Newlands College to be awarded Grand Woman-Shaming Prize at secret Patriarchy Conference

A Newlands College dean told a 14-year-old young woman that her short skirt made her look like a slut.

There’s a conversation going on at frogblog on the topic, with the usual suspects coming out to play – “she didn’t call the girl a slut, she just said she looked like a slut!” “I see heaps of girls dressed like hookers!” and there’s even a bonus “doing Gender Studies at university is useless because it doesn’t get you a job” bit of fail!

But let’s not get distracted by the kinds of comments that are obviously misogynist – there’s a little tidbit in the Stuff article which makes it clear this is just the bit of the iceberg that’s above water:

The school’s guidelines require girls’ skirts to touch the ground when they kneel

I would delight in the quaint Victorian-ness of it all if it weren’t so infuriating.  In an article about school authority figures policing young women using gendered, sex-shaming slurs, this sentence is just dropped in as though it’s completely insignificant.

But this is where it all starts.

A commenter at frogblog tries to argue that boys face “sexist” uniform regulations too, in regards to hair length.  And yes, this goes to issues about masculinity and the basic premise of high school, molding us all into nice little homogeneous GDP-generating units … but no cigar.  Men’s hair is simply not routinely used as a tool to control and police their actions and lives the way sexuality, and “looking” sexual, is used against women.

But QoT, they just want everyone to look uniform and neat!

Nope.  The school’s regulation on skirt length is summed up as “must touch the ground when kneeling”.  So are below-knee, at-knee, above-knee, mid-calf skirts permitted?  What about the girls  who get larger skirts which go down to their ankles to grow into in Year 9, or the poor girl who hits 5’10 sometime in the middle of Year 12 and simply cannot find a skirt to fit from the (horribly overpriced) uniform shop that goes anywhere near her knees?

Come on, QoT, the girl must be freezing in a skirt that short!

And she can take the hem down.  Or wear stockings.  Or maybe she’s one of those bizarre people (like many Cantabrian classmates in my past who rocked shorts and t-shirts year-round) who just doesn’t get cold as easily.

But what if the notorious Wellington wind blows it up and people see her underwear!

Only a problem if you think young women’s underwear is an inherently immoral thing.  You aren’t … slut-shaming women in short skirts, are you, invisible questioner?

No!  I’m just … concerned for her privacy!  What if some pervert takes an upskirt photo of her???

Then that pervert is a pervert and the fault of a pervert’s actions fall … on the pervert.  And probably a society that simultaneously tells young women not to look like sluts while massively hyper-sexualising The Naughty Catholic Schoolgirl archetype and idolizing youth/”innocence”.

I just want young women to look like ladies/nicely dressed/dignified!

And as soon as “ladies”, “nice” and “dignified” are set up in opposition to “sexual” … congratulations, you’re a slut-shamer using sexuality to control women’s choices!

Look, I just don’t think young women should go around dressed like hookers!

How precisely do “hookers” dress?  What is inherently wrong with dressing like women who work in the sex industry?  Isn’t “dressed like hookers” just a nice, anti-sex-work shorthand for “dressed in a way which is read as sexual”?  So … isn’t that just slut-shaming?

Well, um … fuck you!  Dogs and raw meat analogy!  You are no lady! Asking for it!  Childhood time of innocence!  Sex bad!

The prosecution rests.

Skirt length regulations are first and foremost about making schoolgirls look “like ladies” or “respectable”, two concepts which are rooted in hiding and denying women’s sexual agency and sexual feelings.  The dean at Newlands College shouldn’t be punished;  she should be praised for at least being honest about their priorities.

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48 comments

  1. Former student

    When I was there in the eighties (different principal) they were far too keen on policing the sexuality of the students. Sexual harassment was a defined as touching someone of the opposite sex between the neck and the knees, regardless of consent.

    The battle of the skirt lengths has been going on for decades, with pressures on both sides. If your skirt was regulation length, you looked like one of the kids who gets pulled out of sex ed because their parents wrote a note. If you took it up too far there would be trouble. Hemlines tended to climb as the year progressed, or skirts were rolled up at the waistband, to be unrolled again for inspections.

