Former Australian students call out schools for 'policing' the length of skirts

Former female students at schools around Australia have slammed skirt length requirements, which they say are sometimes enforced in "embarrassing and degrading ways".

School students in uniform.

Former students are calling out length requirements for school skirts, which they say send the wrong message to girls. Source: Getty

When Mia* attended Cerdon College in the 2010s, she said she was subject to a strict uniform policy that required school skirts to be a certain length.

She said the Catholic all-girls school in western Sydney required skirts to be four centimetres from the knee and during winter, students had to wear stockings.

“They used to do uniform checks where they’d make us lift up our skirt to show whether we were wearing knee-highs or not,” she told SBS News.

“It just wouldn't even be on the cards to wear shorts for ordinary uniform outside of sports.”

Mia said she once witnessed a classroom of school girls kneeling on the ground while a teacher measured the length of their skirts with a ruler.

“It kind of shocked me at the time. It just didn’t feel right - it felt like such an invasion of privacy,” she said.

Mia said Cerdon College has since changed its uniform but the school still has strict policies around how students present themselves.

In an email to SBS News, Patricia Baker, the principal of Cerdon College, said “measuring students skirts lengths has definitely not been either the policy or the practice at the College during the 16 years I have been at the College.”

“To have such a practice would be a clear breach of Child Protection legislation,” she wrote.

Ms Baker did not respond to SBS News’ questions about the school’s current uniform policy.

On the school’s website, it states students in Years 7-12 are “required to wear their uniform below the knee when standing” as part of the school’s summer uniform.

While in winter, the requirements are a “checked kilt, calf-length” and that “black opaque tights must be worn with [the] kilt.”

‘Skirt requirements send the wrong message’

Mia’s story comes as former students slam length requirements enforced in some schools across Australia. They claim the rules teach girls that they are responsible for men’s behaviour.

“Having your school skirt or dress moderated is a grossly common experience for girls in Australia,” consent activist group Teach Us Consent wrote on Instagram.

“It’s often done in embarrassing and degrading ways that involve touching girls’ bodies without consent," they said.

“Short school skirts don’t sexualise young girls. Predators do.”

Teach Us Consent - spearheaded by activist Chanel Contos - has posted several anonymous stories of former students speaking out against schools’ uniform policies.

In one submission, a person claims that when they were in Year 10 they were forced to wear PE shorts over tights during dance classes because “male teachers weren’t comfortable with us wearing leggings.”

“Male teachers used to put their fingers on our upper thighs to measure the distance between our knees and our hems. It was so humiliating,” another submission read.

Chanel Contos is pushing for major reforms to Australia's sex education curriculum.
Source: Instagram

“When parents send their kids to a school that has a uniform policy, generally speaking, they’ve already made the agreement,” Dr Rosewarne said.

“That said, the idea of focusing on length of dress is about the policing of girls' bodies and reminding girls that their bodies will always be watched.”

Dr Rosewarne said requirements enforcing girls' skirts to be a certain length were outdated and linked to ideals of chastity and modesty.

“There’s still this old-fashioned connection of dress to things like presumed promiscuity and tempting of boys,” she told SBS News.

"There’s a very archaic idea of what it means to be lady-like and measuring girls against that standard.”

The women calling out 'no-pants' policies for girls

For several years, Dr Amanda Mergler has asked why some Australian school girls are forced to wear dresses and skirts and not given the option to wear shorts.

In 2017, the Queenslander connected with Victorian Simone Cariss over a shared frustration of schools refusing to allow their daughters to wear pants and shorts.

Together they co-founded Girls’ Uniform Agenda - a nationwide campaign advocating for the choice of pants and shorts for all students across Australia, regardless of gender.

“After my daughter finished her first year of school, she had to wear a dress. I said to the school 'she likes to climb, she likes to jump, she does that more comfortably in shorts',” Dr Mergler said.

“It didn’t occur to me that it would become this almighty power struggle where they dug their heels in and refused to allow girls at the school to wear shorts.”

 

Dr Mergler said from an early age, we teach girls how to behave and hold their bodies while wearing school skirts and dresses.

“Often girls learn there are things we can’t do,” she said.

“I don’t want to be running around on a field, throwing a ball, if it means I’m going to be flashing my underpants." 

Dr Rosewarne said children who don’t identify with a gender binary should be able to choose whether they want to wear skirts, dresses or shorts.

“I think choice is really important, even within the strict parameters of a uniform policy.”

But she doesn't believe that uniform policies shouldn’t be done away with completely.

“There are economic issues and other reasons that I think uniform policies are a good leveller in terms of equality within schools.

“But there needs to be a move away from the policing of uniforms and bodies with skirt length inspections which sound like something from a 1940s boarding school film.”

SBS News contacted Education Minister Alan Tudge and Catholic Schools NSW for comment. They did not respond before deadline.

*Name changed to protect the individual's privacy

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au. In an emergency, call 000.


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Published 22 October 2021 at 5:55pm, updated 22 October 2021 at 5:58pm
By Eden Gillespie
Source: SBS News

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