More than 40 secondary schools in the United Kingdom have recently banned skirts as part of their school uniforms. Reasons cited for the move include an attempt to curb bullying of transgender students, and prevent the over-sexualisation of young girls.
As part of a growing trend worldwide, the UK schools have adopted gender-neutral uniforms, where both boys and girls wear trousers.
Tony Smith, head of Priory School in Lewes, East Sussex, said last year:
‘The reason for the uniform change initially is about equality, and decency.
‘Our students will all now wear the same uniform. ‘It is a much more decent uniform and it is far less likely to lead to abuse.
‘It is a gender neutral uniform, and we’ve thought carefully about that, ensuring that is was gender neutral.
‘We have transgender students in the school and we have an increasing number of students who are at that crossroads of understanding around their gender.
‘So this uniform removes the need for anyone to make a decision about whether they wear a so-called male or female uniform.’
However, parents and former students disagree. British journalist Piers Morgan, a former student at Priory School, commented, ‘It’s disappointing to see one of my old schools getting sucked into this gender neutrality nonsense, which is being driven by a tiny minority of people. Let boys be boys and girls be girls, and stop confusing them in this ridiculous way.’
Reactions from parents have ranged from angry to nonplussed. One parent of a student at Phillips High School in Bury, told the Daily Mail, ‘I feel strongly that parents should have been consulted and given a valid explanation. It’s good to give girls the option of wearing a skirt or trousers, but I don’t understand the need for a total ban. I think it’s crackers.’
Here in Australia, special interest groups have been calling for a similar ban for some time. Plan International, a children’s rights organisation, called for gender-neutral uniforms Australia-wide in October last year.
This came as the result of a survey Plan International performed of 1,700 girls aged 10–17. The group found an overwhelming majority didn’t feel they were treated equally to boys in school, at home, in magazines or television, and in sports. Plan International Australia deputy chief executive officer Susanne Legena told ABC News Breakfast:
‘At 10, girls feel they can take on the world, but by the time they enter puberty and start to look like a woman, they start to be cat-called and harassed.
‘So you kind of see this gender inequality playing out and as girls get older, they actually lose confidence in their ability to take on the world and be all the things they want to be.’
If you think your cash is safe in the bank…think again. Find out what you could do to protect your cash and financial privacy here.
Plan International made a number of recommendations in the report, including that state and federal governments ban gendered school uniforms, and ‘allow students to wear what they’re comfortable in’.
Note that last point. Allow students to wear what they’re comfortable in. If a female student insisted she was comfortable wearing a skirt, would it be allowed? It’s here where the skirt bans from the UK, and being proposed worldwide, fall down. Wearing what you’re comfortable in is not the same as one bland, neutral uniform for all.
Gender neutral uniforms fail to address the real problems
There may be room for a debate about how the media portrays women and girls. Especially surrounding the sexualisation of teen girls in media and advertising. But are school uniforms really the source of this? Are cat-calling, other forms of sexual harassment or sexual assault caused by school uniforms?
In the first case, we would argue that sexual harassment and assault are caused by the criminals who commit those acts. To argue that the clothes girls wear is a cause of the violence they suffer, stinks of victim-blaming. Here at The Australian Tribune, we prefer to blame criminals for their crimes, not their victims.
Similarly, when it comes to bullying and discrimination in schools, we think the resolution is to punish the perpetrators. Not police the clothing of their victims. In fact, we would argue that efforts like this draw unnecessary attention to these issues, and are likely to generate more mistreatment than they prevent.
Changing school uniforms nationwide in an attempt to accommodate transgender students is likely to draw more attention to and create more bullying for these incredibly vulnerable young people. Transgender youth are already at heightened risk for bullying and discrimination. Is putting a spotlight on them, thrusting them into the heart of a national debate, any way to protect them? Is telling every other student in school that they can no longer dress as they choose because of these students, going to help those students be accepted by their fellows?
Overenthusiastic special interest groups and career protesters insist that massive, sweeping changes must be made. They claim it’s to protect the vulnerable. But their methods may be putting the vulnerable in more danger, and distracting from real solutions.
Despite that, it seems likely that gender-neutral uniforms are coming to a school near you. And if they fail to bring an end to sexism, transphobia and bullying, perhaps the next set of uniforms will be some nice beige sackcloths.
PS: If you think your cash is safe in the bank…think again. Find out what you could do to protect your cash and financial privacy here.