Long skirts won't keep girls safe until male attitudes change
Published 14/04/2016 | 02:30
Teenage girls at a New Zealand high school have been told to lower their skirts to knee level so as not to "distract" the boys and male teachers. Some 40 students were called into a meeting and told that if they didn't lower their skirts they would be given detention.
When my mother bought my school uniform skirt it was floor length so that it would "last". By the time I left school six years later it was still below the knee so there was no fear of me being sent home for wearing a 'mini'.
Rolling up your school skirt to show off a bit of leg is nothing new. We did it, our mothers did it and our children do it too.
The deputy principal of the school in New Zealand, Cherith Telford, explained that the move was to "keep our girls safe, stop boys from getting ideas and create a good work environment for male staff".
Suggesting that a short skirt is going to affect the safety of a teenage girl in school is wrong on so many levels.
As for the comment on male staff, if a school is concerned that a male teacher is going to be sexually distracted by a short skirt in his classroom, there is a serious problem at hand. A problem that no long skirt will solve and a problem that is not up to the teenage girls to solve.
Everyone knows that teenagers, both boys and girls, suffer from raging hormones.
However, insisting girls wear longer skirts to "keep them safe" from the boys in their class reinforces the idea that teenage boys are incapable of controlling their desires.
It also suggests that young women are responsible for young men's sexual behaviour.
No one is suggesting that schools don't need a dress code or that it should not be adhered to. But have we ever heard of boys being told to wear tracksuits instead of shorts at gym class to keep them "safe" in case the girls go wild and lose control? Or in case their female teachers get "distracted"? I don't think so.
But this school is not the first nor will it be the last to try to lower hemlines.
A few years ago in the UK, head teachers across the country started banning girls from wearing skirts to school because they feared their rising hemlines put them at risk.
But they seemed to be missing the point. It is behaviour, not dress code, that needs to change. No one has ever been able to show a correlation between how a victim dresses and her chances of sexual assault.
To state that a girl will be safe if her skirt reaches her knees, or if she wears trousers, is giving her a false sense of security.
Girls who wear long skirts or trousers will still be at risk of unwanted sexual advances.
The dilemma of skirt lengths is a worldwide issue.
In Germany last year, parents of children at a Bavarian school were told to cover up their girls so they wouldn't tempt the 200 Syrian refugees who were being housed in emergency accommodation in the gymnasium next door. A letter was sent to parents warning them not to let their daughters wear revealing blouses or short skirts because of the Muslim refugees nearby.
The school was concerned about the refugees interacting with students. The letter said: "The Syrian citizens are mainly Muslims and speak Arabic.
"The refugees are marked by their own culture. Because our school is directly next to where they are staying, modest clothing should be adhered to, in order to avoid discrepancies.
"Revealing tops or blouses, short shorts or miniskirts could lead to misunderstandings," it added.
If a man or boy cannot control themselves when they see a teenage girl in a short skirt then the problem lies solely with that man or boy.
No girl should ever be made to feel guilty or less safe because her skirt falls above her knee.
Life is difficult enough. We send our children to school and presume we don't have to worry about sexual assault. Teenage girls should feel safe in school.
Schoolgirls should be allowed to go to school and not have to worry about being sexually assaulted by fellow students, teachers or refugees housed nearby.
It is not the length of the skirt that is the issue, it's the attitude of those looking at it.