Mandatory modesty shorts for girls in school?

Hello, and in today’s edition of sexist bullshittery, I present you with this news story about a school in Yorkshire (sigh, really? C’mon guys, why is it always us??) making a “modesty short” policy. In case you missed it, Parkside Primary Academy in Royston near Barnsley came under fire this week for being one of several schools to create and enforce a “modesty short’ policy that states “In summer, blue checked dresses may be worn (but shorts must be worn underneath).”

Now you might read this and think… ok Harriet, why are your knickers in a twist, after all, we’ve all been in the playground and seen a kiddo hanging upside down on the monkey bars with their knickers on full display, haven’t we? This just gives them that extra layer of “protection” from people viewing their undies, right? Well, yes and no. Of course, on a logical level, we’re “protecting” young girls from having their underwear viewed by other children and adults, but my argument is that we’re talking about children as young as 4 and we’re effectively telling them that if they want to be “safe” it’s THEIR responsibility to seek protection. What in the name of fresh hell does that say to an impressionable 4 year old girl who was just innocently minding her business, swinging about on the jungle gym? It is already a common trend in Secondary schools for students to wear shorts under their skirts/dresses to protect themselves from upskirting – the *illegal* practice of taking a photo underneath some one’s skirt or directly looking underneath their skirt deliberately. Why have we instilled in young girls and women that it is their job to protect themselves against this ILLEGAL practice, and why are we encouraging 4 and 5 year old children to start considering it? When the suggestion was made by another school that students should use shorts under their dresses or skirts, parents questions the headteacher, who said it was in response to “concerns about children inadvertently showing their underwear while doing handstands”. He (and yes, I’m throwing HUGE side eyes at the fact that this is a man in charge of faculty who has set this rule in place) went on to say “While we do not want to give children messages that they are responsible for the actions of others, we cannot stand by while children’s actions may attract inappropriate attention from members of the public but did not act to protect them.” Cute words, but what other message do we think we’re sending? In my eyes, the “acting to protect them” part would be ensuring that the students or adults who were giving “inappropriate attention” were challenged, educated or prosecuted as necessary depending on the “attention” and age. I mean really? Who is the member of public in this scenario? I would be disturbed if some random person was watching my kids at school regardless of whether they had their knickers on display or where wearing a space suit.

Where does the buck stop with this? My daughter enjoys going to the swimming pool, she will either wear a swimsuit or a bikini – should she stop doing this because there are members of the public who may see her?

If that isn’t enough, let’s talk about how shaming this is – it subtly says to young girls that their bodies are something to hide away, that they are somehow responsible for any unwanted attention that they may receive and should act accordingly to prevent it. It has the subtle rumblings of rape culture that lay a foundation for more severe beliefs. Why on earth would anyone be surprised by the recent report from Ofsted that sexual harassment is commonplace in schools when this is the attitude of those in charge of 4 and 5 year old girls?


  1. Avatar
    July 8, 2021 / 3:12 am

    I went to an all girls school. 6,000 girls. We wore dresses and we were required to wear shorts under them. We reviled in making the male teachers feel uncomfortable by replacing the chalk with tampons and sticking pads on the door handles. I don’t think this comes down to the sole responsibility of one gender over the other. I think it is the responsibility of all. We lock our houses and have neighbourhood watch to protect ourselves from those that make poor life choices. Why wouldn’t we both empower our girls AND teach them to protect themselves at the same time. While educating our men on desexualizing woman’s bodies.
    You better believe my girls will be empowered AND will wear shorts under dresses AND go to self defence class to understand that their body is their temple and be equipped to both protect and defend it.

  2. Avatar June 18, 2021 / 8:02 pm

    When my 5 year old came home from reception a few weeks back, she was upset as all her friends had shorts on under their dresses because their mums had told them they mustn’t let the boys see their knickers! I never wore shorts under my school dress at 5 years old and thought it was only for older girls. But she was pretty upset so I took her to the shops to buy some for school the next day. I was pretty shocked at 5 years old having to do this with her already!

  3. Avatar
    June 17, 2021 / 9:21 am

    Absolutely makes my blood boil!!! My 15 year old daughter wouldn’t dream of going to school without shorts under her skirt because of the fear of anyone seeing her underwear. Her school also banned long socks on girls because of men/boys potentially seeing them as provocative, I mean wtf!! Why’s the responsibility on the girls when it’s the men/boys that could be thinking that. At my 8 yr old nieces school, girls aren’t allowed on play equipment unless they have shorts on under their dresses, my niece is slightly on the autistic spectrum and this has created massive issues about anyone seeing her pants.
    I as a women/mum/auntie/sister have worked so hard at creating strong, confident,empowered and caring girls and they just knocked all the time. EDUCATE men/boys on their behaviour rather than trying to put young girls in a “safe box”!!!

    • Harriet June 18, 2021 / 12:36 pm

      All of this. All of it. It’s enraging and infuriating – I think the kickback I have had has come back from people who actively choose that for themselves, but I have no issue with that at all because it allllllll boils down to choice. I have friend’s whose daughter’s choose shorts or playsuits and I’m not trying to dismiss that or make that seem wrong, but it’s about them choosing it and not being told that they HAVE to change their actions for a few unscrupulous people.

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