Bishop Luffa school – short in equality, long in hypocrisy
Before you read on, compare the shorts for which the boys were excluded with those worn by the girl in the rear centre, to which the school apparently turns a blind eye! It is the duty of a school to break down gender stereotypes, not reinforce them. (Photo-still from news footage, credit to BBC South Today)
I know I have bit of a thing about the unfairness to men and boys of dress codes: a brief look at the menu on this site will give ample evidence of this. Seldom, though, have I heard a sexist and gender-stereotyped position defended in such an unconvincing and deeply hypocritical way by a figure in authority. This is disturbing, as one of the roles of schools today is to model gender equality and do away with old-fashioned prejudice and gender-stereotyping.
The issue arose on Friday, 3rd July, when a number of Sixth Form boys were refused entry to Bishop Luffa School in Chichester for daring to wear shorts in the middle of a heat wave. This was reported on the BBC, as well as on local radio and in local newspapers.
The boys’ actions were provoked by the fact that the girls are allowed to wear skirts and shorts, which are intrinsically much more comfortable in hot weather than the long trousers imposed on the boys. The school dress code for the Sixth Form does, indeed, have a blanket ban on shorts for both boys and girls, but the Head Teacher, Nick Taunt, is apparently unable or unwilling to enforce the ban on the girls, who are allowed on site in shorts, which, from the videos and photos linked above, are sometimes very short indeed.
Why is this sexist?
I think that this is fairly self-explanatory. Nobody, not even Mr Taunt, claims that it is not sexist. Those in favour of keeping the ban for boys (both Mr Taunt and a tiny minority of forum comments), merely give a series of dubious reasons why the fact that it is sexist does not matter. Anyone with a clear sense of fairness, open-mindedness and natural justice surely cannot argue that it is fair to allow girls significantly more comfort than boys. Here is a transcript of part of an interview with Mr Taunt on the Chichester Observer website (my comments in bold).
“There are some boys, some members of Sixth Form, who feel it is rather hot today and would like to wear shorts. We don’t allow shorts (comment: this is apparently untrue. Although shorts are theoretically banned for all, girls are, in fact, allowed to wear them) We have a Sixth Form dress code. We don’t have a uniform, as some Sixth Form’s have, but we do have a dress code… …. but it has to be something that’s appropriate for the school environment and to prepare them for later life in the workplace (comment: women are rarely allowed to wear shorts in the workplace, yet he allows the girls to wear them in school)…We have said, for boys and girls, that shorts are not allowed in school (comment: again, if the words of the students, and the images in the videos and photographs are to be believed, girls are allowed to wear shorts to school, so this statement is again untrue)… They said that they (the boys) felt hot and uncomfortable and I said that, well, as a boy so do I (comment: so it’s ok to make boys, but not girls, feel hot and uncomfortable – if that’s not blatantly sexist, I don’t know what is!)“”
“In our society, girls wear dresses and boys wear trousers” (comment: but he allows the girls to wear skirts and trousers and shorts)
In another part of the interview, Mr Taunt says that he wants to avoid “nitpicking” with the boys over the length of their shorts. What, I wonder, does he do when a girl wears her skirt, or her theoretically-banned-shorts too short? Does he “nitpick” with her, does he exclude her, or does he simply allow her to get away with it in staunch support of the woman’s right to choose? Why on Earth should he be willing to pick the girls’ nits but not the boys’?
Much is made in schools and the media today about issues associated with body image, particularly with respect to girls. Why should anyone feel that we can persist in this attitude that there is something unpleasant, or unacceptable, about boys showing their legs, while it is ok for girls to do so?
Incidentally, Mr Taunt has apparently warned the boys (comment in a forum), that they will also be turned away if they wear skirts, although the dress code does not specify that skirts are for girls only.
In a related story a couple of months ago, when a Bridlington Head Teacher banned skirts for girls, one of the arguments raised against her by parents was that it was unfair to make the girls wear hot trousers in the summer: no-one mentioned the unfairness to the boys. At least the Bridlington Head can’t be accused of sexism: boys and girls both wear long trousers now. At around the same time as the Luffa protest. another UK school, Trentham High School, banned girls from wearing skirts because they persistently ignored rules on skirt length. Again, this is simply equality for all, although, personally, I would prefer to see the boys allowed to wear shorts, and the girls stick to reasonable rules on skirt length. It is interesting that both of these schools have female Head Teachers: a male Head would never have the courage to do this as, by enforcing equality, he would be scared of being branded as sexist. What a strange world we live in when it comes to concepts of equality!
Why is the Head’s argument hypocritical?
On the school website, we see the following statement: ”
“We recognise our duty under the Equality Act 2010
The Equality Act has simplified and strengthened the discrimination laws which protect people from unfair treatment.”
Mr Taunt does not argue that the shorts rule is fair, but rather that boys should accept the unfair treatment because they are…well…boys…
The transcript of the interview above also points out the sheer, unadulterated hypocrisy of saying that shorts are banned in order to prepare the students for the workplace. He allows the girls to wear shorts, but there is scarcely an employer in the UK that allows adult women to wear shorts to work: those who do probably allow men to wear them too. In any case, the vast majority of Bishop Luffa Sixth Form students go to university, where several years as a student will make an absolute nonsense of the claim that the purpose of the shorts ban is to prepare the boys for work!
In my view, the simple fact of the matter is that the Head wants to inflict his outdated, discriminatory sense of male dress obligations on the boys, and is determined to do so despite the lack of all logical argument and all sense of fair play. It is simply perpetuating the idea that women have the right to choose what they wear, men have to expect to toe the line.
The lower school summer uniform is also a little lacking in the equality department, as all pupils are allowed to remove blazers and pullovers, but the boys alone are expected to still wear their ties: so much for equal treatment.
Why do I care?
I believe very strongly in true gender equality and fair treatment for boys and girls, men and women. It is true that there are other, perhaps more serious, issues of gender inequality throughout the world, but there are none as widespread among schoolchildren in the UK as the disparity in uniform and dress codes between boys and girls.
With the possible exception of some faith schools, I defy anyone to give me an example of a school in which the boys have more choice, more flexibility and more comfort than the girls. There are thousands where the opposite is true. Girls nearly always have the choice of a skirt, and very often don’t have to wear ties. Many schools have a more comfortable summer uniform for girls but not for boys (or, as in Bishop Luffa, less favourable for the boys). This does nothing at all to encourage a sense of real gender equality among the boys, but rather seems to support the increasingly popular view that the search for gender equality is a one-way street. Full credit to those girls who demonstrated their genuine belief in equality by supporting the boys. It is very sad that school managers can put so much effort into the concept of equality, yet let themselves down so badly by persisting with retrograde, sexist attitudes such as this.
I am sure that Mr Taunt is an excellent Head Teacher in many respects, but he is mistaken in his inflexible and poorly thought-out response to this situation. It is the duty of the Head to instill a sense of equality and justice in his pupils, and both he and the school governors should do everything possible to make sure that the uniform code is fair to all. It is the duty of a school to break down gender stereotypes, not reinforce them, and it should not be acceptable in 2015 to say that boys should be expected to put up with unnecessary discomfort just because they are boys.
(I believe the facts are correct based on interviews and news reports. If there are any factual errors, please let me know and I will correct them)