Letting boys wear skirts is only half the answer!
I am a great believer in gender neutral school uniform. Schools have a duty to help eradicate pointless gender stereotypes and to instill in students a belief that gender equality is a normal part of society. They cannot do this if they force girls, and only girls, to wear skirts or force boys, and only boys, to wear ties. I therefore applaud the move by over 120 schools in the UK to make their uniforms “gender neutral”.
When is gender neutral school uniform not really gender neutral?
I am sorry to sound a little cynical, but, while some gender neutral school uniforms genuinely give boys and girls equal comfort and flexibility, others do not. I do not want to single out individual schools, as the move towards equality is important and I do not want to discourage it. I will simply give what, in my opinion, constitutes a good gender neutral school uniform and what does not.
A good, helpful gender neutral school uniform:
The head decides the general appearance, colour etc of the uniform, but boys and girls can mix and match from skirts, long trousers or smart uniform shorts. All other items of uniform should apply equally to both sexes. These would include hair length, jewellery, ties and anything else you can think of. This is the only way to offer genuine equality of choice.
A box-ticking, unhelpful gender neutral school uniform:
At least one school in the news recently has done away with boys’ and girls’ uniforms and introduced a skirt/open-necked blouse or trouser/tie uniform choice. This nominally gender neutral school uniform effectively only offers choice to the girls. For a boy to have the same open-necked, bare-legged comfort as the girls, he has to dress in a way that is still not socially acceptable for boys and men. While this will, perhaps, change slowly, at the moment a boy wearing a skirt on the journey to school would leave himself open to ridicule, bullying or worse.
This particular uniform, whilst nodding in the direction of gender neutrality, in essence gives girls the choice of two uniforms whilst leaving most boys with only one. It is hardly surprising that, by the Head’s own admission, no boys have taken up the skirt option. If I was of a more cynical nature, I would say that the intention of the Head Teacher was to tick the gender-neutral box, while still bowing down our national obsession with forcing schoolboys, and men for that matter, into ties and long trousers. If the aim was real equality, the tie would be optional for both sexes and smart shorts would be allowed in the summer.
Get it right!
Come on, schools, for heaven’s sake get this right. It is so easy to have a truly gender neutral school uniform along the lines I indicate above. Why is it so difficult to let the girls wear trousers and to let the boys lose their ties. Oh, and don’t forget the option for both sexes to wear uniform shorts in the summer.