Friday, 12 May 2017

Commend or Command?

Scrolling through my Facebook feed, I saw that one of my friends had shared this article with a heart emoji, implying that she was moved by its content.

I agree that the main message of the piece is incredibly important - people should be able to wear whatever they want, no matter what their gender or sexuality, and uniform can often be a barrier to this. But unfortunately, in this particular instance, the message is hidden beneath a school's selfish focus on reputation and thus a lack of understanding of what today's society is all about (freedom to be whoever you want, however you want).

Whilst it is great that this boy was commended for wearing a skirt to school - though as the article goes on, this becomes more questionable and more likely to be an excuse after the event to save face - it should not be a revolutionary event. The fact that people still think it is shows how we all have a long way to go before people really can be who they want without judgement or standards. It is sad that the boy felt the need to take trousers along with him in case he needed to change because of comments from his teachers or peers. Society often prides itself on its modern acceptance of how people choose to identify, but perhaps this is all talk.

Or perhaps this issue is much more contained. I know from experience that universities offer the open space, free of judgement, that schools do not. It doesn't matter how you look, or how you identify, you always know that you are of value whoever you are. So why are schools so different? The answer is: they don't have to be, they choose to be. This is something I am very passionate about. There is no way that a school or educational institution can make any attempt to teach their students about how appearances do not matter, when they are enforcing the opposite message in their dress codes. Uniforms are an oppressive form that contain identity and dictate who and what it is 'acceptable' to be. The boy thought he was breaking the rules when he wore a skirt to school - this thought should not have even been put in his head. Of course, schools may try and fob this off by claiming that their rules are gender-neutral, and that it is not specified that boys cannot wear skirts, and thus should not feel that they are not allowed. But then why did he feel he was doing something wrong? Having a dress code is telling people what they 'should' look like, when in reality they should be able to dress however they please. Whilst it is true that not all schools do have uniforms, there are likely to be rules of some kind dictating how their pupils should dress, which again questions how they can promote free identity when they are restricting it.

What is most disturbing about this article, is how the claims of commending the boy seem to come from this specific school in an effort to save their reputation. It is mentioned that the boy changed his trousers during the day, implying that this was an action forced upon him by the staff. But here is the comment from the head-teacher that is incredibly shocking:

'This school has worked very hard to gain a reputation as a school that supports student individuality and by people posting statements on social media that are completely false, my reputation nearly went up in smoke.'

Not only does this perfectly summarise the ignorance of schools in thinking they promote 'individuality', but confirms that their only real concern is their status and reputation. Personally, I think this headmaster's comments are despicable, and quite frankly, the school's reputation should 'go up in smoke,' if they even had one for promoting individuality, which it appears they does not. It should not take negative comments for the school to embrace, and for some reason feel the need to publicise, the expression of a person's identity. All it does, is highlight how they were not given the chance to do so in the first place. So long as schools have a uniform or dress policy, they are not promoting freedom of identity, but are potentially damaging their students by telling them how they 'should' be. The entire concept of 'what is acceptable' is incredibly dangerous, and seems to impose rules on identity and appearance that should not be present.

I come back to my original point; I agree that a boy wearing a skirt to school is commendable, but portraying it as a wondrous occurrence only cements the incorrect idea that it is an anomaly, and potentially then is not right. No one considers women wearing trousers as out of the ordinary, so there is no reason why men wearing skirts should be either. If I walked into university tomorrow, and a male student walked past in a skirt, I wouldn't bat an eyelid, but more importantly, I know that no one else would either. We all know that a person's appearance is a way of expressing who they are, and what it is to be comfortable in their own skin. Of course, appearances are only one part of our identity, yet it is perhaps the part that many feel the most pressure to be content with.

So how do schools reckon they can encourage their students to be whoever they want, and that identity is a free choice, when imposing a set of 'rules' to restrict it, and creating false ideas of 'what is acceptable?'

Answer: they won't.

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