Dozens of boys at a state school in Devon, England defied gender norms on Thursday when they showed up to Exeter's Isca Academy in tartan skirts, swapping uniforms with their female classmates.
Yet the motivation for the protest was practical rather than political: why can girls bare their legs in hot weather while boys must suffer the heat in clingy trousers?
Grumblings about Isca Academy’s uniform policy began earlier in the week, when boys threatening to wear shorts were reportedly told by school authorities that they’d be put in the school’s “isolation room”--or sent home.
Headteacher Aimee Mitchell also floated the option of wearing skirts, in jest, prompting a handful of boys to take her up on the offer yesterday, and some fifty other young men to follow suit on Thursday.
The subversion of Isca Academy’s gendered dress code was not entirely well received by school authorities, according to local news reports. One teenage student, Josh Baxter, was allegedly told to change out of his skirt “because I had hairy legs.”
Another boy told DevonLive.com that he was punished because his skirt was too short. Deliberately or unwittingly, school authorities at Isca Academy re-enforced the same gender norms that apply to girls in skirts.
Isca Academy did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment. In a public statement, Headteacher Andrea Mitchell suggested uniform “adjustments” to accommodate students in the heat: ties could be removed, and shirts could be unbuttoned at the top and untucked during lessons.
“We recognize that the last few days have been exceptionally hot and we are doing our utmost to enable both students and staff to remain as comfortable as possible,” Mitchell said, noting that while “shorts are not currently part of our uniform for boys” she would “be happy to consider a change for the future and will talk to families and staff further about this in the coming weeks.”
It’s not just the students who are agitating for a dress code policy change. One parent, 30-year-old Clare Reeves, complained on behalf of her son to local reporters: "The girls are allowed to wear skirts all year round so I think it's completely unfair that the boys can't wear shorts,” she said, adding--quite earnestly--that she’s “just really concerned about how the heat is going to affect him.”
Meanwhile, a similar rebellion against a no-shorts-policy broke out among male bus drivers in western France on Thursday, with a handful of drivers taking the wheel in skirts instead of pants.
“We asked to be able to wear clothing suitable for the high temperatures, but were told we couldn’t wear shorts. Because skirts are authorised, we are wearing them,” Didier Sauvetre, a bus driver and union representative in Nantes, France, told local reporters.
At Isca Academy and in France, the message among skirt-donning protesters was clear: boys and men will happily subvert society’s gendered dress codes if their demands for pants-optional attire aren’t met.
The students and bus drivers who embraced gender-blurring dress may signal a larger shift in Western culture, wherein men are increasingly comfortable wearing women’s clothes than men’s clothes--either for practical purposes or as an expression of identity.
Last year, male students at Buchanan High School in Fresno, California wore dresses and jewelry to protest a school policy that forbid boys to grow their hair long hair and which insisted that dresses and skirts were strictly for girls.
At a time when progressives and the LGBT community in the U.S. are advocating for states to enforce gender-neutral bathrooms--an uphill battle under the Trump administration, which has effectively withdrawn federal support for them--students are digging in their heels in the fight for non-gendered dress codes.
Pushing a progressive agenda was not a primary concern for the boys who wore skirts at Isca Academy on Thursday, nor for the bus drivers who did so in France. But their desire to stay cool in the heat still manifested in a powerful--and playful--statement for gender quality.