    I have no idea how that compares with other coed uniform schools. But I’ve noticed a lot of single sex schools now have incredibly long, shapeless calf-length skirts. At least knee length is moderately fashionable and practical.

  2. Pingback: Short skirts and sluttiness | LadyNews
  3. Amanda

    Thanks for having at, QoT. My mind has been way too fried by the heat today to form coherent words on this clusterfuck.

    I hope the teenager in questoin gets to see some of the supportive comments from the likes of us to understand why this is happening to her…because I sure as hell could have done with knowing this when I was a teenager.

  4. steph

    QoT, just wanted to say I’m part-way through the frogblog comments and you are seriously awesome for getting in their and being intelligent and reasonable and just generally awesome. (Couldn’t remember if I have you on twitter so figured here would be a good place to express me admiration!)

  5. Draco T Bastard

    The teacher was wrong. The rules are wrong (WTF are they still forcing young woman to wear skirts?). She didn’t look like a slut but a young woman growing up – experimenting as young people do.

    BTW, I actually think that a full length gown is far more titillating than a short skirt – not that I’m going to complain about short skirts 😛

    • QoT

      Ha, you’ve reminded me of one of my favourite Pratchett books:

      ‘Curiously, the purpose of the clothing of the nautch girl or exotic dancer has always been less to reveal and more to suggest the imminence of revelation,’ said the Patrician.
      Nobby looked down at his costume, and then at Sgt Colon in his costume, and said cheerfully, ‘Well I ain’t sure it’s going to suit you, sir.’
      He regretted the words immediately.
      ‘I hadn’t intended that they should suit me,’ said the Patrician calmly. ‘Please pass me your fez, Corporal Beti.’

  6. Boganette

    Yeah I wanted to second what Steph said. Good on you for putting up with the knuckle-dragging genetic mistakes over in the Frogblog comments. You’re owning it.

    And yes – this whole thing is just depressing to me. I can’t believe that some people are actually arguing that it’s not only OK – but a good thing – to call a 14-year-old girl a slut. Sigh.

    And just randomly – on the topic of skirts: I actually went to Diocesan School for Ladies for one year (I was expelled) and we had to wear these ridiculously long skirts (down to our ankles) and I always felt like I was being covered up for my own good. Because my outrageous sexuality would have totes exploded all over everyone if I’d worn a short skirt.

    Luckily no other school except Wellington High would accept me after the Dio expulsion. And you can wear whatever ze fuck you like at High. I don’t really like school uniforms. I liked that we were encouraged to be individuals at High by wearing what we wanted.

    • QoT

      But Boganette, nobody called her a slut, they just said she looked like a slut! The apparent clear difference in meaning between those two phrases escapes me but I supposed it’s a gendered variant on the “You shouldn’t call someone racist, that’s terrible, you should just tell them they said a racist thing!” Which of course won’t cause equal “offence”. Because the fee-fees of offensive white dudes is totally our priority.

  7. toad

    Hey, QoT, I admire your tenacity over at frogblog.

    Shunda is an enigma – he’s really cool on environmental issues, but on gender issues is a knuckle-dragger.

    And I hope your readers don’t get he perception that all men in the Green Party share his perspective on gender issues. Shunda is not actually a Green member or supporter (nor is samiam over there).

    I’ve been doing my best to back Catherine Delahunty and you over there, although I’m a bit disappointed that not more Green men have positively engaged in that regard.

    • QoT

      No worries, toad. I’m certainly aware that plenty of progressive guys (and girls) can fall down on some issues. And frogblog is definitely a nicer place to debate them than other fora I could mention!

      The segregation of different oppressions and progressive issues is a definite problem for us all but at least we’re getting the topics out there.

  8. toad

    Psst! BTW, QoT – you should check the timestamp on your blog – currently set to GMT it seems.

    Assuming you don’t have a huge international audience, I’d suggest setting it to GMT+13 (ie NZDT) so most of your readers know when comments have actually been posted.

  9. Katherine

    We never had a skirt length rule at my school, but you couldn’t GET them long until the last year of highschool. I was cold (and hate stockings), the wind would blow it up (which I didn’t like), and boys had the option to wear shorts OR pants 2 years before girls got a choice.

