|Date: 2024-02-26 Page is: DBtxt001.php txt00016969
Women ... The tyranny of the schoolgirl skirt still haunts me ... Gender-specific school uniforms are one of the earliest, most tangible ways in which inequality is entrenched
Schools in Wales will make uniform gender-neutral from September. Photograph: JohnnyGreig/Getty Images
With “gender reveals” – ostentatious events to announce the sex of an unborn baby with a burst of pink or blue – becoming increasingly popular while, at the same time, unisex clothing is on the rise on the high street, it is difficult to tell how far we have got in terms of dismantling the gender binary. This week, it feels as if we may be making gains: by September, new statutory guidance will make school uniforms in Wales gender-neutral, meaning that items such as trousers, for example, will not be described as “for boys”.
Gender-specific school uniforms are one of the earliest, most tangible ways in which gender inequality is entrenched. There is a reason girls are permitted to wear shorts for PE – skirts and summer dresses inhibit young girls in the playground and restrict their freedom to play in the same way as their male peers. It is an unconscious marker of limitation: if you climb the monkey bars in these clothes, you’ll flash your knickers to the class – so don’t climb them.
I have an early memory of being driven to the doctor in my pleated school skirt and sitting happily (and as I was swiftly informed, impolitely) with my legs sprawled. My parents ordered me to keep them crossed as sitting with them wide open was “unladylike”. At the age of nine, I didn’t feel very much like a lady and questioned why I had to wear a skirt if it meant I couldn’t sit comfortably. I soon learned girls weren’t really supposed to be comfortable. Soon my knees started to ache and tremble – it felt wholly abnormal and I wondered why grownup women didn’t spend more time screaming (I also soon learned that they often were, internally).
At secondary school, where skirts were mandatory, I realised one day that, like the initial digging discomfort of a bra, or dull pain of high heels, crossing my legs had stopped hurting. I was livid – my body had kowtowed. The throbbing had been my body’s resistance and a reminder that how I was sat wasn’t natural; now it was. Perhaps the tyranny of the school skirt was partly why I took to rolling mine up to the point of nonexistence.
I have no real axe to grind with school skirts, other than them being girl-only. Their gendering is arbitrary (see togas, robes, kilts) and given the physics and physicality of our anatomy, men in skirts and women in trousers has always made more sense to me.
Wed 10 Jul 2019 13.15 EDT Last modified on Wed 10 Jul 2019 20.11 EDT
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