Dresses must be completely full length. This means below the ankle bone.
Dresses should not dip down between the cleavage area.
No slits higher than the top of the knee cap.
A woman must always wear a bonnet in public.
She should greet her superiors with blessed be the fruit.
Only those last two are from The Handmaid’s Tale. The rest are the rules female students must abide by if they want to attend the Kerikeri school ball.
Actually, it’s ironic to invoke The Handmaid’s Tale here, given that Serena Joy’s ankle-baring number wouldn’t make the Kerikeri grade.
I didn’t want to write this article, because it’s almost 2020, and we’re so far past this article. But then Kerikeri high school went and released a newsletter – complete with sketches – advising their students of what they are and (especially) are not allowed to wear to their school ball. I can’t believe I’m writing this article, and I almost didn’t. Then I read the Kerikeri newsletter, and my head fell off my shoulders and landed in my sinful bosom.
Not only does it include some rather rudimentary sketches of what appears to be a Jane Austen era nightie as a style guide, it also, without a hint of irony, includes pictures of models wearing the forbidden ‘slutty’ dresses. So, if anybody wants to have a gander at some leg or cleav, they’re right there in the school bulletin – all with the model’s heads, rather symbolically, chopped off.
Seriously, in my view, if Kerikeri high school can’t see how patriarchal these dress codes are, they’re as blind as a lippy handmaid.
The restrictions on male students are similarly bizarre, with the most egregious stipulation being that jackets must match and be the same colour as the pants.
Restrictions for everyone! How can that be patriarchal?
Because there’s a difference. There’s always a difference.
The boy rules (shoes must be formal, ties must be worn at all times) refer exclusively to clothing. In fact, male ankles, male chests, and male kneecaps are mentioned precisely zero times in the Kerikeri high school newsletter. There aren’t any decapitated male models for us to voyeuristically scrutinise, either.
But let’s be clear: the male section (at least as it refers to colourful jackets) is bullshit too. While red carpets are slowly becoming freer, more creative spaces for men, our boys are being shunted back into the boring, dusty closet.
Because of… what, exactly?
Would you look at that, it’s because of patriarchy.
Patriarchy insists that men are men and ladies are… virgins or whores. That’s on full display with these dress codes.
With its colour restrictions on males, Kerikeri high school tells its boy students that they don’t get to play with fashion. They don’t get to feel beyond the borders of heteronormativity. Because they’re men god dammit.
And the girl students? Well… we’ve heard this story before.
Much as a school might insist that their ‘high standards’ are there to give their students ‘the full experience of a formal ball’, these rules and restrictions (especially their specificity with regard to female body parts) didn’t spring out of a vacuum.
These rules, whether implemented by Kerikeri high school, or a media company, or my own alma mater St Dominic’s College, follow a very boring and predictable pattern – one we’ve seen played out for millennia.
Patriarchy insists that female bodies are shameful. In fact, that female bodies are distracting – particularly to men, who can’t afford to be distracted. It insists that men are bumbling idiots (except when it comes to the boardroom). That they are hapless morons, unwillingly chained to their own libidos. And it insists that the taming of the anarchic male libido is the responsibility of a woman.
Correction: in this case, it is the responsibility of a girl.
Women and girls are less safe in this world than men and boys. That’s been proven. But it is not incumbent on women and girls to circumvent danger by hiding our bodies. That doesn’t work – women are attacked in any state of dress – and it blames the victim.
Instead, it is incumbent on men and boys to not attack women and girls. It is incumbent on men and boys to understand consent, and respect, and that a person is never asking to be assaulted – that, in fact, that very sentence is oxymoronic.
School is meant to be a place of learning. It is meant to be a place of understanding, contextualising, growing, decoding. But until New Zealand schools start teaching these very basic life lessons… well, we’ll keep writing this article.Support Villainesse