In 2012 I started preparing for my new journey in an all-girls catholic secondary school. However, I wasn’t prepared for the extreme fetishization and sexualization that was to come.
My first few days were quite a blur as it was all just overwhelming. The school was in construction, so all of the years were crammed into a small space making it easier to see who the older years and younger years were. I made about two friends in that short space of time, and during this encounter, we were approached by three girls from the older year.
“Why’s your skirt so long for? Roll it up”
Not only was this directed towards me, but the other girls I was with. In unison, we rolled up our skirts, just a tad. Maybe because it was the older years, we felt a sense of intimidation or pressure to “fit in”. I remember thinking it was weird to do, given that all are skirts looked the same anyways.
Not long after, it started a domino effect. From rolling up my skirts a tad, became more than that. A drastic change was present from year 7 to year 9. It was now a routine to roll up my skirt daily. Some even secured it with a belt or string to keep it there. As it always found a way to glide down.
“I shouldn’t be a sexual target in my school uniform.”
Rolling up my skirt became part of the dress code.
It was then that I started getting male attention, whether that be a look when walking up the bus stairs or a Facebook message from a creepy guy I didn’t know. After engaging in conversation with some guys, it was clear to me that they were holding onto this schoolgirl fantasy/fetish.
“She’s a good girl in school, but behind closed doors, she’s naughty” that type of vibe.
For someone who was 14-16 at the time, I’m still a child. I’m going through puberty and changes in my body whilst being looked at as an object. I can’t express enough that enduring this sexualization at such a young age is harmful and degrading to children.
What made it worse was that I took it upon myself to google ‘schoolgirl’. Once I went on google images, I immediately regretted my decision. I was engulfed with images of women dressed as schoolgirls posing provocatively.
All I could think was, “Is this how people see me?” To find out that these costumes can be purchased for Halloween and sexual role play was a shock. I suddenly felt exposed. Images of construction workers gawking at me and my peers as we were just trying to get to school flooded my memory numerous times.
Costumes like this are socially accepted, and even though this article is directed towards males’ women should also take charge of the matter. Many women are going out of their way to buy schoolgirl costumes, which in turn promotes them. A quick picture for the gram is all it takes.
“Tip of the Iceberg”
On numerous occasions, the student council would meet after school to exclaim their longing for trousers. In turn, the teachers declined the many voices that either felt uncomfortable in a skirt or have been subjected to sexual harassment.
I’m not trying to be a mean girl or start pointing fingers, however in my school they had a dismissive attitude to whatever got brought to their attention. Instead, they decided to tell girls to stop pulling their socks above their knees because it’s “too sexy”.
Oh, so it’s a me thing? It’s a us thing? Was my response. It felt at the time that they started to sexualize us. If I choose to pull my socks over my knees, I’m not aiming to be sexy, but yet I get perceived that way? Even by teachers, adults?
An article on the site Independent Education Today presented a study by the Schoolwear Association. It explored the perceptions of school uniforms.
The feedback stated “teenagers revealed that a consistent dress code meant they didn’t have to decide what to wear each day or worry about whether they would be bullied or criticised by their peers. The study also found that a uniform promotes commonality among pupils, improves concentration and fosters a sense of pride, especially when they wear it in public.”
However, an opposing point on the site The Washington Post said otherwise.
A survey from Plan International UK recorded that “A third of girls in Britain say they have been sexually harassed while in their school uniforms. (In Britain, nearly all schoolchildren wear uniforms). Respondents in the survey reported being catcalled and whistled at. One in seven said they have been followed home while they were in their required attire. Some say men have tried to take pictures up their skirts, leaving them feeling “sexualized and fetishized.”
From compiling the research given and shared thoughts through my friends and other outlets, it makes me wonder how involved schools are. For uniforms to foster a sense of pride clashes entirely with how I felt during school. I hated wearing a uniform even if it did have a cute badge or two. It didn’t change how I felt about what was going on outside school.
There is no denying that school uniforms play a huge part in school life in general. You are representing a school that you should be proud of, but yet you feel a sense of fear every time you put that uniform on.
“Teachers can listen, but are they hearing you?”
I always felt when I opened up, it was for their benefit and not mine. Nothing got dealt with, and when it came to my assault, I didn’t even receive the least bit of comfort or an apology. It became apparent that there was a huge gap in the teachings of sexualization, fetishism, harassment, etc.
Recently harassment and sexual assault victims have shared their stories via twitter. From seeing countless tweets of people expressing how they feel, it’s been bought to my attention that the majority of young people don’t know the severity of assault and what it is. We need to be able to teach both parties at an acceptable age in a home and school environment.
I believe schools should be more hands-on in having regular focus groups/talks on sexual harassment and assault. I feel as though it would have been beneficial for me and my peers during my school experience.
Talking is a key part of communication. Especially when it comes to a conversation between adults and teenagers. I don’t believe that schools have gotten around to the #MeToo movement or other significant topics. I would hope that in the future, there could be potential for these discussions to happen in classes like Sex Education.
Harassment should not be a part of “growing up”
Sexual Harassment Hotline