follow when laying down dress codes. Through the universal dress code, we were able to come to conclusion as to what would pass as acceptable dress code rules.

We at the SPARKteam would love to hear your own thoughts and opinions on issues in feminism regarding clothing.

Universal Dress Code Rules

  • Students must have input on the dress code, either through a vote, student representation on whatever group or committee decides the dress code, etc. Students spend most of their time in school and are deeply impacted both inside and outside the classroom by dress code expectations, so it’s only fair that we have input on this important decision.
  • Each dress code rule must have an explanation. So much of the discontent with dress codes is that students often don’t understand why the rules are in place, and are not given good explanations when we ask. As a result, dress codes (and their enforcement) often feel arbitrary and unfair.
  • “It’s a distraction” is not a good enough reason for something to be banned by the dress code. Often times, when girls’ clothing is considered “too revealing,” it gets banned because it’s “a distraction” to boys. This is unfair to everyone: it puts the onus on girls to be responsible for boys’ actions, while also suggesting that teenage boys are not in control of their own behavior. Instead, rules should have clear and specific explanations.
  • Dress code rules should be the same across gender lines. There is no reason to allow boys to wear tank tops while banning them for girls, for example. Also, boys should be allowed to wear clothes that are typically labeled as “female clothing”, such as skirts and dresses. No enforcement of boys having to wear masculine clothes  only and women having to wear feminine clothes only.
  • Dress codes should be evenly enforced, with honest conversations about whether or not that’s happening. A faculty or adult should not punish only one person for breaking a dress code rule when someone else that is clearly visible is not punished. It reinforces discrimination and favoritism towards students. In a school environment, unfair treatment should absolutely be  banned.
  • Punishments for dress code violations shouldn’t include sending students home or pulling them out of classes. What’s more distracting, my shoulders or the fact that I just missed an entire history lesson? Revoking privileges is much more conducive to the learning atmosphere for everyone and motivates students more to abide by the dress code than to get a day off from school.
  • Natural hair styles (afros, braids, locs, etc.) should not be banned in schools. Hair styles have nothing to do with interfering learning and banning certain cultural hairstyles can be offensive and restrictive of student’s freedom to express their culture.
  • Students should be allowed to wear items to express their religion and culture that does not promote discrimination against others (ex: white supremacy). These permitable items include head scarves, turbans, bindis, yarmulke,

And some other things to consider:

  • dress codes should be rooted in comfort, safety, and self-expression and be equally enforced
  • dress code architects need to take into account who has access to the kind of clothing they require (ie rules about “must wear leather shoes” are difficult to stick to for low income students)
  • dress codes, until now, are mostly about power and order and less about student needs, and that needs to change
  • dress codes shouldn’t discriminate along class, gender, sexual orientation, religious or racial lines
  • dress codes should be accessible and fluid, they should be open to change if they are found to be offensive or discriminatory to a particular group of people

SPARK Performance in Brooklyn: This Is Not A Safe Space!

on OCTOBER 24, SPARKteam Players presents a new live, outdoor, site-specific performance addressing rape culture:

word on the street is…

This Is Not A Safe Space

an original soundwalk and live performance challenging rape culture

saturday october 24 at 5pm

written and performed by: emma, nicosie & tasfia

directed by: dana (with eva and courtney)

This Is Not A Safe Space is the culmination of a collaborative creation process of the writer-performers along with sexual violence prevention activists and is presented as a contribution towards the goal of ending rape culture and promoting sexual violence awareness and prevention. Audience is limited, so please reserve your FREE ticket HERE:

  • We will be OUTSIDE in Fort Greene, Brooklyn — audiences will travel to different locations, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes and dress for the sunny, crisp, fall weather!
  • We will BEGIN at Fowler Square, located at the intersection of South Elliott Place, Fulton Street and Lafayette Avenue.
  • Nearby transportation: 2,3,4,5,B,D,N,R,Q trains at Atlantic Avenue-Barclays Center; G train at Fulton Avenue, C train at Lafayette Avenue.

Contact with any questions.

This production has been made possible due to generous funding support from the Frank and Ruth E. Caruso Foundation and the NoVo Foundation


Happy International Day of the Girl!

