School uniform is a feminist issue, and confining a little girl to a skirt is sheer unkindness

First world feminist problems, some readers might say - probably those who were never little girls sent to parties in frilly while dresses and told sternly not to get themselves dirty

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett
Thursday 24 September 2015 16:37 BST
At some schools, girls still have to wear skirts
At some schools, girls still have to wear skirts (Getty)

I was reminded earlier this week of one of my favourite-ever recent anti-feminist numpties (sadly, as ever, there remains a depressingly plentiful pool from which to choose.)

A couple of years ago Ukip donor Demetri Marchessini waded into a “debate” which you could be forgiven for assuming was long-settled - that niggling question of whether or not women should be allowed to wear trousers. (Then again, where would feminism be were it not for the existence of men insistent on dredging up historical gains made by the women's movement in order to presumptuously re-examine them? - see abortion).

According to Marchessini, “hostile” women were “deliberately” wearing trousers (how one does so accidentally I am unsure) in order to make themselves unattractive to men. He even published a book replete with photographs of these aforementioned hostile backsides. Though his view is obviously extreme, I think of it from time to time whenever the topic of “appropriate” clothing and the female gender hits the headlines. As always with these things, there tend to be sundry reactionaries lurking in the wings waiting to make their voices heard.

As the school term begins, uniform codes are yet again the subject of controversy. You'd think that by now the nation's head-teachers would have come to a point where they were able to enforce rules without being both sexist and cackhanded, but apparently not. One moment they are banning school skirts for being “too distracting” to male pupils and teachers - as though this should be the girls' problem - and the next, as in the case of Kingston Grammar School, forbidding girls from wearing trousers. “The school utterly refutes that it is gender discrimination but if it is not gender discrimination, then what is it?” asked Katia Chornik, a mother who challenged the rules, in the Times this week.

Of course it's gender discrimination, and we should all take a moment to reflect on how outrageous it is that such backwardness persists, in Britain, in 2015. Historically, women were forced to wear skirts to conceal the fact that they had legs - let alone crotches, yet they have been attempting to get away with the wearing of trousers for hundreds of years.

From the Scythian women in battle to Radclyffe Hall, Coco Chanel, and the women of WWII, women have dreamt of trousers long before they were acceptable. Though seemingly obvious, the reason women have doggedly insisted that they should be allowed to wear trousers apparently needs restating: because trousers and infinitely more practical and comfortable to wear than skirts.

From corsets to stilettos, much of what women's fashion has impeded on their freedom of movement. A favourite Nora Ephron essay of mine, “I hate my purse” makes a cogent point about handbags. “A purse (like a pair of high heels) actually impinges on your mobility. That’s one of many reasons why you don’t see the guys-with-purses trend catching on”, she wrote. “If one of your hands is stuck carrying your purse, it means it’s not free for all sorts of exciting things you could be using it for, like shoving your way through crowds, throwing your arms around loved ones, climbing the greasy pole to success, and waving madly for taxis.” Skirts are even worse, and to inflict them on young girls without an alternative option is pigheaded barbarism, pure and simple.

First world feminist problems, some readers might say (probably, I suspect, those who were never little girls sent to parties in frilly while dresses and told sternly not to get themselves dirty). But to inflict a skirt on an adventurous little girl is an exercise in sheer unkindness. From a young age, you are limiting her activities and her potential, not to mention sending her the message - so disappointing for a girl to receive when it finally dawns on her - that what she wears is of the utmost importance, often at the expense of everything else about her.

For those who think that I'm being dramatic, here are some things that it is more difficult to do in a skirt: climb trees, ride a bicycle, play football, turn cartwheels and headstands, run through brambles, build a treehouse, do karate, rollerskate and climb anything without showing your knickers. These are all things that any decent parent will want their little girls to have some experience of.

Skirts impede a girl's movement in the most fundamental of ways, limiting her to slow and static pastimes, the tedium of hopscotch. They also often necessitate the wearing of tights, the various horrors of which will last into old age and should never be inflicted on a child too young.

Personally, I would get rid of school skirts altogether. They are cold in winter and sweaty and nylon-y in summer, plus they continue to be fetishised by porn directors and pervy old men who shout obscenities at you on the way home. Altogether they have few redeeming features, and I say that as someone who was raised in dungarees and had a dressing up box full of princess gowns at home.

Furthermore, there are plenty of opportunities for girls and women to wear skirts in life. Why won't schools give girls a choice? (and sorry if this is a bit too loony left for you, but why not for the boys too?) Is it really so difficult for parents to ask that their sons and daughters be treated the same at school? Some kind of fancy-dress drag protest on the part of pupils is surely in order. Here's to the deliberate, hostile wearing of trousers.

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