Whilst the principle of asking pupils to attend school smartly dressed is a reasonable one, the problem comes when, in an attempt to define what constitutes smartness, institutions will project wider sexist issues about women and their bodies onto young girls. It’s no accident or surprise that dress codes contain far more rules directed at girls than boys as we live in a world where women’s bodies are policed and fought over to a far greater extent than men’s
I was recently told by a female member of staff to pull my skirt down because I was ‘not that kind of girl’. When I asked her why, she proceeded to tell me that my legs would make my male peers and teachers uncomfortable and that she was just preparing me for the world of work.
First of all, claims of a girl’s body being a ‘distraction’ are deeply sexist, they objectify her body and they are frankly insulting to men. Are we saying that males can’t control themselves and this therefore makes girls responsible for covering up? And, if a male teacher is ‘distracted’ by the legs of an underage pupil, is she really the problem?
Secondly, if schools publicly shame girls for exposing too much of their bodies, or in some cases even pull them out of lessons, they are only preparing them for a sexist and unfair working world in which women are constantly judged and berated on their appearance. Men, by comparison, have it easy.
When girls are denied time in the classroom because their bodies are considered inappropriate and in need of covering up, it privileges the societal sexualisation of their adolescent bodies over their own right to learn.
Chimamanda Adichie said in her TED talk ‘We Should All be Feminists’, “We teach girls shame. Close your legs; cover yourself. We make them feel as though being born female, they’re already guilty of something. And so, girls grow up to be women who silence themselves. They grow up to be women who cannot say what they truly think. And they grow up–and this is the worst thing we do to girls–they grow up to be women who have turned pretence into an art form.”
What do you think should be done to address this issue in schools?
The objectification of girls’ bodies should be addressed in the curriculum rather than making out that girls’ bodies are sexually inappropriate.
What if schools just got rid of skirts altogether?
By eliminating skirts from the dress code altogether, this school is sending the damaging message to its pupils that the gender to default to is male. It removes a choice that all children, regardless of the gender they were assigned at birth, should be given to embrace certain aspects of traditional aesthetic femininity, if they so wish.