SPARK Movement is thrilled to co-produce the International Day of the Girl: Girls Speak Out! at the United Nations for the third year in a row. Dana (SPARK’s executive director) is directing The Takeover, an original performance written and performed by teenage girls at the UN – and including writing by girls from 18 countries. Do you ever wonder what the world would be like if girls took over? Come hang out with us at UN and see The Takeover!




Hot Girls Wanted: A SPARK Roundtable

by Montgomery Jones, Aviv Rau, Mariah Hall, Courtney Fulcher, and Jazmin Martinez

Hot Girls Wanted is a documentary that gives its audience a glimpse into the world of amateur porn, looking into the day to day lives of young women in the industry. It’s been on the media’s radar, thanks in part to producer Rashida Jones, who has spoken in interviews about how this film gives a unique opportunity to delve into the basic operations of amateur porn companies and how being in porn affects of the lives of the young women who act in these videos. It looks at their health issues, family relationships after finding out, and social interactions. It definitely caught the attention of some of the girls from SPARK–a few of us realized we had all watched the film (now streaming on Netflix) on our own, and decided to have a roundtable about it. It was a long and complicated conversation, but we wanted to share some of the highlights below.

Montgomery: I don’t think that [the film] was portraying the sex industry [as a whole], just one little sliver. [The film follows] girls that [producers] get off Craigslist. Their lifespan, or their shelf span, is, like, 4 months.

Aviv: It seemed kind of nice that the girls had happy endings or, like, happier endings. But that kind of defeated a lot of the point that I felt the movie was trying to make until then of, like, [the amateur porn industry] is really shitty. But, “Oh these girls all got a chance to get out of it and now they’re happy!” But the industry still continues and they didn’t really do a good job of wrapping that up as much.

Mariah: For me, the film went in depth but [a lot of] it was definitely there for the shock factor and, like, the disgustingness.  don’t think it went deep enough into the issues, so it just felt very superficial. It was more just about shocking people rather than, “Here’s how we can change this, here’s how we can stop it,” and really offer solutions.

Montgomery: I disagree with you guys. I think it went exactly how they said it would with the whole shelf span of 4 months, then you’re out. See, I don’t think this specific corner of that industry you’re sucked in for the rest of your life–I think you’re in and you’re out. Not everyone obviously gets to go home to a happy family and go back to school and stuff, but they made it sound like that usually happens. It’s like a weird summer vacation. Like, surreal.

Jazmin: They made it sound like you go in and then you can go out and not have it that bad. But then there’s nothing else after the 6 months or the year. There’s really gross things you have to do to keep going. Like, Facial Abuse and no condoms.

Courtney: Yeah, none of the sets use condoms. Also, they didn’t know anything about birth control which freaked me out!

Montgomery: I felt just so bad for these girls, honestly. One of the girls was saying, “Yeah, I’m 18, it’s easy to take advantage of me.” She says it like she’s heard it, but I don’t think she really understands how manipulative these people are. And she walked away with $2000, and she got paid, like, $35,000 or $45,000.

Jazmin: They go in for the money but they don’t realize they have to spend it on flights.

Montgomery: And how creepy was it when all the girls left and we started a whole new cycle with the new girls? It was like the end of a horror film, where you think you’re done but then it’s like, “Whoa, brand new girls start all over!” It’s like a neverending cycle. And [Riley, the girls’ manager] is there again, with his creepy self.

Mariah: The one thing that really struck me too was that [the film] didn’t address it rape or assault–[a lot of times, girls] did not give consent for things. It was not talked about, and I wish that had been addressed more, the fact that girls do have a right to say no. Even the fact that they didn’t feel like they did means that something is wrong.

Montgomery: I think the messed up part is, they’re kind of the lucky ones, in a weird way, because they got to walk away like we said. There are so many people that are in other sexual situations and industries and things like that that don’t get to just walk away. We talk about sex slavery and stuff, and I saw a lot of parallels in that world, except that it was in front of a camera. It was so manipulative because it was like, “Oh, I’m gonna be a star and I’m getting paid so it’s not bad at all.”

Jazmin: And this is not even the worst of it! Like when Rachel flew out to L.A., and she paid for it with her own money, but they didn’t tell her it was, like, Facial Abuse. She was like, “What was I gonna do?” And then she had to do it. Then there was this other scene where she was like, “You have sex with these gross men that you wouldn’t have sex with in real life.” Then they cut to a part where she’s like, “I didn’t know if I could say no.” And that was awful!

