Stop Teaching School Girls that Victim Blaming is Ok

Check out these headlines and adverts. What do they have in common?

They all depict government endorsed forms of victim blaming. From school boards to the National Health Service (NHS) and Government endorsed ads, girls are taught from day one that victim blaming is ok.

Think about the different stages of life and the messages sent to girls:

Childhood:

"Don’t do a cartwheel if you’re wearing a skirt, you don’t want the boys to see your knickers."

Ages 11 - 18:

"You shouldn’t wear a short skirt to school, you will distract the boys, they’ll be tempted by your clothes and won’t be able to control themselves." 

Post-puberty - Forever :

“You shouldn’t drink alcohol because you’ll lose your inhibitions and make way for a rapist to take advantage of you.”
“Oh you were raped? Sexually assaulted? But what were you wearing? A mini skirt? Ah, you were probably asking for it.”
“Don’t take an unrecorded taxi, that’s just asking for assault/harassment/rape.”

 

In 2016, a Mum on mumsnet wrote, “My 8 year old daughter came home from school yesterday upset as she wasn’t allowed to play on the bars in the school playground - the teacher had said she needed to have shorts on as boys would see her knickers”. In February 2018, a 14 year old girl was sent home from school in Durham after teachers said “showing her ankle was a distraction”. Parents in Bletchley claim that up to “70 girls were sent home from school over the length of their skirts” in 2016 with the headmaster Dr Tracey Jones saying:

We are protecting our female students...They should look demure and modest and not appear over-sexualised in figure hugging trousers or very short skirts… We have a tower block with six flights of stairs. The last thing we want is boys peering up girls’ skirts while they are climbing the stairs

Meanwhile in 2017 a school in Kent sent roughly 5% of its students home for wearing short skirts.

These are just a few examples of girls being deprived of their education because their outfits might distract boys. I remember girls at my school being pushed to tears and breakdowns because they were reprimanded for wearing any form of make up, shouted at for the length of their skirts if they were an inch too short (ironic considering our netball skirts barely covered our bum cheeks), and constantly made to feel insecure about their appearance and choice of clothing by our teachers. We were repeatedly being chastised for our outfits. Girls in schools continue to be punished and judged for their physical appearances and clothing choices, and instead of focusing on teaching boys to respect women and not “look up their skirts” when going up stairways, schools choose to engage with the culture of victim blaming that will continue in their later lives.

They reinforce the idea that women have to cover up if they don’t want to be attacked,  detracting all attention from the male perpetrators who commit these sexual assaults and crimes. School girls are being taught that their clothing is responsible for the unacceptable behaviour of others. While I’m not saying that girls should be prancing around schools in bikinis (although, why not?), they shouldn’t be shamed and taken out of education because their skirt was one inch too short or because they might distract boys. It should be the other way around. Boys should be sent home if they can’t stop ogling and harassing girls because of their clothing. If we want to transform victim-blaming culture, we need to start with schools. Then maybe we’ll produce a generation of respectful young men who don’t objectify women’s bodies and see women’s  clothing as a sign that women are ‘asking for it’. And maybe we’ll produce a generation of body confident young women who aren’t afraid to wear exactly what they want without fear of being attacked.
 

Article by Chanju Mwanza