How Girls Are Sexualised in School Life
Updated: Nov 2, 2021
"I constantly get emails from my school’s weekly newsletter about female empowerment, recommendations of female authors and the demand of fair wages, so when I see all across schools in the UK that boys and girls are treated differently simply because of clothing, I get struck with disbelief and frustration."
You would think that in schools, equality between boys and girls is promoted. I mean I constantly get emails from my school’s weekly newsletter about female empowerment, recommendations of female authors and the demand of fair wages, so when I see all across schools in the UK that boys and girls are treated differently simply because of clothing, I get struck with disbelief and frustration. Of course, I go to an all-girls’ school, so I have had the privilege of not being told what I can and can’t wear on non-uniform days. Why the dress code rules in all girls’ schools are so relaxed compared to co-ed schools also struck me as bizarre; and I realised that I was already living a life controlled by the actions of men, supporting the dominant ideology of patriarchy.
In other co-ed schools across the UK, girls are being told to hide shoulders, not wear leggings or shorts and to wear loose fitting clothing in order to not distract not only male peers, but male members of staff too. The solution to ‘protect’ girls from the reactions and behaviours of boys when these rules are broken, is to send the girls home altogether, while the ‘out of control’ boys are left in the classroom uninterrupted ready for a full day of education. This is one example where young girls’ bodies are sexualised by adults and changed in order to accommodate the anticipated behaviour of boys. When in summer, the length of your skirt is more important than your own education, you know something is wrong with the way the world works.
My first sex ed talk at school was in Year 6. My co-ed class of 30 was then split into a group of boys and a group of girls. We were then taught about the details of periods, relationships and online safety and I assume the boys were taught about something similar to do with puberty in boys. We were told not to discuss these things outside of the classroom. Unfortunately, to the best efforts of our teachers, by warning us against discussing these topics and separating us by gender, they stigmatised the basics of sex, puberty and our bodies; in my school, we are open about periods and about our bodies, which is probably not the case in co-ed schools. This made us at a young age feel like these were topics to keep quiet about and not discuss; we grew up feeling that we had to be embarrassed about our bodies at such a young age.
Studying at an all-girls’ school now, we have had many talks about what to do when walking home from school. Avoid walking down secluded streets alone, wearing headphones, always be alert of suspicious behaviour of vehicles or people etc. They promise that if we follow this advice, then we will be safe from public harassment, when in reality 2 in 3 girls in the UK have been publicly harassed; and if that wasn’t bad enough, more than a third of these instances were while girls were wearing their school uniforms. Cat calling as a whole has long been tolerated and concealed and when brought to light is defended by reasons like “it was just a joke” or “it was a compliment” and instead we are taught that it should be appreciated. We are taught at a young age to be careful when going out; we are taught all these survival hacks and tricks on social media and the best self-defence intel’s to use that don’t violate the law. But why do we have to learn these? Why can’t we just trust men? Why is this our society now?
Prompted by her friend’s stories, Soma Sara took to Instagram to talk about her own experiences of sexual violence and rape culture. Young people all over the UK replied and so last year Soma founded Everyone’s Invited. Everyone’s invited is ‘a movement committed to eradicating rape culture’. Rape culture is when behaviours such as derogatory sexist comments, image-based abuse and sexual coercion are normalised and trivialised; these can act as a gateway to more extreme acts such as assault or even rape. The reason this is relevant and worth mentioning is because a huge proportion of the 51,000+ testimonies come from teenagers in secondary schools across Britain. There have been more than a handful of testimonies that came from my school, and these are only the ones we know of. When young people are sexually exploited and then not taken seriously by teachers or the police, there is less encouragement to step forward and in time this can lead to eating disorders, self-harm and even suicidal ideation.
Many of these schools try to hide any of these possibilities to keep their reputations clean, when in reality they happen all the time. I remember my school only took action once after Everyone’s Invited went viral. The action my school took was a brief talk with my year which lasted no longer than 5 minutes after which, my class went into further discussions where one mentioned her friends in boy schools who had not received as many talks as we had or in as much depth. I even know some parents who, after hearing of Everyone’s Invited, replied “Don’t be like those girls…they go out to parties all the time, they brought it upon themselves”. So why is this responsibility put onto girls so much more than boys? Well, this all comes down to internalised misogyny, victim blaming and rape culture which brings us back to square one.
Schools usually have our best interest at heart and we can see that they don’t want harm to come to us, but if we are segregated by gender, they treat us unfairly and waste our learning time. If the reasoning behind this is to prepare us for the world of work and to “not distract boys and male teachers”, then surely this speaks of a much larger problem within society. Clearly, they should combat this by educating boys to the same degree as girls before the inequality gap is widened further.