Uniforms for a Gender-Neutral World
Every morning in high school, I would open my closet to a dozen hanging button-down shirts and pleated skirts. Standing there, I faced my biggest fashion choice of the day—white, navy, or khaki.
I never liked having a uniform. With the bland look and my annoyance at the lack of color choices, I could not help but feel suffocated. Even on the rare occasion that we had a “dress down day,” there was a strict code to follow: no ripped jeans, no tank tops, no shirts where your “midriff shows,” no short shorts, and the list goes on. It was not just the clothes either. We also could not dye our hair unless it was a natural hair color. So my only choice was blonde—great, there go my lava girl dreams.
At the time, I felt frustrated that these rules seemed to target girls specifically. Boys were not yelled at by teachers for wearing low-cut shirts or skirts that were too short. The more I thought about it though, I came to realize that these rules were not just undermining feminism, but also uplifting dangerous gender roles. Would Harry Styles have been sent to the office for painting his nails and wearing dresses? There was no rule in place for when a boy showed up in a skirt because people seemed to think that this was unthinkable.
Finally, during my senior year, my school made the dress code “gender-neutral.” There were no separate columns for males and females because everyone was now to follow the same rules. The previous code stated that boys had to keep their hair shorter than their collar, but now they could grow it out as long as they wanted. If a boy wanted to show up in a skirt, they had to follow the same “fingertip length” rule that I did. This was a big step for my conservative suburban high school, and I may have been one of the few people who appreciated this change. However, it most certainly stands as a precedent for the future high schoolers at that school. I can only hope that the student body is as accepting as the new administration’s rules when someone decides to finally go against the standard that my classmates and I had followed for so long.
The reason I bring up my trivial high school days is because this has become a global issue. I recently came across an article discussing how some Japanese students are trying to create a more gender-neutral school dress code. It made me think about how lucky I was to even be able to wear pants as a uniform since that is usually only part of the “winter uniform” in Japan for girls. Some schools do not even give that option, and their dress code is usually even stricter than mine was. Forget about a boy coming to school in a girl’s uniform—genders tend to be rigidly categorized in Japan.
Gender must be taken out of uniforms in Japan, the U.S., or any other country. When I have recently introduced myself to people, I often tell them my pronouns (she/her). While in Japanese it is easier to speak in gender-neutral language, there now exists a wide range of genders and pronouns that people need to be aware of. On top of the identity issues that might come with trying to figure out one’s gender, students should not have to struggle with the clothes that they wear to school. For schools to be truly as diverse and inclusive as they claim, they must allow students to fully express themselves.
Graphics by Ayumi White
Edited by Emiru Okada