  10. Chris

    When the girl started at the school, she signed a declaration to say she would adhere to all school rules and guidelines. If she wants to wear a short skirt, she can move to a non-uniform school where it is permitted. No one made her go to Newlands College and wear a uniform, she chose to, and she also chose to sign a statement which said she would wear her skirt knee length.

    Regardless of what’s right and wrong about enforcing skirt lengths, she chose to go to a school where this is done so she must have agreed to it in principle.

    • LadyNews

      Yes, but nobody is arguing that she didn’t break a dress code rule: it’s clear she did. But there are ways to tell her that she broke that rule without using the word “slut”.

    • QoT

      Chris, your efforts to ignore the many, many actual problems with this story are impressive.

      1. Pretty sure the rules don’t say “if you break these, faculty will enforce them by calling you a slut.”

      2. As covered on the frogblog comments, there are plenty of photos on Newlands College’s own website of girls whose skirts do not conform to the rules.

      2a. It is thus not unreasonable to assume that the uniform rules function as a handy excuse to police the behaviour of rebellious teens – see also creative use of “loitering” laws.

      3. The entire rule is still sexist and based on bullshit assumptions about women’s appearance and sexuality.

      4. It’s a wonderfully privileged assumption to make that anyone can “just” choose which school to go to – when issues of geography, cost, academic quality can be kinda important.

      • LadyNews

        Oh, and something that somebody else pointed out (to add to your awesome points QoT); financially, some people can’t afford to buy new uniform skirts if their child grows a lot taller(as teenagers often do), and so it’s possible that a girl who started school with a longer skirt could end up with one a lot shorter due to growth. Not saying this is the case, or that this is the only excuse for having a short skirt, but merely that it’s another element of the (financial) privilege point that you made (point 4) that may not be obvious to people who’ve not had to think about it (like me, for one).

        • QoT

          Good point! Let’s not start me on my patented “why the fuck do school uniforms cost so fucking much and who sodding cares if the basic white shirt has a nearly-invisible white embroidered logo on it” rant.

  11. Chris

    Number of things to address here:

    Seeing the ease at which she is moving school, it’s safe to assume that she could have gone to any of the three choices I know she’s looking at currently (Wellington High, Tawa and Onslow).

    School skirts are bought in a long length (read: mid calf) which is then tailored by each person as they see fit. When well kept, they should be able to be lengthened gradually (also like the boys pants)and should last for the entire 5 years the student stays at College.

    I never said it was okay to say she looked LIKE a slut. My personal opinion is that the teacher was in the wrong here since the parents seemed to take offence, but the matter was dealt to with due process internally through the school and should have been a closed case after an apology was issued. My issue is that she chose to take it to me media in an attempt to ruin a very good teachers name.

    I personally know both the teacher and student involved and heard the girl laughing about the comment after it was said to her. Based on what she has recently been saying on Facebook, she wasn’t nearly as offended by it as the papers would have you believe. She told her parents thinking they would find it funny, as she did, which they obviously didn’t.

    The teacher involved appropriates youth slang, and the word ‘slut’ is not offensive to girls of that age as it is to older people. The teacher talks to students in their own language, colloquially, and builds friendships and rapport in this way. I hear it used daily to describe friends, in addition to other seemingly offensive, yet accepted words like ‘bitch’. In fact, one of Amethysts best friends has had her Facebook name include the word ‘Slut’ in a play on her last name for months before this incident. The word is not offensive to them, but she still feels compelled to run to the media and defame an excellent teacher.

    You say that “The entire rule is still sexist and based on bullshit assumptions about women’s appearance and sexuality.” While this may be true, she DID sign a form agreeing to adhere to the rule and therefore agreed to follow it. This fact is made very clear to each new student before they enrol by the Principal, face to face. Had she had a major objection, she could have chosen another school.

    Finally, the girls father said something along the lines of “When kids do wrong, they are punished, when teachers do wrong, they should get detention too” in the Dominion Post article – not his exact words but a rough summary. After an attack on a male student 3 years her senior which left scratches across his face and eyes, the school decided not to punish her for it. They did not even require her to write an apology letter to the victim. The fathers statement now seems very rich.

    My apologies for the long post but I think these are all important aspects of this situation.

    • QoT

      Chris, for a start that’s a helluva comment and you are welcome to go put it on a blog of your own.

