Growing up, I was an outcast – labelled a ‘goth’.
I wasn’t skinny or trendy like the popular girls – but listened to sad songs by sad boys with fringes and pink eyeshadow to match my own.
And in those early high school years, my school uniform was my saviour. It was my equaliser when I looked different.
Until men began to leer at me while I was wearing it.
From around the age of 14, I started to notice how some men in the street, cars, building sites, shops or their workwear looked at my friends and I. Their grins, wolf whistles and catcalls.
Before that, I’d loved my black knee-high socks, with Doc Marten T-bar sandals, a kilted skirt, white blouse, and tie – paired with pigtails, braces and a jumper with the school crest embroidered on.
That uniform had been my comfort blanket, and these men had taken it away from me.
Looking back now, it makes me feel sick at how sexualised that once-innocent image has become.
And it’s just one of the reasons I’ve never been more convinced that it’s time school uniforms were excluded for good.
For too long, that image of a schoolgirl has been sexualised, and we should allow girls to dress how they like to avoid the leers and shouts of men as much as possible.
Searches for ‘young’, ‘teen’ and ‘schoolgirl’ yield millions of results on (free, and legal) porn sites, with many of those videos centring on the fetishisation of virginial, child-like bodies.
‘Naughty schoolgirl’ outfits are commonly considered a uniform for role play, and are widely sold in high-street sex shops. It’s not a kink, or a fantasy – it’s rooted in paedophilia.
When I first began to notice men’s stares and comments, I wondered if they had always looked at me like that, or if I’d just been taught not to notice.
‘Weirdos’ my friends muttered to each other after each incidence of harassment.
Confused, afraid, torn.
We’d been taught by our teachers not to take drugs, or smoke, but not how to deal with men who made us feel this way. We hadn’t even been taught about sex yet and were being sexualised under our very acne-ridden noses.
It was like our bodies weren’t even ours.
I couldn’t put my finger on it at the time how these men made me feel, because children weren’t – and still aren’t – educated enough on consent, inappropriate behaviour and sexism.
According to figures obtained by Sky News, 40% of all victims of upskirting in the past four years were children – underage, and I’d imagine plenty of these incidents involved someone in their school uniform.
Despite there being over 1,150 upskirting incidents recorded since 2019, when upskirting was finally made a crime, a mere 68 resulted in a conviction – less than 6%.
A major 2015 study showed that the majority of the catcalling a girl will experience is between the ages of 11 and 17 – when she’s school-aged – and while it can’t be presumed that wearing a uniform is a cause of this, I believe it’s a key factor.
Incidents like upskirting, catcalling and leering are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to sexual offences against women.
So, until the actions of dangerous men are disciplined appropriately, I believe school uniforms should be banned, in order to at least partially try and remove our girls from danger.
Plus, a study even found that wearing a uniform had little impact on a student’s education, so there is no reason other than pride or conformity to continue to force girls into school uniforms.
And, if their male counterparts are constantly exposed to ‘naughty schoolgirl’ tropes through their consumption of easily accessible porn online, there’s no doubt that their impression of women and girls will be skewed.
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Of course, not having a uniform will highlight poverty and inequality as children may feel awkward not having the latest fashionable clothing.
But surely uniforms are doing more harm than good?
Make no mistake, schoolgirls are being sexualised every single day because they’re forced to wear a uniform. And for what? Because their school wants to look ‘proper’? Smart?
It’s not smart at all to allow our girls to be part of a fantasy for older men because society has taught multiple generations that someone, whether adult or child, in a school uniform is titillating.
Schools and those in power should hold men and boys responsible for their actions, and they’re failing us – failing women and girls by not treating sexism as a serious issue.
While I believe first and foremost that consent should be taught in all schools, and while I think there should be stronger punishments for voyeurs, catcallers, paedophiles and dangerous men, until we find a way to educate all men, school uniform needs to be banned.
It’s as easy as one, two, three.
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