How School Let Me Down

How School Let Me Down

An environment that failed to encourage solidarity between myself and other women, instead pitting us against each-other through sexuality.

This is an excerpt from Madison's Zine - 'Intersectional Feminism', Published by Accidental Discharge (2015). Header photo via.

I have always had the mindset that I was going to school purely to learn; that my parents were paying for me to have the best teachers and resources. I was not prepared for the social aspect and expectations that were required of us to be considered the independent young women my school prided itself on producing. Understandably schools want to maintain a respectable reputation, but to what extent do we define respectable? It being the 21st century, it seems outdated to be scrutinised on the length of a skirt to meet criteria, anything above the knees being reprimanded. In one instance during a visit to a nearby boys school, my sister was required to wear track pants instead of shorts whilst wearing the sports uniform to avoid the risk of ‘distracting’ the male students. It astounded me that such a progressive institution would perpetuate rape culture, even in the most low-key of ways. To those unfamiliar with the term ‘rape culture’, I am referring to issues relating to sexual violence and the normalisation and pervasion of these issues, including unwarranted sexualisation.

It is unsettling that young girls are already being told to cover themselves to avoid a perverted response from teenage boys and older men: this mentality is subliminally being engrained in them, even if it is unintentional. Too often girls are instructed on how to prepare themselves to prevent rape, as girls are seen as the problem. Never are the boys educated on rape prevention. ‘Black bras’ were a running joke throughout high school; we were constantly reminded not to wear them. The school’s reasoning being, the risk of them showing through our school shirts and ‘distracting’ and/or making male teachers feel uncomfortable. Aesthetically I understand the outline of a black bra showing through a white blouse is unappealing, however the fact that their reasoning was consistently related to male teachers is unnerving. Firstly you should be reminded that the sole function of a bra is to to hold breasts in place, so if it makes you uncomfortable your level of maturity and view of the female body is questionable. Secondly, and more disturbingly, if you are distracted by the slight outline of a bra on a teenage girl, the school should absolutely be re-evaluating your position as a teacher.

Is it really necessary to punish girls for something as irrelevant to their schooling as a bra outline? I think it’s important to address that the definition of an ‘independent young woman’ has changed, society has come to grips with including the idea of female sexuality in that statement. It seemed hypocritical to hear the principal of my school proclaim herself a feminist whilst still embodying sexist principles in school regulations. A woman in such a position of power over young impressionable minds should be encouraging students to challenge the view of the female body as inherently sexual, opposed to shaming them for the possibility of unwanted sexual attention.

As an elitist all girls school we were pitted against girls at other schools, and although I agree competition can be a healthy motivator, the rivalry wasn’t purely academic. Surely many of my classmates will remember a speech given very early on in middle school, by an authoritative member of staff, that included the quote ‘we open our laptops not our legs’ in regards to another all girls school in a neighbouring suburb. Of course we all found it hilarious that a teacher would say such a crude thing, it’s not till now I consider the negative implications of such a poisonous attitude.

This lead to us slut shaming and putting other girls down in order to justify our success. This is not the way to produce independent young women. The mentality of putting girls down for their achievement in spite has followed me through high school and has been hard to break. I had no guidance or introduction to feminism; I wasn’t aware that I didn’t have to agree with every ideal our civilisation had constructed. Although I feel because of the word's nature it has taken me longer to become socially aware. Upon leaving high school I didn’t feel like an independent young woman. After over a year of soul searching I’m finally at the point where I feel liberated from all the expectations imposed on me throughout those years in an environment that entirely failed to encourage solidarity between myself and other women, instead pitting us against each-other by exposing our sexuality years too early.