Going back to school in January as a child after winter break was always bittersweet. You get to catch up with your school mates, talk about how you spent the holidays- fun activities, cool gifts, and yummy treats. All things that a child should get excited talking about! What they shouldn’t have to worry about are people telling them off for their bra showing through their top, not given the option of wearing shorts instead of a skirt, or being harassed on the way to school. Parents usually order their children new uniforms at the start of the new school, and this same discussion comes up year after year like a failed school assignment. This is the parent-teacher conference.
The whole notion of a schoolgirl has already been hypersexualised, which in itself is problematic, suggesting the allure of a barely legal girl. Schools may argue many so-called pros of having a school uniform. Supposedly taking pressure off students in choosing what to wear, not being able to compare your clothes with your peers, creating an equal place of learning where students can focus on their studies versus comparing the various statuses that may come with different clothing.
Sounds good in theory…promoting equality? Here for it. However, it is definitely a wolf in sheep's clothing.
Whilst it is very utopian to suggest that uniforms are there to promote equality, they really solely exist to police the way girls dress. The issue is when girls in schools are asked to dress more “modestly”, it creates the message that their bodies are inherently sexual and provocative. Even more so, it is creating an unhealthy practice that teaches girls to associate shame with their bodies.
As of 2014, the UK's Department for Transport reported that for children ages 11-16, 38% of them walked to school, and 29% of them took the bus. The Department additionally cited the various reasons why children are often accompanied to school, which included fear of molestation, assault, and bullying.
Given that society has already deemed a schoolgirl as something that is sexual in nature, it makes sense why many cite this as a fear and choose to have an adult accompany their child.
There are several issues here. Firstly, the hypersexualisation of schoolgirls as a whole. Secondly, policing the way girls dress through a uniform, which promotes shame surrounding girls' bodies (especially during such a developmental time). Both of which have proved difficulties with girls receiving unsolicited comments, and/ or harassment. If girls are being taught that we ought to be scared on the way to school, what kind of precedent is it set for when they are older? Moreover, there are no school uniforms in the real world, why are we suggesting that we are incapable of respecting our peers and doing our work in our own clothing.
Respect is a basic skill that should be taught and promoted regardless of who the individual is, and certainly not based on the way they dress.
Undoing the years of perpetuating the hypersexualised schoolgirl stereotype may take some time, but there are things that we can do right now. We can start by creating equal dress codes for boys and girls, and yes this means no uniforms. The argument that it promotes equality in the classroom is based on the assumption that we as a society are incapable of teaching our children to be kind and accepting.
In other words, enforcing a uniform code is simply putting a bandaid over a bullet wound.
We can help build a sense of community amongst women, especially young girls who are being told otherwise. Let’s stop waiting for the beginning of the school year to have this horrid discussion when we can start doing something about it now. Under 18 girls are able to join SafeUP and whilst they cannot be guardians themselves they are able to call guardians to get that sense of community.
For all of the parents who are tired of feeling helpless, who want to be active, and pursue change now is the opportunity. We understand that as parents we only want to make sure our children are safe, but we cannot be with them all the time. The SafeUP app brings your community closer to you, and with the power of solidarity, rest assured they will be in safe hands and arrive home safely even if you cannot be with them.
Everyone deserves to belong, feel free, confident, and independent. We owe our children as a community to try and give them just this. Join us! Let's continue to grow closer together, taking care of each other and strengthening communities for women and girls everywhere.