TROUSER BLOG – Policing the Uniform

This week in the TES there was a very thoughtful short commentary written by Justine Roberts, the founder and chief executive of Mumsnet. In this article she comments on how heavily the appearance of girls and young women is policed, in a way that is not done to the same extent for boys and men. I agree with her whole heartedly and would add that while boys and men do get their appearance policed, albeit not to the same extent as females – the way in which it is policed is very different. Trousers for All, as you know, is particularly interested in school uniform and lobbies for all girls to have an option of wearing trousers as part of their school uniform. We are also interested in schools uniform in general and in any uniform that discriminates again girls and women. Yet uniforms, whether for school children, air crew or nurses, always get ‘policed’ and it is probably universally acknowledged that a wearer of a uniform tries to ‘individualise’ it some way – often very subtly. However, the language of those who do the policing is very gendered. When my boys went off to school with their shirt hanging over their trousers and their ties askew, they were told off by the ‘uniform police’ for not looking smart enough. But when the girls in the school in Buckinghamshire that Justine referred to wore their skirts too short and their trousers too tight, they were told off for not looking ‘modest and demure’. Are boys who wear tight trousers to school (and I have seen some in rather tight trousers) told off for not being ‘modest and demure’? Or perhaps for sexualising their appearance? Or even warned that perhaps wearing tight trousers might impair their future fertility? Probably not – but they might be told off for not looking smart enough. This week, the Metro newspaper reported a story of a young man, Levi Gilham, who was told off at school for having a ‘man bun’. I wonder what they said to him. Perhaps he was told that he looked too feminine? Well, judging by his picture no one would have accused him of that – or would have done so at their peril! Perhaps he was told that he projected an image that was not in line with the ethos of the school. In other words, he looked a bit ‘rough’ – oh dear! However, what one could not say is that he did not look smart, because his hair looked very smart and tidy, and he seemed to have been wearing his school uniform clothes correctly. If he had been a male nurse working in a critical care area, his choice of hairstyle would have been commended – off the face and off the shoulders.

It is this different attitude to infringements of uniforms and dress codes that give rise to accusations of discrimination. As I said above, it is not so much the policing that is problematic but the language used to specify the infringement. I am really looking forward to finding out what uniform rule Levi infringed with his ‘man bun’.

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