Recently, high school boys* across Quebec have been presenting themselves to school wearing short skirts and nail polish with the intent of generating discussion on not only the traditionally gendered school uniforms but also on the hyper-sexualization of girls* and women*.
This movement may seem new to North America, but it is not new to the world. In fact, a similar movement has existed in France since 2006 and was popularized by the 2008 movie La Journée de la jupe. Its original goal was to destigmatize women wearing skirts, as skirts are often associated with prostitution. It later developed into a movement for gender equality and it has been sparking debates across the nation, with some vehemently opposing it, claiming that it is “attempting to eliminate the differences between men and women, which could lead to disastrous consequences.”
Many also mock the movement, saying that boys* and men* are simply disguising themselves (implying that wearing a skirt demasculinizes a man* in any way). Furthermore, these students are often subject to humiliation and homophobia, which may be the reason why it took nearly two decades for the movement to arrive here.
Where does this idea of “boys* wearing skirts are just disguising themselves” come from anyway? It probably comes from the fact that the only times we see boys* wearing skirts are at Halloween or costume parties, where people sometimes cross-dress humorously or to incite a reaction from people. It has become a source of humour in society to mock boys* wearing skirts, so it is now difficult for them to be taken seriously.
It has become a source of humour in society to mock boys* wearing skirts, so it is now difficult for them to be taken seriously.
In high schools worldwide, dress codes are often much more strict for girls* than they are for boys*. For example, I, myself, have been told by a supervisor once in high school: “Put on your sweater; your bra is showing, which could be distracting for the boys.”
Why do I have to wear a sweater to hide my bra? Does my shirt not do a good enough job at hiding a piece of cloth? Why would boys* be distracted by a girl* not wearing a sweater if girls* are not distracted by a boy* not wearing a sweater?
Even worse is the slut-shaming girls* wearing short skirts are subject to. In one incident at my high school, a cop actually told a student that, by rolling her skirt, she is asking to get harassed.
Unfortunately and despite the immense progress feminism has made in the past century, rape culture is still very much alive in 2020. The new Montreal take on the skirt movement aims to open society’s dormant eyes to the severity of the issue.
It is important to note that, although this movement is unique in its approach to tackling the issue, it is far from being the first with these goals. Previous attempts at raising awareness about the hyper-sexualization of girls* and women* in society include the White Ribbon Campaign (WRC), which, still to this day, aims to educate boys* on the importance of consent. Founded in 1991, the WRC has since reached over 60 countries and is doing crucial work in the education sector.
So, how is this student-led initiative any different? Well, it brings a whole new meaning to the proverb “walk a mile in their shoes for a day,” as one participant has stated to the Montreal Gazette: “[Wearing a skirt for a day] really changed me. I saw how women could feel in certain situations. It made me more sensitive to this kind of thing.”
This movement seems to be forcing individuals to become more sensitive to female* issues by giving them the opportunity to actually feel the way girls* and women* feel every single day when they leave their houses, when they go on public transport, when they notice someone looking at them in an inappropriate way. This is why this seemingly simple movement is so effective at addressing its goals and at inciting legitimate change.
Several schools have already responded to this movement by stating they will be “rethinking” their uniforms and/or started labeling their uniforms as “unisex”. This has a huge impact on non-binary and trans students, who may start to feel more comfortable dressing the way they wish when they were previously afraid of being bullied or were simply not allowed to due to the conservative dress codes.
Marine Pichette, a Secondary 5 student at Villa Maria, said she got involved in the movement “only from pure frustration against society and my school.” She believes that society’s perception of gender is outdated and is optimistic that generation Z “will be part of change.”
She continued: “This movement wants to create awareness surrounding gender norms and how we portray women in this world. I would like to add that this is not a trend, it’s a fight. I envision this movement gaining more participants, as we’ve gained already more than 600 followers in less than a week and I’m excited to see where the future takes us. For now, our role is to educate and to create awareness surrounding these social injustices.”
By Sophie Dufresne
Note to readers: the writer chose the alternate spelling of “girl(s)*” and “boy(s)*” (with the asterisk (*)) to acknowledge the various gender identities that individuals wearing the girls’* and the boys’* uniforms may have.