      These “important aspects” still have nothing to do with my post and the issues raised by other bloggers.

      I do not give a fuck if the student in question was Elizabeth Bathory. I do not give a fuck what her parents said and my gods do I seriously not give a fuck what people say on Facebook.

      The issue is the policing of women – young, old, saintly or douchey – using sexually-shaming language.

      Your single relevant point, about “oh well the teacher was just trying to be down with the kids and kids use the word “slut” all the time” is just ridiculous. It is completely inappropriate for a teacher to use such language to a student in their care. And what do you know, young women are just as much a part of our patriarchal slut-shaming society as the rest of us!

      Please stay on the topic being discussed as further “but the student’s the devil incarnate and the teacher’s just totes cool” comments will be edited.

      • Chris

        Issues such as this are not black and white, and to fully understand them you must look at things holistically, or risk ignorance by “not giving a fuck”.

        ‘Slut’ may be an offensive term to many, but to others it is not and if that vocabulary is accepted by both parties as it was in this case then who’s to say that it’s not acceptable?

        If you re-read my post, each ‘issue’ is ,on the whole, a response to a comment on the blog, or extrapolation upon those comments.

        • QoT

          Chris, if you or the teacher involved honestly think that use of the word “slut” exists in a vacuum, especially when being used by a person in authority over young women to one of those young women? I want neither of you near the teaching profession.

          Making this about the girl’s behaviour? Means you think calling a woman a slut is okay if she’s the right kind of woman. Making this about her parents’ comments? Means you think people should be punished for inappropriate acts only if the victims and their families behave a certain way.

          All of that? Is douchey at best, and a short step away from rape apologism at worst.

          Please do not mansplain to me or to anyone how they “must” look at things, especially when you have not contributed anything to the actual discussion taking place.

          You want to have a different discussion? Go to a different blog.

  12. Chris

    Please explain when I ever excused the use of the word. Please also explain where the teacher called her a slut in a malicious way.

    The “inappropriate act” was dealt with by the school in a fair way, unlike how it was initially dealt with by the media.

    “Please do not mansplain to me or to anyone how they “must” look at things, especially when you have not contributed anything to the actual discussion taking place.”

    Are you saying that issues should be looked at with one viewpoint only, and be looked at with no background evidence? Both sides are equally important in you are searching for a balanced discussion. If you’re not searching for a balanced discussion, I can only assume you’re looking to lambast whoever or whatever it is you disagree with no regard to the whole story.

    Asking me to go to a different blog is a convenient way to ignore the other side of the story and any opinion which differs from your own.

    [QoT: At this point readers it behoves me to state that this commenter purports to be a person connected with Newlands College, and the name/email information provided plus Google corroborates this. I merely object to being told I refuse to acknowledge all sides of a story by someone who doesn’t openly identify a conflict of interest in the story in question.]

    • QoT

      Yes, Chris, that’s totally what I’m saying, Chris, you’re such a clever man, Chris, oh you’ve sure shown me the error of my ways, Chris. You can’t possibly have excused the word because all you said was “maybe it was acceptable to both of them” and “one of the girl’s friends uses the word on Facebook!!!!”

      I have already explained to you several times that how the girl or her parents acted and how the school acted and what people say on Facebook has nothing to do with the societal implications of using the word “slut” to police people’s behaviour and the historical, misogynist basis of skirt-length uniform rules.

      You are continuing to attempt to derail this conversation with matters that are irrelevant and that will simply not be tolerated on my blog.

      Please feel free to leave a final “YOU’RE STIFLING MY FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND ARE ALSO A BITCH” comment, though, I would be grateful for the chuckles.

      • Chris

        [QoT: Don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out, Chris. Backhanded compliments while criticising my tone and unladylike language, together with a good dollop of martyr syndrome, have just never been the way to my heart. I’m entirely hopeful your passive-aggressive little “Goodbye” means I will no longer be plagued by your smarm.]

  13. Kate Withers

    Oh dear, somebody’s dreaming of leaving the kitchen?

    I am glad our school mistress in question informs us of how we should look for future reference later in life. After all, the good, successful men don’t choose sluts to marry and I for one, wish to bring up my children with. A well-equipped kitchen.

