First published on Sunday the 26th of June, 2016, this piece comes in at number 10 in the top 30 most read Villainesse stories of 2016.
Over the past months Villainesse has published many articles about dress codes, and yet this week I found myself reading about yet another example of sexist fuckery from yet another New Zealand school.
In light of such an occasion, the only thing left to do is to send a message to all New Zealand schools, to prevent the Villainesse team from having to tear our hair out every few weeks when another teacher decides that young women’s bodies are so overwhelmingly sexual that they must be covered up to protect the leering eyes of male students and staff.
So. Without further ado.
Dear New Zealand schools,
Before I begin, I want to acknowledge the huge amount of good work you do. Thank you to all of the dedicated and inspirational teachers who tirelessly share their wisdom with our rangatahi. You are choice, so to speak.
Somewhere along the line, however, some of you started viewing your female students through a sexual lens. Some of you decided that their young bodies were sources of discomfort and distraction. Some of you chose to shame them and to tell them that they should cover themselves.
In doing so, you followed an age-old societal trend that dictates that female bodies are inherently sexual, and that female sexuality is dangerous, particularly when women have agency over their own sexual decisions. You also chose to put the comfort of your male students and staff above the personal agency of your female students.
You neglected to tell your male students and staff that women’s bodies do not exist for their viewing pleasure. What could have been a great learning opportunity for your young male students, who will soon walk out the school gates into a world in which women wear very short skirts while walking down the street, was instead used to reinforce the notion that women must be responsible for the actions of the men who stare at them. You could’ve taken an axe to the foundations of rape culture, but instead you choose to strengthen it.
When you have decreed that girls and young women must cover up, you have shown them that as women they will have to deal with a world in which their bodies are not their own. You have modelled for them a society that will comment on their choice of clothing, their size, and their looks. You have sown the seed in their minds that their sexuality is something to be tempered, restrained and ashamed of.
You’ve also shown your male students a world in which they will not be held accountable for their sexual actions. You have undermined their capacity for self-control and their ability to be respectful human beings.
Basically, you have done your male and female students a disservice, and you’ve managed to tar the reputations of your male staff – all in one fell swoop. And every time you do this you create public debates that encourage victim-blaming and slut-shaming. I have no doubt that you are well-intentioned, but your actions are doing far more harm than good.
So please, for the love of whoever or whatever you believe in, stop. Cease. Desist. Lay the fuck off.
Please don’t make us have to write another article lambasting another school. We really don’t want to. But we will. Because someone has to fight back against the problematic messages you’re sending to your students.
Students are at school to learn. Let’s make sure that when they learn about rape culture it is to dismantle it, rather than to uphold it.