The school uniform is a symbol of the patriarchy, teaching young women that if we want to be respected by men, we should dress modestly, yet if we want their attention, we should show more flesh. At the same time, the school uniform teaches boys from a young age that women who show more flesh go against social norms and are ‘asking’ for attention, leading to gender violence. Forcing young women to hide their bodies is no way to teach girls how to garner respect and puts the onus on us from a young age to not turn men on with how we dress. The school uniform is where this sexist messaging all starts…
Socks below the knee, skirts no shorter than an inch above the knee and no make up. These strict rules that are meant to keep young girls safe only continue ideas of young women being naïve and virginal compared to their male counterparts. Why do schools feel the need to make young women as unsexualised as possible? This weird obsession that society has with covering young women up in the name of protection holds no logic. It leads to young girls being prevented from expressing their sexuality in a safe environment at school.
As a young woman, we are already ashamed of our changing bodies, becoming curvier, fleshing out and then being told to cover up our natural biology at school greatly adds to the shame.
Since the display of our bodies are as good as banned in schools, we stand out more when we do wear less, garnering enormous amounts of harassment and unwanted attention from men on the streets. Thanks to the school uniform teaching us that modesty equates to professionalism and a demand for respect, we are then completely sexualised and objectified when we choose to wear less, adding to gender violence. If school normalised our bodies instead of going to insane lengths to cover them up, women would feel more confident in their own skin and men wouldn’t view our bodies as something exotic that they become desperate to see. It seems the only thing actually protected by the school uniform is a boy’s dignity in case he can’t resist a young woman’s body.
The secretiveness and mystery that the school uniform shrouds the feminine form in is a form of sexualisation in itself. It teaches young people that a woman’s body is purely sexual rather than a vehicle for life and should thus be covered. Need I cite the hyper sexualisation of schoolgirls as proof of this?
Recently, I read an article about a school that took down the mirrors in the girls’ toilets and replaced them with ‘motivational’ quotes. One said 'Dear girls, Make-up is a harmful drug. Once you start using it, you'll feel ugly without it.’ While another said 'If all girls started wearing no make-up and comfortable clothes, guys would have no choice but to fall for girls because of natural beauty.’ If we wear this ‘harmful drug’ we are doing it for guys and if we opt for ‘natural beauty’ we are doing it for guys? We can’t win!
I now have a message for schools: stop telling young women how they should dress and act and start teaching men how to respect women and not be predatory. Put posters up in the boys’ toilets with factual posters declaring in big bold letters that ‘Women can and will wear what they want. This is not an invitation for harassment.’
It seems to me that the only ‘harmful drug’ here is the message schools feed young women about their appearance. The double standards the patriarchy has of women is its most powerful tool. It leaves us in limbo, feeling uncomfortable and vulnerable in anything we wear. If I wear make up and less clothing, apparently I’m screaming that I’m highly insecure and in desperate need of male attention. While if I’m wearing ‘comfortable clothing’ with less make up, I’m hiding my femininity to make men feel comfortable around me. Either way, I’m dressing for the patriarchy.
While doing our best to avoid detentions at school for showing our thighs and shoulders, at the same time, we are targeted by brands like ‘Victoria’s Secret’ and ‘Calvin Klein’, selling us the idea that in actual fact we will feel more comfortable and confident in sexy lingerie. These brands capitalise on our virginal and naïve status as sexual beings which has stemmed from school and instead turns us into sexualised objects for a man’s desire. We’ve done a 360°. There would be nothing to capitalise on or objectify if our bodies had been normalised from a young age.
Every time I put something sexy on, I question why I’m really doing it. But then I imagine tearing down my bedroom mirror and sticking up a big poster declaring ‘Stop wearing sexy lingerie and guys will be forced to start liking girls in their oversized frilly briefs’ and I find myself in the same conundrum. These double standards are a constant cause for inner conflict and scrutiny. I never feel like I do anything for myself! Then I feel frustrated that I even have to question why I’m wearing something or who I’m wearing it for in the first place.
Nowadays, I have cut myself some slack and I try to stop questioning why I do everything so and who I’m doing it for, instead opting to wear what I want. I love wearing crop tops, going braless and celebrating the body I have and I am not about to apologise for it.