Why Make Schoolgirls Wear Skirts, and Then Tell Them to ‘Cover Their Modesty’?

We asked our readers: Are skirts a practical garment for schoolgirls?

This was the prizewinning response from Jamna Agnihotri, Delhi:

I’m a mother of two daughters, age 15 and 13. Both study in co-eds; the elder one goes to a school where girls have to wear a buttoned blouse and pleated skirt. The younger one goes to a school where the uniform is tees and pants for both girls and boys.

As a mother, especially one who has daughters in both types of school clothing, I am completely against schools making skirts mandatory for girls.

The rules in my older daughter’s school say the skirt length should be exactly 4 inches above the knee. When the girl is younger, the problem is that she keeps outgrowing the skirt. One ends up altering the skirt length several times a year.

Short skirts also expose girls to mosquitoes and insects. In cooler weather, the girls have to shiver without adequate covering — only in peak winter are they allowed to wear stockings, which are also useless as they keep ripping and tearing.

When the girl is older, peer pressure dictates she must keep the skirt as short as possible for fashion’s sake — anything longer than 4 inches above the knee earns taunts for being ‘uncool’.

Peer pressure also dictates that she must wax her legs every two or three weeks even if she’s just 11 or 12 years old, keep her legs ‘well moisturised’, and make sure her knees aren’t ‘dry and dark’. Your little girl suddenly grows up and gets the message that she is a sexual being and her body has to be ‘maintained’ a certain way so as not to offend others.

And all this while, she is also told to make sure her ‘modesty is covered’. Girls have to be extra careful while playing sports or simply climbing up stairways so that their panties aren’t visible. Why put schoolgirls in short skirts and then restrict their movements? No wonder my daughter has major body-image issues though she is a perfectly healthy girl.

Mind you, schoolboys never have to face any of these issues and restrictions!

My other daughter, who wears pants to school, has it much better. She isn’t bothered about waxing or behaving ‘ladylike’. She is into athletics and considers herself as tough as the boys in all ways. She is free to focus on more important things rather than her appearance.

I myself wore a salwar-kameez to school, and while that garment too had its cons, the liberty to move about and be unselfconscious was worth it.

I believe skirts are an invention of a patriarchal mind — one that wanted to restrict girls’ movements and give pleasure to the male gaze. It has only cons in all aspects: to a girl’s mental and physical health and to our society as a whole that ends up fetishizing schoolgirls. I really don’t know who had this ridiculous idea in the first place!

Jamna wins a copy of ‘Homesick For Another World’ by Ottessa Moshfegh. Congratulations!