Making sense of school uniforms

Although Britain may not be renowned for its glorious summers, this random upsurge in heat has highlighted a serious cause for concern. Reported largely by the twitter account ‘Everyday Sexism’, the scorching heat brought to light attitudes towards appropriate school attire for girls.

In several instances, girls were punished for what was deemed inappropriate clothing. Although on the surface this may seem like standard school procedure, upon deeper inspection, it seems that the standards can be questionable.

From a school in Hull  that announced plans to ban girls from wearing skirts because they’re too distracting and make male teachers feel ‘uncomfortable’, to a school in Plymouth that’s banned skirts because girls rolled them up too high [2], it seems that some public institutions are intent on shaming girls for their bodies. In other schools girls can only wear skirts.

This attitude towards girls’ dress code puts the blame squarely on the girls. Branding female bodies as inherently sexual, and punishing them for being so, creates a shame culture: attention focuses on young girls instead of on the males who supposedly can’t control themselves in the first place.

Authoritative figures are essentially implying that girl’s bodies (many of which are pre-pubescent) are sexual and that it is their responsibility to adapt their so-called ‘distracting’ attire to fit the needs of their male classmates. If the issue is the inability of the male population to control its behaviour, you would assume that the centre of focus would be on that, as opposed to shifting the blame entirely onto the bodies of unsuspecting girls.

The time that girls begin to be called out for their clothing in school often coincides with the start of  street harassment and catcalling, since most women’s first experience of catcalling predates adulthood [3]. When you combine the implications of body shaming by teachers, the discomfort caused by being leered at in the street and the myriad of images showing how women should look, it’s no wonder that generations of young girls are struggling with a self esteem deficit.

Surely it is important to focus on encouraging girls of all ages to feel comfortable within their bodies and for boys to respect them, and vice versa? If Britain ever sees its temperature rise above anything other than mildly wet and frustratingly windy, then we must foster an environment in which girls can wear what they feel most comfortable in, not worry about what they look like.

Join Fawcett’s campaign to give boys and girls the same options for school uniforms and #DONTBLAMEITONTHEGIRLS

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