May 12, 2011

IconSchoolboys in skirts and slutwalks: who decides what you wear?

Slutwalk, and a schoolboy’s brave determination to challenge sexist school uniform rules may be only distantly related – but they highlight graphically just how early, how insidiously our society teaches the culture of victim-blaming, writes Jane Fae.

The schoolboy story, for those who don’t take their news from the likes of the Mail or Telegraph, is the ineffably cute tale of 12-year-old Chris Whitehead who argued, not unreasonably, that wearing long trousers for summer is uncomfortable. Rules, however, prohibit the wearing of shorts. What’s a boy to do?

Backroom lawyer and budding politician Chris spotted that skirts weren’t banned – and that barring him from wearing one would be discriminatory. Sorted!

Chris is going to school in a skirt and all ends well, as his head master, obviously a man endowed with a degree of common sense as well as humour joked: “I know he wants to go into politics and has got strong principles. So maybe parliament is not the best place for him.”

Almost serendipitously, Chris’s one-boy skirt protest hit the headlines at about the same time as the mainstream press were getting themselves into a lather over Slutwalk – a rather more mainstream protest taking place on June 11, and aiming to raise the issue of victim-blaming, particularly the blaming of victims in respect of the clothes they wear if they have been raped.

There is a connection. Our local school (Deeping St James, Lincolnshire) recently put out draft guidelines on uniform. There was a clear logic to what pupils SHOULD wear: a sort of teachers’-eye view of what the well-dressed intern ought to be sporting this season. Tagged on at the end, however, was an extraordinary catalogue of things not to wear.

A prohibition on Ugg boots and flip flops, but no other footwear, hints at vague aspirations to being hip through disapproval. Someone has heard of these items, and they don’t like them!

Otherwise, though, running through the whole was a depressingly moralistic set of strictures clearly aimed at the female half of the species. No strappy tops. No asymmetric tops. Above all, no “décolletage”. According to wikipedia, that includes the back and neck areas, but we all know what they mean: no cleavage! Except, of course, as teachers they couldn’t possibly say anything quite so direct.

This echoes a myriad of other uniform codes. It echoes, too, another Mail piece: back in November last year, pupils (i.e., girls) at Bradley Stoke Community School in Bristol were banned from wearing Miss Sexy branded garments.

These are unacceptable because of the way they ‘cling’ to girl students – making them ‘unhelpful’ to learning.

Oh my! Unhelpful to whom? Has there been some mass outbreak of lesbianism in Bradley Stoke? No. As the comments make abundantly clear, it is the poor innocent boys who must be protected from girly sexcess. Such displays only serve to inflame the passions of these poor helpless darlings – and quite put them off their GCSEs.

It’s subtle. But it’s no great step to suggest that the roots of victim-blaming are here. These are not just aesthetic rules: or if they are, it’s only fair to ask why cleavage is forbidden whilst the infinitely less appealing bum-crack is not.

They’re rules about controlling and defining sexuality – female sexuality. On the one hand, boys as young as 10 or 11 are taught that it’s what girls wear that matters, that is ‘to blame’. On the other, this attitude is a back door into that other ultimate evil that everyone from David Cameron to the Mail is currently moral panicking about – the sexualisation of kids.

For whilst girls may be aware of how clothes play sexually, they also see them as being about so much more. Fun. Fashion. Practicality. The vast majority of women do not buy bras to titillate men: they do so for support.

These rules teach the exact opposite. Clothes are about sex, doncha know, and what women wear is ultimately to be defined by the male gaze.

Slutwalk anyone?

5 Responses to Schoolboys in skirts and slutwalks: who decides what you wear?

  1. Jes says:

    I support Chris and anyone taking part in Slutwalk, however, school is supposed to be a place of learning, it’s not a fashion-parade.

    I support plain old school uniforms (with trousers and flat shoes for all); that way no one is picked on for the brands they or their parents can’t afford to buy, and no one is distracted by cleavage/legs – apparently the chest of a teenage boy in a low v-neck is just as appealing as a girl’s cleavage – who knew?

    This is much less about ‘distracting cleavages’ and more about the aggressive bullying that can go on between groups of teenagers who don’t wear the ‘right’ clothes. Bullying will always be there, but if we can remove one layer of it by keeping uniforms strict and plain, we should.

  2. Jane Fae says:

    Totally go with that, Jes. But when uniform codes obsess about what girls wear and do so from the perspective that they might distract boys…that’s an extra and important layer.

    jane
    x

  3. Rachel says:

    It’s always harder for the girls though. At my school, girls had to wear skirts, but if the skirts were too long, we used to get laughed at, and if girls rolled up their skirts to make them shorter, that was wrong too. It was then taken to the school council for girls to wear trousers, so now girls can either wear trousers or skirts if they please.

  4. Vivien says:

    I’m a teacher and strongly feel the need to respond to this article.

    A school is a professional environment and think that both students and teachers should dress accordingly! I agree that it’s harder for boys and men to dress smartly and cooly in the summer but realistically trousers are not that hot, and there are plenty of trousers made from light materials that are smart!

    I take personal offence to the; ‘According to wikipedia, that includes the back and neck areas, but we all know what they mean: no cleavage! Except, of course, as teachers they couldn’t possibly say anything quite so direct’ comment. The reason I don’t show my cleavage at school is because it’s not appropriate not because I feel the need to hide my sexuality!
    The reason we ask pupils to dress in certain ways is not to stop them expressing their individuality but to encourage them to take pride in their school and to prepare them for the work place in the future. As for Ugg boots – schools should not be a fashion show and with flip flops we have to be health and safety conscious which is a ridiculous but true reason why at my school, and many others, they are banned!

    I usually enjoy reading the articles on this site but feel that in this case the slutwalk cause has been totally misinterpreted and school dress codes totally misnterpreted! I, as a teacher, feel totally insulted by it!

  5. jenni says:

    Viviens a right gaylord

Milly Shaw

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