THE BLOG

Change the Rules: Time to Get Rid of Sexist School Uniforms

27/05/2015 11:02 BST | Updated 22/05/2016 10:59 BST

'Inappropriate.' 'Immoral.' 'Disruptive.' All recent words used to describe schoolgirls' outfits. Whether they're from the uniform-wearing UK or the more relaxed 'own clothes' States, young women across the world are being punished for breaching archaic school dress codes.

This week, there was outrage when women were banned from the Cannes Film Festival for not wearing heels. So why is there no uproar at the secret chauvinism that plagues our schools? Why is no one bothered about the girls of Foothill High School forced to attend a class on moral character for wearing a strappy top? How about the female students who will be banned from wearing skirts and tight trousers for fear of making male staff uncomfortable? Not even one care for 18-year-old Evette Reay who was suspended on her last day of school for wearing a dress cut just above the knee?

The only people speaking out are the students themselves. Sanam Nawim, a 16-year-old student from the aforementioned Foothill High School, and her older cousin, Negeen, set up a petition protesting against sexist school dress codes. The pair said the policy reinforces a "toxic culture of making girls feel ashamed of their bodies" and that it tells girls "they will always be viewed as sexual objects." More than 2000 people have signed the petition since it started two weeks ago. One supporter commented: "I'm so sick of teachers telling me to change my clothes instead of telling boys to change their mind-sets." Lauren Wiggins, 17, agrees, penning a letter on the relationship between rape culture and sexism in education after being reprimanded for wearing a halter neck maxi dress.

Over in the UK, things aren't much better. When a male teacher from Bridlington School in Hull remarked on a female student's skirt length, she replied: "You shouldn't be looking at my legs." The teacher felt so awkward that the school ended up changing its uniform rules to ensure no girl could wear tight clothing again.

What bothers me more than the stringent rules is the lack of care for the student. No doubt this encounter proved to be pretty uncomfortable for her too. It's a feeling I'm all too familiar with having attended an all girls' school. Teachers there were obsessed with skirt length from Years 7-11 plus the tightness of everything else once you'd graduated to sixth form. If men on the street are frowned upon for harassing young women, why are men in schools entitled to do the same? In the case of teachers, there is usually no sinister context but directing such a remark at a 16-year-old girl will still make her feel uneasy.

Punishment's a problem too. Male students rarely faces any consequences for uniform breaches. Girls do. A shorter skirt doesn't disrupt learning but sending the 'offender' home - a favoured penalty - does. A school policy that's not gender-neutral is one that needs to change. Boys can wear any trousers they like - whether they're tight or not. The same must then apply to girls. Yes, it's not appropriate to wear a skirt so short you can barely see it but it's equally not appropriate to force girls to wear heavy knee-length skirts and flared trousers.

The more schools enforce old-fashioned rules, the more rebelling they will face. It's 2015. Let the Victorian values go.