I’ve been reading about a school who has introduced a ‘gender neutral’ school uniform. Much to the frustration of pupils and parents. I share their frustration. Not because I am not in favour of gender neutral uniforms but because I am not in favour of imposing gendered clothing on anyone. Essentially what this school has done is remove skirts from the uniform. This is allegedly in support of trans students. So now all students must wear trousers originally allocated only for boys. Perhaps what would be truly inclusive would be to have a set uniform with items being chosen by individuals. This would enable any student who wishes to wear a skirt to wear one, including trans students. Similarly regarding trousers.
Skirts and trousers
As a society, what is so frightening or challenging about a boy, someone who is non-binary, trans or is exploring their gender identity wearing a skirt? Might it be a thread to an era where male dominance was more visible? When and why has it become acceptable for girls/women to wear trousers but not acceptable for boys/men to wear skirts? During and after the war, women were drafted into roles traditionally held by men. Accordingly, it became acceptable for women to wear clothing more appropriate for the role. Men haven’t been drafted en mass into roles historically assigned to women so the equivalent in relation to clothing hasn’t happened. Also, it might be that society can tolerate the idea of a women ‘wanting to be or be like a man’ but struggles to comprehend why a man might ‘want to be or be like a woman’.
Gender is nuanced
Gender is much more nuanced than simply assessing genitalia. We could better support our young people by modelling inclusivity and respect irrespective of identity, race, religion, disability etc. Approximately 1.7 – 2 % of the population are intersex (replicated within the student population) (Hines & Taylor 2018). To not include intersex students would be statistically akin to saying all pupils with red hair have to assign themselves to a blonde or brunette category because we don’t cater for ‘red’. In addition, at least 0.4% of the UK population identify as non-binary when given a choice of male, female and non-binary (which included a number of specific identities) (practicalandrogyny.com).
For some, the gender assigned to them at birth simply doesn’t fit. For some, it’s clear from an early age and for others it takes time to reach a conclusion. There are many possibilities regarding gender identity but it’s important to include non-binary and intersex identities for whom trying to fit into a binary category simply doesn’t work and these are groups that get further marginalised and erased by referring only to binary trans identities. At worst this has the potential to generate internalised shame and subsequent mental health problems. At best it can make school life far more challenging than it needs to be.
True equality is about facilitating choice/preference rather than imposing our choices/preferences on others. The latter is called oppression. Gender neutral school uniforms are needed to young people can explore and discover who they are without having an identify imposed on them.
Is Gender Fluid? Sally Hines and Matthew Taylor 2018