  14. Bob

    QoT, please get back to the kitchen where you belong. Holding an intelligent conversation is above your capabilities. Thanks.

    • QoT

      Ladies and gentlemen and non-binary types, I present the elusive yet predictable misogynistus trollicus. Having realised that his target has no fear of being called a filthy sex-having being, he attempts to provoke with a kinda pathetic repetition of putting-that-bitch-in-her-place “nonchalance”.

      He does not realise that taking the effort to make the comment in the first place proves exactly how much he cares and how threatened he feels by stroppy women.

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  16. Jordan

    [QoT: Jordan, your “questions” have already been asked and answered multiple times. This is not about whether or not school rules were broken, because they were and no one is denying that. This is not about the age of the student because this kind of body policing affects all women. The “intent” of the Dean is completely irrelevant. Comment on the post at hand or go make your own blog to defend the college as you wish.]

      • QoT

        Jordan, this is not a varsity debating club. If you want to “openly discuss” things you are welcome to start your very own free blog here at wordpress.com, or another blog provider of your choosing.

        Off-topic or repetitive comments, comments whinging about me being totes unfair and challenging your masculinity-given right to narrate the conversation, and comments which are so uninformed they simply must be trollbait, will not be approved.

        • Jordan

          [QoT: Jordan was totally accepting and gracious, of course. And then, gentle readers, he veered back into familiar BUT YOU DON’T WANT TO HEAR BOTH SIDES OF THE STORY!!!! territory. Can you guess what happened next? If you answered, “he realised that he cannot dictate to a blogger how she runs her blog and started his own wordpress blog where he could be as “open” and “free” as he wanted” you would sadly be wrong.]

        • tigtog

          Don’t mind me, nothing to add, just thought I’d mention what a mighty entertaining accompaniment to popcorn this thread has been. Might have to make a new batch for the next trollicus influx.

        • QoT

          Dammit tigtog, if you’re going to make popcorn you have to bring enough for everyone!

          Stay tuned to tomorrow’s broadcast for an empirical breakdown of what the trolls of 2010 are saying, and special reader-only sneak peeks at what got caught in the filter!

  17. Not A Feminist

    I delete comments on my facebook page debates (lol) with some frequency, and people keep saying FREEDOMOFSPEECHFREEDOMOFSPEECH THIS IS CENSORSHIP.

    Freedom of speech is people being able to have a forum to say their views – not to say whatever the fuck they want to whoever the fuck they want and not have to face consequences.

    If someone put a placard on my lawn with a message I disagreed with, it’s sure as hell going to be removed. This is your space and you make the rules. There is an entire world out there that accepts and encourages slut-shaming.

    Sorry, this is OTT. I think you’ve really hit the nail on the head of this one with your running rebuttal – especially when it gets to “the girls will get perved at!” which a lot of my friends default to without realising the implications of what they’ve said.

    • QoT

      OTT away, NaF! I’m petty enough to imagine how much it will boil the apologists’ blood that I’m deleting their comments for boring off-topicness but approving the ones that I agree with (and coincidentally actually address the post I wrote!). I MUST JUST HATE DISAGREEMENT or something.

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  20. Anonymous girl

    I am from Newlands College, and I heard about this incident last year. I still study there, and I just want to say that not all of us have short skirts like that one girl who disgraced the name and rep of our school. The girl LIED on public television, saying that her skirt is only 10 cm above her knee which is absolutely NOT TRUE. If her and her friends were to bend over, they would flash. There are still quite a few short skirts, there are a whole group of them, who are in year 11 right now. I could even name them! Frankly, I think that the teachers should reprimand these types of girls more often, because it gives my school a bad name, when we are actually a very goo d school with high academic achievement.

    • QoT

      Anon, I think you would benefit from reading this primer on slut-shaming.

      By saying girls wearing short skirts “give your school a bad name” you are buying into a culture which judges you, along with every other woman, based on your body and your appearance and not your personality or intelligence or skills.

      Maybe you’ll never wear a short skirt in your life. But as long as you agree with men and people in positions of power that some women can be called sluts for wearing whatever, all women will suffer.

      Please do not name the girls in your school who wear short skirts as I will not allow further slut-shaming on my blog.

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