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Sending Schoolgirls Home for 'Short Skirts' Is Where Victim Blaming Begins

15/04/2016 13:58

This week 29 female students at Lord Grey School in Bletchley were prevented from accessing the education they deserve.

The reason? The headteacher, Dr Tracey Jones, was worried boys would look up their skirts.

According to Dr Jones, the school's policy insists that skirts should be knee length, therefore she felt it was appropriate to send the girls home for "inappropriate dress".

"We have a tower block with six flights of stairs," she said. "The last thing we want is boys peering up girls' skirts while they are climbing the stairs."

While some of my colleagues were shocked by Dr Jones' comments, I, unfortunately, was not all that surprised by them.

This kind of sexism was all too common in the sixth form I attended.

The school was an all boys school up until year 11, but allowed girls to attend in sixth form.

I was so excited to be offered a place (I was a prize swot and they had a great record for academic achievement) and couldn't wait to buy some new outfits to celebrate.

I was told the dress code for sixth formers was "office wear" and that girls were required to wear suit jackets just the same as the boys.

"No problem", I thought, "Mum has been an office manager for years, she'll know exactly what to buy."

We had a mother-daughter day out and I came home with half a dozen cute skirt, shirt and jacket combinations.

But apparently my mum's interpretation of "office wear" - after a decade of working in an office - wasn't the same as the school's.

Staff at the school told me my new skirts weren't long enough, despite the fact that most of them fell just above the knee. Dozens of other girls were also chastised for their outfits.

We were reminded to "be aware" of the fact that we had joined a predominately male environment and told to wear skirts that covered the knee.

At the end of one assembly, the teachers told all the girls in sixth form to line up so they could inspect the lengths of our skirts.

Any girls wearing skirts considered to be "border line" were told to kneel on the floor to see if their skirt would touch it.

I happened to pass this demeaning test on the day, but hoards of girls didn't and were sent home.

At the time I was extremely embarrassed by the whole thing and I worried my teachers would think I was some sort of hussy for coming to school in a skirt that was considered "just" long enough.

Looking back on it, I should have been outraged.

The idea that the sight of a few knees might distract male pupils is laughable, considering the sexually explicit content so many teens access on the internet every day.

But if staff in schools are really worried about boys viewing girls as sexual objects, they should be giving those boys lessons in how to respect women, rather than training girls in the art of dressing like a nun.

The headteacher from the Bletchley school said female pupils "should look demure and modest and not appear over-sexualised in figure hugging trousers or very short skirts".

Instead, wouldn't it have been better if she'd said: "Horny little teenage boys should not look up girls' skirts."

By continuing to punish teenage girls for simply looking like teenage girls, headteachers initiate a culture of victim blaming that follows women throughout their adult lives.

They wrongly teach their male pupils that if a woman experiences a physical or verbal attack while wearing a short skirt, she must be "asking for it".

Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting girls should be allowed to cavort around schools in their bikinis. But the fact that I regularly wear one of my rejected sixth form skirts to work now proves it was hardly a provocative choice back then.

Dr Jones got it wrong, just as my headteacher did six years ago.

If we want adult men to understand that victim blaming is unacceptable, it's time we started teaching boys to respect girls in school.

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