Most UK schools have introduced trousers for girls into their uniform codes in the last twenty years, but some continue to ban them and will send home any girl who turns up wearing trousers, at least according to Trousers for All, which campaigns to give girls the option to wear trousers as part of their school uniform.
Trousers for all notes that ‘The ban on trousers for girls covers the entire spectrum of schools: primary, secondary, public and private, faith and non-faith”.
While it might seem like a throwback to the 1970s, or even the 1870s, this really does go on today – take this 2016 Mumsnet discussion as an example:
Despite the above, there does seem to be widespread support (there certainly is on Mumsnet) for schools adopting uniform policies which either stipulate a ‘skirt ban’, so that that both boys and girls must wear trousers only, or that girls at least have a choice over whether they wear trousers or a skirt.
The following arguments have been put forward for allowing girls the freedom to wear trousers:
Firstly, it seems to be a pretty blatant breach of the government’s own 2010 equality act, and while it hasn’t been tested in court yet, it seems unlikely that if a parent mounted a legal challenge against a school banning their female child from wearing trousers, the school would lose – I mean, it’s been a workplace norm for 40 years now after all!
Secondly, forcing girls to wear dresses restricts their sense of freedom (Guardian Opinion Article (2017), and it does seem somewhat hypocritical that schools are expected to inspire in children a sense that ‘they are free to achieve anything they want’, except for wearing trousers in school for the next few years, if you’re a girl.
Thirdly, according to Becky Francis: “The stipulation that boys wear trousers while girls must wear skirts promotes messages that boys are active, while girls should be less active, decorative, and ‘demure’.” (Professor Becky Francis, Director of UCL Institute of Education).
Trousers for All takes this a step further, suggesting that… ‘Schools forcing girls to wear skirts is equivalent to states forcing females to wear a veil and to companies forcing females to wear high heels. All of these are expressions of sexism.’
What do you think: is it right for schools to ban girls from wearing trousers?
Deeper Analysis: will a gender neutral clothing policy end the ‘policing of girls’ bodies in schools’?
Laura Bates (of Everyday Sexism) makes the argument that whether we have a gender neutral clothing policy in schools or not, girls bodies are still going to be ‘policed’ in school more than boys, citing examples of girls being sent home for wearing skirts deemed to be too short (and distracting to boys and teachers), and even examples of girls who have been sent home for wearing trousers which were too tight.
You also might like to contrast the way in which the above cases are treated, compared to the fact that these boys who turned up to school in skirts to protest their school’s ‘no shorts’ policy face no disciplinary action whatsoever. Maybe, just maybe, this reflects the fact that schools on average have a greater range of rules policing female compared to male bodies?????