If you watched ITV’s This Morning today or if you follow me on Twitter, you’ll have heard about this story. Read my latest Cultnoise Magazine article on the headmistress in Stoke-on-Trent who is enforcing a ban of skirts because they are too “distracting” for male pupils and, more worryingly, male teachers!
A secondary school in Stoke-on-Trent is now enforcing a ban on pupils wearing skirts because they are “distracting” for teachers and other pupils.
Headmistress Dr Rowena Blencowe who has brought in this ban at Trentham High School said: “We’ve tried calling parents, sending pupils home and we’ve even had to buy some girls new skirts, which isn’t something a school should have to do”.
Dr Blencowe added: “We did the same with clip-on ties two years ago. Now, we don’t have to worry about students having their ties done up properly and their top buttons being done up. The ban won’t apply to staff, but we do have high expectations across the school”.
But by far the most disturbing statement Dr Blencowe made on this issue was that young girls wearing short skirts is “distracting for male teachers”.
She added: “It’s not pleasant for male members of staff and students either, the girls have to walk up stairs and sit down and it’s a complete distraction. After a while it stops being a uniform issue and starts becoming a safeguarding issue”.
For me, I think a good and responsible headteacher would be far more concerned with male teachers being “distracted” by female children rather than nitpicking over uniform policy. If a male teacher is sexualising a child and feeling distracted by their legs (which are not sexual body parts, they’re just legs for goodness sake), shouldn’t they be reprimanded rather than defended? Discriminating against young girls rather than dealing with the root of the problem only makes it more convenient for the lack of male self-control in our schools and in everyday life outside of school too.
A good teacher, male or female, would not be distracted but instead be professional and responsible enough to discipline a pupil for wearing inappropriate clothing – regardless of the pupil’s sex. By implying that some male teachers are sexually attracted to underage school girls and that this is not the most significant part of this story, Blencowe is catastrophically failing her pupils, both in terms of protecting their safety and wellbeing and by promoting sexist attitudes. Frankly, Blencowe is essentially suggesting that it is the responsibility of an underage girl to ensure she does not appear sexually attractive to a teacher rather than the teacher being responsible for not sexualising a child under their care.
This comment made by Blencowe is also concerning because if a male teacher is “distracted” by a female pupil wearing a skirt, should they be trusted to be around pupils during P.E. and swimming lessons? If a teacher is “distracted” by a child, that is the more worryingly and disturbing aspect of this story and that is the issue that should be addressed.
We seem to be live in a society of secrecy when it comes to issues surrounding sexism and this ludicrous ban only promotes the kind of victim-blaming that women around the world endure everyday. If a young girl wearing a skirt that was deemed by a male pupil or teacher as being too short, does that mean that girl is ‘asking for it’? Where do you draw the line?
What should have been a minor uniform issue has now expanded into a much uglier and more disturbing issue of sexism and inequality as girls are being forced to suffer for the attitudes and actions of men. Blencowe is sending out the completely wrong message by suggesting that women are nothing but sexual objects, even when they are children.
Shouldn’t we be telling young boys and, more worryingly, male teachers to stop staring at young girl’s legs rather than shaming girls into feeling that they need to cover up?
Blencowe appeared on ITV’s This Morning today to defend her decision and was met with a huge backlash on social media for her sexist and backwards policy:
One of the saddest things about this story is that the person enforcing this rule is a woman herself. Blencowe is dragging her school backwards by promoting the idea that women should cover themselves up at all times to protect men from being “distracted”. Attempting to understand Blencowe’s side of the argument, I can empathise with her initial point. She wants her pupils to be dressed appropriately for school and, of course, if a female pupil is wearing a skirt that is so short that her underwear is visible, she should be told by a teacher that it is not appropriate dress code.
If the pupil continues to wear a skirt of this length, I think her parents should be called and disciplinary action should be taken until the pupil dresses appropriately. Isolated incidents of inappropriate clothing should be dealt with as just that, isolated incidents. This should not be extended to a school-wide issue that discriminates against all girls. Taking the choice away from girls of being able to express their femininity, be comfortable and wear whatever clothing they choose is where the line is crossed.
As for Blencowe’s comment that she has tried calling parents, enforcing punishment and making attempts to rectify this issue for two years and that it hasn’t worked, this is another ridiculous point. If the school had enforced strict disciplinary action, shown that they would not stand for inappropriate dress code and even suspended pupils if necessary, the problem could have been solved without this drastic and discriminatory step being taken.
In my school, everyone, not just girls, made attempts to push the boundaries of uniform policy. Girls were often challenged for wearing skirts that were too short, wearing patterned or coloured tights and not having fully buttoned up shirts. And boys were often challenged for wearing hats, for not tucking in their shirts, for wearing hoodies, for wearing trainers and for failing to wear their tie properly. While teachers enforced punishments and, the majority of the time, the pupil would take note and the situation would be resolved, our teachers did not make the mistake of letting uniform issues overshadow what school is actually about – education.
Year 10 pupil of Trentham High School, Katie Palmer, 15, said: “The new uniform looks really good and is practical. I always wear trousers and most of my friends are not fussed about it”.
However, another 16-year-old pupil, added: “In this heat it is impractical and really uncomfortable to wear trousers – we are not boys and we want to wear skirts”.
If some pupils are perfectly happy with this new rule and enjoy wearing trousers, great! But, sadly, not all girls are comfortable wearing trousers. All girls have different sizes, shapes, heights, body hang-ups and tastes of clothing and some girls simply do not want to wear trousers. What a girl chooses to wear should be her choice, not something that is enforced like a law.
Maybe this new rule will work for Trentham High School, who knows? Maybe not that many pupils or parents are overly bothered with the #SchoolSkirtBan, but whatever the effect of this rule, the underlining issue is being ignored. School is a place for educating children and guiding them into being responsible, stable, informed and morally upright adults. School is not a place for children to be sexualised and shamed into covering up non-sexual parts of their body. By allowing this institutional sexism to thrive in a secondary school, Trentham High School is sending out the message that it is okay to criticise women for what they choose to wear and defending men for leering at and shaming them.
This ban is disappointing and a huge step backwards for gender equality to say the least and while I doubt that Blencowe will change her mind and come back from the dark ages, I just hope that other headteachers don’t follow suit and promote institutional sexism and the sexualisation of children by enforcing a ban of their own.
If this had been enforced in my school, I have no doubt that we would have rebelled and parents certainly wouldn’t have accepted it and that, quite frankly, is the way it should be. We shouldn’t accept and ignore sexism in any aspect of society. We should call it out, refusing to accept it and shame sexism rather than shaming young girls.