The trend toward making everything gender neutral (unisex in old money) is gaining momentum.
Canada is introducing gender-neutral passports. Citizens will have the option of M, F or X on their passports.
John Lewis has announced that all its children’s clothing range will be ‘gender neutral’ from now on. This means that instead of the label reading boy or girl, it will now read ‘boy and girl.’
When I heard this, my first thought was, is there a third category that I am not aware of? Are we heading towards every child being called it, rather than he or she in order to not offend anyone? Does it mean that boys will have the option of wearing skirts to school, or that girls will no longer have the option to wear skirts? Now that would be true equality, I thought!
It seems some schools are also following suit. The TES reported that Priory School in Lewes, East Sussex has banned girls from wearing skirts to make their uniform gender neutral. It reports the reason is ‘to make the uniform gender neutral for transgender pupils and to deal with complaints about the decency of short skirts.’
Bishop of Llandaff Church-in-Wales High School in Cardiff has introduced unisex toilets. It is reported these toilets have cost the school up to £20,000.00. (Many would argue that money would be better spent on classroom resources). The school has said these toilets have been installed as a practical solution and it is not about gender.
For me, this raises more questions than it answers. For example:
- How will this neutrality transfer into job equality?
- What difference will it make to your job prospects if you wore a skirt or trousers to school?
- Does that mean that girls will be objectified less and be treated as serious prospects for top jobs?
- Most of all (being a cynic), what is the reason behind this new trend.
The answer lies in economics. We are now, more than ever competing on a global scale, so our workforce is compared to the global workforce and in the 2015 United Nations Sustainable Goals (17 of them to ‘transform our world’) with a target of achieving them by 2030. Gender equality is goal number 5.
In the UK, equal pay was only made statutory 37 years ago, yet currently, according to Prowess only 17% of UK company owners are women, whilst in 2015 a survey found that 5.5% of company CEO’s were female. In 2011 there were more than 20 boards of FTSE 100 companies, that were all male. Today there are none.
On average, men still earn 16 to 18% more per hour than women.
Academically, girls consistently outperform boys, but when it comes to the workplace, women consistently fail to keep up. However, on closer inspection, it is much more complex.
65% of boys compared with only 43% of girls take up Maths at A Level out of those that have achieved grade A’s in their GCSE Maths. Only 29% of all students are female Further Maths students; a crucial subject if you wish to study a STEM subject at degree level.
More than likely is the role of family responsibilities, which are not shared equally. Women are much more likely to take career breaks and often will not go back to a full-time job. But as women begin to gain financial parity, will this become less relevant?
Surely, rather than worrying about skirts and trousers, the focus should be more on hidden gender biases in the curriculum. For example, look at the historical stereotypes of men and women, or the tokenisation and objectification of women in our class resources.
If the underlying structures are reorganised to create and promote gender equality, this will surely have a much greater impact than what style of uniform is being worn to school.
It is clearly a mammoth task, but one that I feel cannot be avoided if true gender equality is to be achieved.