Montgomery: And it’s just so weird because they’re a lot of our ages. A lot of it comes from boredom, loneliness, this kind of feeling that they need to get out and this is just a quick way to do it. I feel like a lot of us have felt that way before. I didn’t mean to be pitying them, but I just felt so bad the entire movie. Everything Riley was saying, I was like, “Ugh! You’re such a pig. You’re disgusting!” And he just had that stupid smirk on his face. I was like, “Oh, shut up! Get out of my face.” … Because we’re in that generation where crossing over from the sex industry to the mainstream is more common now–it’s a little bit more accepted. So I’m not dissing–I don’t know so much about the porn industry. By all means, if you are protected, if you’re not being abused and all that, if you wanna do it I don’t care. But it’s these young girls that are being recycled and used for their [youth]. And [the porn directors] kept saying, “Don’t wait for her to say yes, just go.” Okay, that’s rape. That’s not funny, that’s not cool. It made me so angry.

Jazmin: I think that’s also part of the problem. When men watch this and internalize the power, they think sexualizing women is powerful.

Montgomery: I really think that these stories [affect our ideas about sex]. Rashida even mentions it–11 is now the average age to watch porn or whatever. But if it’s a healthy story about sex–not these weird, demented little fantasies that are, like, forcing women to do things…It just hits you, and you’re like, “Oh, okay.” It normalizes it. You’re desensitized. You’re like, “Oh, cool, that’s how you do it.”

Aviv: Definitely. And I think the big thing is what you were saying before, about things being uncensored and there not really being any clear boundaries. I mean, even if somebody looks for what’s supposedly “healthier porn” or what depicts a less awful thing, the fact that it’s so easy to stumble into a completely different niche is terrifying. And that seems like what a lot of the girls were getting into, too. They didn’t realize that they were gonna do things that are beyond just “run of the mill” porn. They ended up doing all these things that they probably never expected to, just because it’s so easy to hop from one thing to the next, and there’s no clear boundaries given.

Mariah: Like the niche porn or whatever it was.

Courtney: This  movie was very scary to me. I just ended up feeling terrible for all of the girls. Really, it seemed like all of them were just young and naive and desperate to escape their hometowns. Amateur porn seems like a terrible, exploitative industry.

Jazmin: The film made me feel so sick about the state of the porn industry. It doesn’t seem like the people in it care much about protecting the participants’ health and mental wellbeing. It also gave me a better understanding of the consequences of living in a country where violence against women is constantly being sexualized and normalized in mainstream media. I want to cry and scream and punch that guy Riley and steal his puppy, he doesn’t deserve that puppy.

Aviv: What struck me most about this movie was how manipulated those poor girls are. Many of the girls in the documentary are literally fresh out of childhood–just eighteen years old–and lured into the porn industry with the promise of money and fame. From the moment they enter the industry, they are exploited by shady older men like Riley. These men capitalize on the girls’ youth physically, mentally, and emotionally, then “recycle” the girls as soon as they scout a newer, younger group. It’s kind of like some larger-than-life pyramid scheme where young girls are the currency.

Mariah: Rather than feel pity for these girls, I think it’s good to use our anger at seeing how this exploitative industry can be made more safe for the women working in it. It’s seeing films like these that help spark a revolution to end the abuse they face. One thing that I liked about it as well is that it kind of brought it back to the consumers. The porn industry is making films that are wanted by society. It brings us back to the larger issue of society of dehumanizing and sexualizing girls and women. Women of color are especially fetishized. Unapologetic fetishization and dehumanization is something that porn makes very apparent.

SPARK Reads: Nell Zink’s Mislaid

by Courtney Fulcher

I first saw screenshots of Nell Zink’s Mislaid when Rachel Dolezal became a news story. I had heard about the book before because it was one of those “10 Books You Must Read This Summer!” but I hadn’t  intended to read it until I read those screenshots. They were all wickedly funny passages deftly satirizing racial politics of the 60’s and 70’s in ways that felt fresh but true to the period. Summarizing the book beyond that is difficult because I don’t think I can capture the tone of it,  which was vintage and dark and often hilarious.

Anyway, Mislaid follows Peggy and Lee, a lesbian woman and a gay man who marry in Virginia in the 1960s. Over the course of ten years (and several pages), their marriage implodes, eventually leading Peggy to escape in a car with their daughter, leaving her son behind. Peggy, for complicated reasons, raises their daughter to believe they are both black.

