Friday, November 12, 2010

Short skirt debacle an insight into sexism in New Zealand

By Felice Marshall

The response to the Dominion Post article 'School dean upsets pupil with “slut” comment' (Nov 11) speaks volumes as to the state of sexism in New Zealand. Out of the five letters published in the Dom Post (Nov 13) all attacked the 14 year old for wearing a short skirt and defended the teacher for labelling the girl a 'slut' .

Let's weigh this up. A 14 year old female Newlands college student wore her skirt above her knees for which her female dean called her a slut. Several things are at work here. Firstly, the use of the term slut is undeniably sexist. It implies that through her choice of dress the student is making herself sexually available in an indiscriminate and negative way, something that echos of the rape apologist 'she was asking for it' mentality. Wearing a short skirt – something that is socially appropriate in New Zealand – does not make you a slut, and therefore cannot make you look like a slut. Even if a female does choose to dress in a way that is intended (by her) to express her sexuality, it does not make her a slut. The word slut is a derogratory word intended to marginalise female sexuality. Men are never called sluts because male sexuality is not considered threatening, it is a legitmate and desirable attribute of being a male in our male-dominated society. Calling the young women a slut also sends mixed messages. All our media, advertising and entertainment portrays the wearing of certain types of clothing by females, including short skirts, as not only socially appropriate and acceptable but indeed a prerequisite for social acceptability.

Secondly, it is particularly upsetting that a female teacher should have victimised a young woman with such a derogatory comment, merely to enforce an inherently sexist dress code. However more troubling is the public response to the incident Comments such as “If the parents of Newlands College girl don't like her being told she looks like a slut (which from the photo and description, she does) I suggest they change her clothing and attitude” highlight the apparently predominant attitude that how females dress is indicative of their sexual promiscuity – an unacceptable attitude that the feminists amoung us have worked hard to dispell. There is no way to use the word slut that does not imply a negative sexual connatation . The bulk of the letters were concerned with defending the teacher citing her good “rapport with her students” and “how good at her job she is”, both of which in no way justify or excuse to her derogatory comment. Characterising the wearing of short skirts as 'slutty' has far reaching social effects that often result in the sexual assault of women by men who argue provocation due to a womens attire.

Perhaps, instead of an in depth discussion about the length of a skirt we should question why we endorse the mandatory wearing of skirts for females at uniformed schools in the first place. Why is it that females must wear skirts in order to attend the majority of public high schools in New Zealand? The requirement of a sexually delinated mode of dressing enforced on our young people further catergorises them according to socially archaic and psychologically restricting gender roles.