Last week, Hitchin Girls’ School pupil Eleanor Beale launched a petition against her school telling the Year 11 girls to ensure their skirts reached knee length at all times. Why, you may ask? So they don’t provoke male invigilators during their exams.
Let’s take a look at that word ‘provoke’. In terms of dictionary definitions, it means to ‘stimulate or give rise to (a reaction or emotion, typically a strong or unwelcome one) in someone’. So, by using this word, the school is essentially saying that girls in skirts shorter than the knee stimulate adult men.
These are girls as young as 15. In fact, one can only assume that the uniform rule applies to all the girls, who start the school aged 11. The school declares that the uniform rule has not changed for exams, that it’s the same as it’s always been, and the Year 11 girls were simply reminded during the exam period. Reminded to feel self-conscious because grown ass men apparently can’t keep their dick in their pants around underage girls, you mean.
Granted, I was no innocent at 15, but that’s beside the point. Teaching young women that their bodies are shameful, and should be covered up, lest they “provoke” a man, who then stares at them, harasses them, or assaults them, is only contributing to rape culture. It’s teaching our young women that they are to blame for the actions of men, and that their bodies should be policed.
Fuck. That. Shit.
I went to this school for one of my A level classes. You see this kind of thing all the time, in the news, online, but when it happens close to home, you’re somehow surprised. And did I forget about the similar experiences I had at school? The headteacher pulling girls aside on Sports Day and telling them that he could see their thongs; the form tutor telling me to only wear white or “skin-coloured” bras, as she could see mine through my shirt (I had to keep my jumper on if I didn’t adhere to this rule, regardless of the weather); measuring girls’ skirts and checking they were wearing the correct attire, even down to the colour of their socks (!). The girls were nipped and tucked and told not to do this or wear that in case they distract the boys. The boys just had to tuck their shirts in and do up their ties. School really does prepare you for the outside world.
This story came to my attention by a Facebook friend sharing the article. Her comments made me almost as angry as the subject of the article itself. She spoke about how the school has always been strict on uniform, and to “just wear trousers, problem solved!” I, unfortunately, am not joking. Another person said that wearing a longer skirt doesn’t really affect the girls, and that they need to learn to look professional ahead of entering the working world. Because wearing shorter (note, we’re talking shorter than knee length here) skirts not only make you a fair target for sexual abuse, but it also makes you look unprofessional and not fit to be seen in public.
U mad, patriarchy?
When I was at school, my now-friend petitioned for girls to have the right to wear ties. She explains now that it was the principle of the thing, that there was no logical reasons why girls couldn’t wear ties. It was one small victory against gender roles.
I have total respect for Eleanor, and everyone else who got involved with this petition, for speaking out against a societal wrong. I may be a raging, outspoken feminist now, but at 15, I was completely caught up in our sexist, patriarchal culture. I played into the “I’m not like other girls” bullshit, was ashamed of my sexuality, and allowed society to push me into having body issues. So I applaud anyone who stands up against society, especially at such a young age, in the midst of peer pressure and rape culture and so many other social evils that target young women in particular, and makes their voices heard.
It seems that the headteacher, Frances Manning, has told Eleanor to close the petition, as it was “causing upset”. I sincerely hope that Eleanor doesn’t get into any trouble at school, and that Manning takes a long, hard look at her role in rape culture.
If you’re as angry as I am about these constant occurrences, get in touch on Twitter, @VikkiPatis, or comment below.