School uniforms are already a pretty fraught issue when it comes to gender and sexism, but they are also becoming a frequent figure in other discussions that are just as disturbing as the sexist stereotypes that determine who wears what based on biological gender.
Not for the first time, I’ve been reading about the idea that female students should have a specific dress code that limits things like the length of their skirts or the visibility of their bra straps to ensure that male students and teachers aren’t somehow adversely effected.
Let that sink in for a minute.
I don’t know about you, but I believe that men and boys are entirely capable of coping with a bit of exposed leg. Teachers, specifically, are grown adults. They should, in theory, be entirely capable of performing their job (you know, teaching) even with the certain knowledge that their female students have legs that continue above the knee level. They should be able to teach all their students without sexualising any of them, regardless of what they’re wearing. I’m pretty sure that’s a job requirement.
Some schools, however, seem to believe otherwise. The most recent school I’ve read about, Henderson High School in New Zealand, has been in the news because their Deputy Principal told female students that they must have knee length school uniform skirts. The reasoning behind this directive? To “keep our girls safe, to stop boys from getting ideas and to create a good work environment for male staff”.
Knee-length school uniform skirts will keep girls safe from what, exactly? The implication here is pretty clear. It’s to keep them safe from boys. Boys who might “get ideas”. Because boys apparently lose all self control at the sight of a bit of skin and may “get ideas” that compromise the safety of girls, right? Ideas like, say, sexual assault and rape? But they apparently won’t get these ideas if the girls wear knee length skirts.
This way, if a girl is sexually assaulted and was wearing a short skirt at the time, the benefits are two-fold: She will know it was her own fault for dressing in such an unprotective skirt and the perpetrator will know that he won’t be held accountable for his actions, because he lives in a society that constantly reinforces to him that he doesn’t have to seek consent from a woman who is dressed a certain way. She shouldn’t have worn something that gave someone an “idea” because everyone knows that a bit of extra skirt length would have kept her safe.
Is this really a healthy message to send to young people?
The skirt rule is also apparently to ensure a “good work environment” for male staff. I wonder how other men, men who aren’t teachers, cope in environments where they must work in environments where women of all ages wear whatever they want? How do male doctors and nurses cope with female patients who are wearing miniskirts? How do the guys who work in retail cope with a teenage clientele who might wander in wearing shorts? What about the male life guards that patrol our public beaches and pools, surrounded by women of all ages who bare their thighs (among other things) without a second thought? How are all these poor men coping without accosting every woman they see?
Why is it considered easier or more appropriate to teach women, from a young age, to behave and dress in certain ways to try to prevent sexual assault, rather than just teaching young men not to perpetrate it? By this, I mean teaching all young people about consent. All kids should learn, early on that they do not have the right to so much as lay a finger on another person without their consent. They should know the difference between seeking someone’s consent and trying to coerce it. They should be told, explicitly, that touching someone without their freely given consent is wrong. They should learn about healthy relationships and sexuality.
Trying to teach young women that they are responsible for the actions of men will not prevent sexual assault. It will just perpetuate a culture of victim-blaming.
Men, young and old, are perfectly capable of a level of self-control that prevents them from sexually assaulting women and girls who wear short skirts. This is demonstrated by millions and millions of men, every single day. Yet there are still organisations, groups and people in positions of power creating rules and policies that say otherwise. What about accounts of young males being sexually abused? We know it happens and we know it’s abhorrent. We know that the perpetrators are sometimes female and often male. But I have yet to see a school dress code that stipulates the length of their shorts or trousers to protect them. Is this because society doesn’t care about male victims? Or is it because, despite the apparent rationale behind these dress codes, we know that clothing doesn’t cause sexual assault?
We shouldn’t be relying on a school uniform or any clothing restrictions to protect anyone from abuse or sexual assault, because clothes do not cause or prevent abuse or sexual assault. Even educating all kids about consent probably won’t prevent all sexual assaults- but it will prevent some. And frankly, it makes a whole lot more sense than focusing on the length of someone’s skirt.
#IBOT @ EssentiallyJess.