By Lily Scott
The sun is getting hotter and the days are getting longer, summer is finally here! That means bare legs in the grass, floaty tops and warm sunshine on our tummies right? Nope, not quite if you’re still in school or college. Across the country, school administrators are trying their hardest to cover up any parts of the female body that are deemed ‘inappropriate’. In many schools, this includes: legs, shoulders, cleavage and midriff. Exactly the parts of the body that suit the summer weather.
Last week, I walked into the front gate of my school and was pulled aside by a male teacher. He told me that the bit of skin showing between my high-waisted jeans and baggy crop top was not acceptable and I must go home to change immediately. Walking home, my frustration grew at the dress code that humiliates and shames girls in school when they should be in a lesson, getting the same education as the male half of the school. At most schools, dress code violators are either sent home or made to change into any item of clothing thrown at them from the lost property cupboard. It’s embarrassing being targeted like this, leaving many girls with loss of self-esteem. Although there are rules for boys, they are not as frequently enforced and only state that t-shirts can’t reference drugs or anything sexual. It is unequal that boys can walk around freely showing their underwear beneath saggy jeans, yet the slightest glimpse of a bra strap and teachers practically faint with shock. Everyone is aware that most girls do in fact wear a bra underneath their clothing, so why are bras treated as such a mysterious taboo that must not be seen or mentioned? Bras have become the Voldemort of the clothing world.
The rules for women will never, ever be simple. We are expected to conform to both the media and school’s expectations and tread a very fine line of being pretty and appealing but not revealing. We are told that we must be pleasing to the eye but not too suggestive or sexy. These guidelines tell men that it is okay to slut shame and eventually leads to the idea that when a women is sexually assaulted, it is the clothes that she was wearing that are to blame. In other words, ‘she was asking for it’. Girls as young as 13 are being told to change when simply showing their legs in shorts, or bare shoulders in vest tops. These students are too young to be sexualised in any way and are taught from such an early age that their bodies tempt men and it is their responsibility to stop leering or harassment.
It is unlikely that school uniform policies will be relaxed as authorities are intent on their belief that they are doing what is best for the students. It is clear that what they are doing only benefits males as the distraction of female bodies are taken away, making it easier to concentrate on learning. However, we could argue that young men are very capable of exercising self-control and will not always go wild at the sight of a girl’s bare shoulders. If it is absolutely necessary to apply dress codes, it should be equal for boys and girls, so that the system doesn’t favour one gender over another. It should not be the concern of a female to change the way she looks or dresses so that a man won’t view her in a certain way. What needs to change is the attitudes that girls are simply sexual objects to be hassled or catcalled. We should be taught to be confident and proud of our bodies, not policing ourselves for the male gaze.