Girls share their experiences of all the little sexist things that happened at school
‘I was told by a teacher I needed to be sexy and seductive to get a part in a school play. I was 11’
If you’re a girl and you’ve been to school, you’ve probably experienced sexism. Catty comments, male teachers ‘feeling uncomfortable’, skirt measuring – it is likely you were given very little freedom in what you could wear and what you could do. Girls at school are so restricted that it’s sometimes not until years later that they realise how sexist things were. The Tab interviewed 20 women aged between 19 to 25 about things they have realised were not acceptable, and continue to hurt young women today.
Being told you were a distraction
All of our fashion choices and behaviour seemed to be judged by their effect on boys. Antonia, 19, said: “In 6th form, the girls in my year were told that wearing nail varnish in school might ‘send the wrong message to your male peers.'” We couldn’t even wear sparkly Barry M nail-polish lest boys lose concentration in A-Level Maths.
This distraction wasn’t just limited to male students. Alice, 21, experienced this with teachers. She was told: “We mustn’t wear our trousers too tight else it would make the male teachers ‘uncomfortable.'”
The subjects you could do depended on your gender
If you thought gender roles were left in the 1950s, you’re wrong. Charlotte, 19, said: “I was told I shouldn’t do maths because I’m a girl and girls do English.”
21-year-old Amadine’s gender went as far as restricting what instruments she could play. “In music class only boys were allowed to play drums even though I was DYING to try and was a musician and asked several times. The teacher told the girls she didn’t trust us.”
Male teachers policing your every move
Lottie, 22, said she was humiliated by male teachers. “A teacher told me I made him feel uncomfortable coming to work and accused me of having ‘loose morals’ because I had an extra shirt button undone once after PE, I told him the problem wasn’t me, it was him being a perv and he threatened to exclude me and made me come to his office and read a letter of apology to him.”
School uniform problems were endless
From intrusive skirt checks, to inappropriate comments by teachers, school uniform was almost weaponised against us.
Kilt skirts are often the main culprit in internalised uniform sexism. India, 20, had her skirt measured daily “using a tape measure that was stuck to the doorframe”. You don’t see boys ties being measured do you?
The uniform issues also happened outdoors. Natalie, 25, experienced discrimination on the sports field when she was 11. She was “one of a handful of girls not allowed to wear shorts for P.E, even during the summer. I had to do Sports Day in tracksuit bottoms. The reason was because I would distract the boys.”
You were sexualised from the age of 10
Everything we did, and didn’t, was sexualised. Ella, 19, was told during a PSHE lesson that their school uniform kilts “shouldn’t be rolled up past our knees because they were too resemblant to school girl porn.” There are few things as ridiculous as equating mandatory school uniform with fetish porn.
Drama lessons became were the worse. Jess, 25, was “told by a teacher I needed to be sexy and seductive to get a part in a school play. I was 11.”
Grace, 23, was also sexualised by her tutor. Her tutor often commented on uniform and make-up, deciding that it was reasonable to tell a girl “it looked like she worked in a brothel.”
Being judged on your appearance
Grace, 25, experienced prejudice based on her long, blonde hair. “I’d just started year 10 and a new school. A few weeks into term we were due some English essay marks back. My teacher came over to me in a lunch break, when I was with 6 people and said: ‘Well, you’re not as dumb as you look are you?’ and handed me my paper back with an A.”
Irrelevant comments that never would have been made to boys
The amount of general rubbish that we hear based on our gender is unbelievable. Rosie, 19, told us that in her private school, a form tutor “went into registration one morning and said to a class full of girls ‘right ladies who’s off to be a bride of ISIS?'”
Issues with your boobs
Some girls have bigger boobs than others and this can happen early and quickly. One day you’re wearing your white cotton vest, the next day you’re being dragged to M&S for underwire bras. Amy, 23, experienced massive discrimination for her 32G breasts. “I was once told in PE that my sports bra wasn’t supportive enough for my boobs by a male and a female member of staff. I have no idea why this was a concern to members of staff, why they were looking at my boobs and why it was in front of so many people.”
Having to tell everyone you were on your period just to use the toilet
Becky, 20, said that a teacher at her school “used to ask us if we were on our periods before being allowed to go to the toilet”. You shouldn’t have to say your womb is bleeding just to be able to go for a wee.
The credit card test to determine the length of your skirt
Lizzie, 20, experienced what every girl did at Catholic secondary schools; the dreaded credit card test. You were made to either stand up straight, or even worse, be on your knees, while a teacher’s credit card was shoved against your legs to determine whether it fit with school ‘rules’. The teachers usually didn’t have to do it with their short skirts. At her school, “the teachers would stand at the front of the lunch queue measuring girl’s skirts which as a young teen was pretty uncomfortable, especially if the teacher was male.” Not only was it embarrassing and awkward, it was made worse being in front of everyone else.
Being called a slut as the go-to insult
Girls can be their own worst enemies. For Amy, 21, when she went to her head of year that she was a ‘slut’ she was told: “There was no smoke without fire”.
Attention seeking, and ‘girls will be girls’
Annabelle, 20, was maliciously bullied over Facebook but told by the school that it was just “girls being girls”. No excuse for years of emotional trauma.
The go-to insult by male teachers often has far-reaching, internalised effects on young women. Daisy, 24, got shouted at by a male teacher because “he said I was ‘clearly attention seeking’ because of how I wore my school uniform.”
When people put limits on your future
Natasha, 20, was told to give up when didn’t get the university she wanted because she was “pretty and not used to rejection.” She was put off from reapplying from the university again – all because a teacher couldn’t get past her appearance.
Imogen, 23, was called out in front of her entire year with a throwaway comment that actually wasn’t funny. “Worked on a project with a guy in A-Level media and created a TV ad to demonstrate how women are sexualised in the media. I was called out in our final year assembly and told I had an illustrious career ahead of me in the porn industry. This didn’t happen to the boy.”
Chloe, 22, spoke of her experience in secondary school, where two girls left in the first week, possibly due to the sexist comments made my a male teacher for humour. “In my first week of Sixth Form, the male Head of Year told us not to wear tight shirts and skirts shorter than knee length as he “doesn’t want to have to follow you around measuring it”, this was said while laughing. It was deeply uncomfortable to be singled out like that so early on and two girls left the school before the end of the first fortnight.”