Peggy’s daughter, who goes by the name Karen for most of the book, grows very much into the protagonist. She’s smart, naive, and childish, a welcome contrast from her parents, who are completely believable and unlikeable narrators (and terrible at parenting). Many of the funniest moments come from Karen’s interactions with patronizing Southern liberals. Karen is a smart girl in fiction who does not behave like a tiny adult, an unfortunately refreshing characterization. I found her really interesting but was disappointed that she wasn’t really fully utilized as a character until the later half of the book. Another character I adored was Temple, Karen’s boyfriend. His understanding of the world filtered mostly from mid-century authors in completely recognizable and hilarious way.

I didn’t start reading this book with the highest of expectations. I expected a stiff and cringe-worthy tale that ignored the privileges of whiteness and bordered on voyeurism. I was surprised to find a deft farce instead. The story that emerges is a funny Trojan Horse of a bildungsroman, albeit one with incredibly strange pacing. Zink is unfortunately at this point an oddity in the literary world as a white author who explores the race interestingly and effectively.

Overall, Mislaid is a sometimes uneven, funny book that works best in excerpts. The pacing works amazingly in some places and terribly in others. Zink’s use of narration struck me as charming, but was inconsistently utilized. The ending is by far the weakest part of the story in my opinion, but I hate Shakespearean comedic endings and fun, generally. I really hope that Zink continues to publish for larger audiences. She’s clearly an accomplished writer even in her sophomore novel.

Black Women Create, even from behind prison walls

by Alice Wilder

Latoya Dickens and I have been pen pals for a little over a year. In that time, I’ve moved four times. I’ve worked three different jobs and traveled to four different states. But several times a month, without fail, I’ve scooped thick envelopes out of my mail box and unfolded yellow lined pages filled with Latoya’s neat cursive. I’ve written her letters in boring classes (sorry, Professor Fhunsu), on my apartment’s staircase, at picnic tables after a hike. She writes her letters to me from the Lee Arrendale State Prison, in Georgia.

Probably my worst quality is my impatience, and it is what makes writing to Latoya so frustrating- it has been a year and she is right where she was before. Prison does this. Our power dynamic is inescapable- I am constantly moving around Chapel Hill and she is in Lee Arrendale State Prison, where she has been for nearly twenty years. I get to sit at this cafe and write about her life. That’s power.

But it would be dishonest to define Latoya as a powerless victim of the prison system, although she has, without a doubt, been negatively impacted by it. She is currently serving a life sentence for the death of her husband Otis, who abused her for nearly their entire relationship and threatened her life.

Although she is inside of this building, she is continuing to flow and grow. She tells me in her letters about her theology classes, her poetry classes, the books she reads. How she admires Serena Williams and loves the show Empire. She tells me about the ministry she wants to start when she is freed: she wants to focus on counseling people who are dealing with domestic violence and other forms of abuse.

Latoya loves to write poetry, so I sent her some questions for our Black Women Create series. Her poetry centers around womanhood, God, and love in all its dimensions.

Love Is

Love is beautiful
Love isn’t blind, it can see
It sees the beauty within, not
the skin
It isn’t a sin
Love is you
Love is me
Masculinity, masculinity
Femininity, Femininity
Love is love, let it be

Why do you enjoy writing poetry?

I never really thought about why I enjoy writing poetry. Since you asked, I honestly believe I can say it gives me peace, a sense of release and renewal. It is also one thing that can’t be taken away from me.

What advice would you give to a girl who wants to write poetry but is nervous to do so?

Sweetheart, it is definitely a way to release all that you may be holding in. Embrace that fear and find your voice as well as renewal. No fear, because fear immobilizes us. For example, Maya Angelou, she speaks volumes and where she came from was her foundation. She never sugarcoats.

What is your inspiration?

I’d have to honestly say that my family is my inspiration. I sometimes look back at where I used to be and it helps me to focus on where I want to be. And definitely my higher deity. As well as wanting to assist younger women and men to strive for better. Having the freedom to continuously elevate educationally, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, is inspiring in itself.

Latoya comes up for parole in 2016, this means that she will go in front of a parole board and have to make a case for why she should be free. With support and some luck, she could be out, free, in another year. But parole is incredibly difficult to get. Click here to learn more about her life, and how you can be part of a letter writing campaign to her parole board.