'Dress codes provoke a stereotype of girls': a 12-year-old's view

Stock photo of school students 

Stock photo of school students - Credit: Halfpoint/iStock/Getty Images Plus

I never imagined that the way I looked and dressed would compromise and affect my safety in my surroundings, yet somehow it has and has become a part of my life and that of others.

Many women and girls before me have experienced this unfortunate state of affairs. It is something women go through on a daily basis, the tragic case of Sarah Everard has echoed the fears women have had for many years.

It is my personal view that dress codes in particular provoke a stereotype of girls and women through the eyes of males.

We seem to be told simply because we wear our clothes in a certain way, or we put make-up on, that we are asking to be sexually harassed or assaulted.

This assumption is often made in schools, when we are told that wearing skirts and ripped jeans is inappropriate and distracting. Our clothes don’t have an effect on our learning.

Why are the schools teaching us not to wear clothes we feel comfortable in, rather than teaching us how to respect women for their existence rather than what they wear?

School is an important place where we learn our most important lessons, both mentally and morally. What we are taught in school shapes our minds forever. 

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If girls are being told that specific garments are inappropriate, it is teaching us that it is the proper way to dress and that anything else is wrong or shameful.

Make-up is not banned at my non-uniform school, yet when I go to school with eyeliner or lip gloss I am being harassed and asked by certain boys if I am wearing it for a person, or being outright told I am begging for attention from a male. This can make us feel insecure and uncomfortable in our surroundings.

We as women and girls should be seen as who we are rather than the negative stereotypes mainly promoted by males due to a lack of education about these matters. 

Non-uniform schools tend to have more dress codes and some of them include not wearing short skirts and ripped jeans. This, in my view, sexualises us at a young age. We are led to believe that our clothes ultimately define us as who we are and what we represent.

On the other hand, schools with uniforms -  both primary and secondary - often make girls wear skirts and forbid wearing trousers, which embeds a certain mentality between genders. Is this where the abuse starts and where categorising starts?

I note that previously women who went to court over sexual abuse were asked what they were wearing on the particular night, and whether they believe that was the reason the incident happened. This does not occur as often as it used to, but it still happens.

Again, clothing becomes a major part on whether women get abused or not.

It is imperative that the sources which create this ideology, such as schools, indirectly or not, tackle this fundamental problem. 

No matter where we are or what we are dressed in, we as women deserve to feel safe on our streets.

  • Melissa is a 12-year-old north London student.