I want to ramble about clothes.
Let me first make it clear though, what this blog is NOT about… It’s not about fashion. It’s not a critique of fashion trends or expression of self through clothes. I have no strong opinion on fashion as an industry, I don’t buy into the body positivity movement or the idea that any one body shape is better than another. I’m not offended by any style of clothing (Actually, that’s a lie. I have a physical reaction to men in super tight trousers that don’t reach their ankles, teamed with a deck shoe…But I know that this is my irrational problem!), I don’t care if people want to cover up completely or let it all hang out. Personally, I couldn’t care less about labels or brands – I don’t particularly feel anything much about people who do. Everyone has a body of some kind and everyone puts clothes on their bodies. Brilliant.
So, what DO I care about? Well, being a feminist killjoy, I care about the ways in which girls are oppressed and how they carry their oppression with them into womanhood. And yes, clothes are on my hit list right now!
It’s been lovely and warm recently, as we enjoy some spring sunshine. I am incredibly lucky to live in a flat that overlooks a beach and a playground of sorts. One of my favourite things to do is people watch – everyone is happy in the fresh air at the beach, so I get to see happiness through my windows every day. And not just happy people – all the happy dogs being walked are a joy to watch too!
What I have noticed, however, is how differently girls and boys enjoy the playground, depending on what they’re wearing.
Sunny days for boys means trousers / shorts and t-shirt. Trainers or sandals on their feet. Beachwear of shorts / wet suit / t-shirt. That’s about it.
Sunny days for girls has the added options of leggings / dresses / skirts and / crop tops / vest tops / floaty tops. Beachwear with the added options of swimsuit / bikini (despite the top half of pre-pubescent girls bodies being identical to that of pre-pubescent boys! But that’s for another blog) / tankini / sarong.
“So, what’s your problem?” I hear you cry. “Get to the point already Rosa”
Well, my problem is that all of the additional clothing options that are aimed solely at girls, result in an inequality that offers boys more freedom than girls even when they’re little children and all they want to do is play.
Skirts and dresses restrict girls’ movement and they force girls into a premature and unnecessary awareness of modesty. For boys to have more freedom than girls because of how we, as parents, are clothing them in the name of ‘conformity’ is actually really awful when you think about it.
A three year old girl doing a cartwheel or climbing in the park, should not have to face commentary from other children or adults about being ‘careful’ that she’s not showing her knickers.
A four year old girl should not, when all the children sit cross legged in assembly, know that she needs to push her dress into her lap to hide her underwear from view.
A six year old girl should not stop herself in her tracks, from following her trouser wearing peers climbing railings, because she’s conscious of what she’s wearing.
An eleven year old girl should not feel anxiety about going to school on a windy day, because her skirt might blow up.
A twelve year old girl should not have to consider when it’s ‘safest’ for her to climb the stairs depending on who might be behind her.
A thirteen year old girl should not feel forced into shaving her legs because not doing so would leave her open to ridicule and bullying at school.
So, I suppose I’m on the school uniform part of my post now then? And what might my thoughts on that be, I wonder?
Well, I’m not a fan of school uniform full stop – I don’t buy the argument that it creates an ‘equal standard for all’ whether children are from families that are rich or poor. I mean, as if children with shit uniform, shit shoes, shit bags, shit phones, shit haircuts, shit coats, dirty clothes, etc aren’t easily identifiable and targeted by bullies.
In fact, I happen to believe that uniforms just make it easier to identify anyone ‘different’ – not harder. But I digress, because, I’m not going off on one about uniforms in general… so, since they do exist in most schools in the UK, does it not make common sense for all children to wear a gender neutral uniform of trousers/leggings/shorts and t-shirts / polo shirts with trainers?
You know, nonrestrictive clothes and shoes that allow for physical activity without having to think about modesty and without the hyper sexualisation that often accompanies the so-called choices that girls have, particularly in secondary school.
And speaking of ‘choices’…I know that people might say let the child choose what they want to wear and what they feel most comfortable in. My response to that would be there is no real ‘choice’. Girls know from infancy, that what they wear really matters and that the more feminine they are, the more they’re liked.
So, bearing that it mind, let’s look at so called ‘choice’ when it comes to school uniform.
When they start nursery / school, boys are expected to wear trousers that come in one style, a shirt and jumper or blazer – again, all one standard style. The only real decisions to be made are the shoes – however, of the styles available to choose from, you can be pretty sure that they’ll be sturdy and comfortable.
Girls, on the other hand, have all kinds of ‘choices’ – skirts with or without pleats, long or short, tight fitting or ‘A’ line, pinafore dress, plain blouse, blouse with fancy collars or puffed sleeves, plain ankle socks, tights, frilly ankle socks, tight or loose trousers, high waisted or low, jumper or cardigan… and then the shoes – patent, matt, slip on, buckles, laces, gems, sequins, secret little glitter emblems on the soles… all kinds of stereotyped and wholly unnecessary embellishments. Girls shoes are shit. They break and they don’t make running or climbing easy.
So what message are we giving to girls? The tired old message that what they look like matters more than what they do. The shitty message that it’s a good use of time to think about clothes and appearance when in actual fact, their time could be better spent thinking of anything BUT!
The message that boys are more active, more boisterous whereas girls are passive and less physical. Well, apart from all of the other ways that girls are oppressed to conform to these stereotypes, clothes play a big part. It’s not rocket science to understand that it’s easier to act on the desire to be active when your clothes and shoes aren’t restrictive.
Like I said at the beginning, this isn’t about fashion or hating on feminine clothes – it’s literally just about wanting girls to be equal to boys when it comes to feeling comfortable, confident and safe in their skin. It would just be nice for parents to think for a second about what restrictions the clothes they dress their children in have. A pair of leggings or shorts under a dress or skirt would help. One piece bathers for girl children, rather than bikinis as though they have reason to specifically cover their chests. Trainers instead of flimsy impractical shoes that fall off or cause girls to slip when they run. Jeans, shorts, leggings, jeggings – nonrestrictive and practical.
And as for school uniforms – I really am at a complete loss trying to understand why dresses and skirts are still a thing for schools. Especially when we’re trying to promote physical activity in children, which skirts, dresses and shit shoes restrict. It makes no sense to me and I have yet to hear a single rational argument as to why girls should wear a skirt to school, so if you have one, tell me – I’m all ears.