Days after Molly Neuner’s feminist act of defiance hit the pages of the Portland Press Herald in April, the sixth-grader’s protest of a tank-top ban at King Middle School went viral.

Picked up by the Associated Press, the story about the 11-year-old Portland girl was carried across the globe by newspapers, TV stations, magazines and websites, including The Seattle Times, NBC News, Huffington Post, Business Insider, Cosmopolitan and Teen Vogue. Then, progressive posted a video about Molly’s protest on Facebook that has since been viewed 31 million times.

The response – both positive and negative – flabbergasted Molly and her parents, Paul and Christina Neuner, who have been contacted by people as far away as Sweden, France and the United Kingdom. Now, it’s fueling Molly’s effort to curb sexist dress codes at other schools.

“I was so excited,” Molly said, looking back over the last eight months. “But I would rather see action happen than be a celebrity.”

Molly’s protest was triggered by a teacher who reprimanded her in class for wearing a racer-back tank top. The teacher said the purple shirt broke a dress code that Molly determined was sexist, applied unfairly to girls and silly given that tank tops are common attire.

Specifically, the code banned clothing that was “disruptive in appearance,” including “short or tight-fitting skirts or shorts (no shorter than finger-tip length), thin strapped revealing tops (like tube tops, halter tops or low-cut tops) on girls and tank tops on boys or other similar items of clothing.” It also said that “clothing should cover the midriff area” and that students could be sent home if they violated the rules.


Two days later, Molly went to school wearing a tank top. A hashtag message – #iamnotadistraction – was written in large black letters down her right inner forearm, linking her to a national protest of sexist school dress codes that started in 2015. About 20 other girls broke the dress code with her.

Molly’s parents met that day with Principal Caitlin LeClair, who said the dress code would be reviewed. The updated dress code in the 2017-18 student handbook no longer refers to “revealing” tops, shorts or skirts, but it does say “clothing should cover the midriff area and undergarments.” The threat of being sent home has been removed.

Now 12 and in seventh grade, Molly said the updated code is better, but she believes a continued ban on hats, caps and bandannas could offend if applied to students who might wear scarves or caps for religious reasons. She plans to bring her concerns to Portland’s school board, hoping to address troublesome dress codes throughout the city’s schools and in other Maine districts.

“I’ve learned not to be afraid to speak your mind and that it doesn’t matter what people say,” Molly said. “I wouldn’t consider myself a celebrity, but I would consider myself a change-maker.”

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