Please upgrade your browser for the best Refinery29 experience. Read more.

Saved! Access Favorites in your account profile. Removed from my favorites

The Worrying Reason Schoolgirls Are Wearing Shorts Under Their Skirts

Photo: Getty
MPs were yesterday informed that British schoolgirls were wearing shorts under their skirts for fear of facing sexual harassment from their male peers.

The information came from the Women and Equalities Committee who launched an enquiry into the safety of young girls in schools in April of this year. Their investigation is timely. In 2015, Girlguiding UK released a survey with data that revealed that 75% of young women had felt anxiety over the possibilities of facing sexual harassment in their everyday lives, with a shocking 90% of 13-21 year olds agreeing that schools should do more to address sexual harassment in classrooms. A BBC report in 2015 showed that between 2011-2014, 5,500 sexual offences were reported in British schools.

The committee attributed online pornography, a culture of victim blaming, and a systemic misogyny prevalent in society (that would be difficult to address unless wider cultural attitudes are tackled) as the main factors as to why young girls might feel threatened or vulnerable in a skirt at school.

Six experts were summoned in a roundtable format to discuss the findings. All agreed that "the message [heard] time and time again is that sexual harassment is an everyday experience" in schools and that "staff don't feel confident to recognise this abuse (sexual harassment) and challenge it."

Susie McDonald, chief executive officer of the charity Tender, explained that despite a "seismic shift" towards teachers feeling emboldened enough to report harassment, there still exists a "fear that if they're reporting sexual violence, what it will do to their reputation and how it will impact Ofsted checks."

Lynnette Smith of SRE provider Big Talk Education, agreed that Ofsted pressures are schools' greatest concerns, and that potentially Ofsted inspectors could be key in placing pressure on schools to be asking more questions such as, "What is the parental involvement? What are the results you're getting from young people? What are the questions that children are asking?"
McDonald said that after talking to a group of female students in Hackney about how to combat girls feeling harassed, she felt that allowing girls to wear trousers was all good and well but it didn't actually put any emphasis on changing boys' attitudes towards their classmates.

Sophie Bennett, co-director of UK Feminista
, had this to say: "We've heard from girls who tell us you don't leave school as a girl without being called a slut, that to wear shorts under your skirt to prevent boys revealing your underwear in the playground is just normal behaviour. So there is that sense of a normalised culture of sexual harassment in schools where girls don't feel able to report it and instead change their own behaviour, such as wearing shorts under their skirts."
Jo Sharpen, from Against Violence and Abuse, concurred with Marai Laras of black feminist organisation Imkaan, who agreed that the lack of proper sexual health education meant young people were learning about sexual conduct via porn, often watched on their smartphones.

Sharpen argued that porn was giving young men "unrealistic and harmful attitudes about gender, sex and consent". Laras added that mainstream porn is much more violent towards women now and is implicit in a kind of "routine punishment of women's bodies as entertainment" that's largely come to be accepted.

Research fellow at Durham University, Dr Fiona Vera-Gray, argued that isolated case studies were of little use, and that the problem runs far deeper. "To fix what's going on in schools we also need to think more broadly about changing attitudes in the general population," she said.

It might take decades for a social sea change in attitudes towards young women's bodies. In the meantime, perhaps gender neutral uniforms might be the way forward.