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Slut shaming on the syllabus

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The Guardian recently reported on a school in New Zealand, which had told its female students to “lengthen their skirts in order to stop distracting male staff and pupils”.

The school told around forty Year 11 girls that their skirts needed to be brought down to knee length. The reasons for this were stated as “to keep our girls safe, stop boys from getting ideas and create a good work environment for male staff”.

All three are not viable reasons for girls to lengthen their skirts, and they endorse ideas of victim blaming and sexism.

A school told it’s female students to “lengthen their skirts in order to stop distracting male staff and pupils”

Firstly, the idea that lengthening their skirts is done to “keep girls safe” is yet another example of victim blaming in society. It is not a girl’s responsibility to keep herself safe, it is another human’s responsibility to not commit a crime against her. Instead of teaching a girl to lower her skirt so that she is “safe”, surely society should be doing more to prevent someone from either gender attacking someone.

It’s the same situation as when society gives tips on how to ‘avoid being raped’, such as not drinking too much, instead of looking at the source of the problem: rapists. Both place the responsibility in the hands of the victim instead of the perpetrator.

It is not a girl’s responsibility to keep herself safe, it is another human’s responsibility to not commit a crime against her

Secondly, the school said that this was to “stop boys getting ideas”. What ideas would this be? That girls too are in the possession of kneecaps? Boys need to be taught that the length of a girls’ skirt in no way gives you the right to objectify her; that her body is not from your own consumption just because parts of it are on display.

More importantly, boys need to understand that their own sexual drive is their responsibility. Girls should not have to shoulder the responsibility of young boys’ hormones. Instead of teaching girls to cover up so that a boy doesn’t get “ideas”, boys need to learn respect and dignity towards females, and not that society will adapt around them and excuse their behaviour.

Boys need to understand that their own sexual drive is their responsibility

If they cannot learn this in these key development years during school, what hope do they have of understanding this later in life? Furthermore, the school is already teaching boys not to take responsibility for their actions by implying that the dress code is implemented for their benefit. Frankly, the male students should be offended that the school has so little faith in their self-control around their female peers.

The final reasoning, that the skirts need to be longer to make a “good work environment for male staff” is what I find most concerning. Male staff are older, and in a position of responsibility towards their students: why are teenage girls being told to lengthen their skirts when really, it should be self-explanatory that a male teacher should absolutely not be sexualizing their students, no matter their clothing.

The school is already teaching boys not to take responsibility for their actions by implying that the dress code is implemented for their benefit

Yet again, this is victim blaming, which implies that a teenage girl is accountable for a much older male’s objectification of them.

In addition to this, the idea of a “good work environment” comes from a place of sexism that is only targeting female students. If the school had told all students, of all genders that their clothing needed to be smart and acceptable for a learning environment, I would completely agree, as that’s the purpose of a school uniform.

That the skirts need to be longer to make a “good work environment for male staff” is what I find most concerning

However, that is not the case for this dress code at all – this dress code sends a message to the female students that their bodies need to be covered, as there is something shameful about the female body – a message that is unacceptable to imply to an entire gender.

Ultimately, what this school has done by telling teenage girls to lengthen their skirt is emphasise victim blaming to impressionable teenagers of all genders, and that it is a female’s responsibility not to distract men, rather than a man’s responsibility not to get distracted.

 

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