School Uniforms: Reinforcing Patriarchal Norms?

I’ve been frantically running around tonight making sure my children’s school uniforms are ready for tomorrow morning. This activity never fails to make me cranky; not because of the “laundry” aspect but because it reminds me just how much I hate the whole issue of uniforms. Inevitably, anyone who is acquainted with me will have heard sections of this rant because I truly believe the only reason for school uniforms is to reinforce capitalist-patriarchal norms.

The following is an amended rant from a post originally made on the Mumsnet talk boards:

This might be very disjointed and take several points to get across because I’ve come to this point from several areas: a background in education, as a mother, as a feminist, and as someone who is beyond angry at how children, and more specifically teenagers, are demonised.
1) Educational aspect: the theory is that children in uniforms learn better because they aren’t concerned about clothing and that uniforms denote respect and causes children to behave better.

I think the theory that children behave better in uniforms is horseshit. Children respond to adults who respect themselves, their colleagues and the students. Behaviour is better in schools which have effective management teams with good teachers who are supported. The best uniform in the world won’t make up for bad management, poor teaching and under resourced schools. It can’t compensate for serious social problems in children’s families or poor teaching. Kids in jeans in a good school with a good headteacher will preform well because they are respected and want to not because they are wearing or not wearing a tie.

Many, many countries do not use school uniforms and have just as much good behaviour, bad behaviour and ‘results’ as UK schools. It must be noted that most schools will still have a uniform policy banning offensive t-shirts, non-existent skirts, and, in inner-cities, banning gang colours. These bans are reasonable.

2) Poverty: The theory is that all children in the same outfit means that kids won’t get bullied over clothing. This is wrong. If your school has an expensive uniform available from only one shop, the poorest parents won’t be able to afford it anyways. Kids can also tell the difference between clothes from Tescos and clothes from M&S, even in schools which have generic cheap uniforms. They can tell the difference between boots bought from Clarks and knock-offs from ShoeZone. If they are bullied for clothing, they are just as likely to be bullied for wearing thread-bare too small uniform as they are for wearing Tescos brand jeans.

This argument also fails to address the issue of bullying. Bullies go after the weakest link. If it isn’t uniform, it will be something else. The problem is not that the children are dressed the same or not; the problem is that the school has a culture of bullying which is not being addressed effectively. That’s the definition of a shit school. Pretending that clothes will make it go away is naive and disrespectful to the children who are victimised by bullying. It makes them responsible for being bullied because they aren’t dressed appropriately rather than blaming the bullying on the bully and the school environment which allows them to continue without intervention.

Bullying and our bullying culture is part of the patriarchal structure of our society which sets up everyone in a hierarchy of importance. It also marginalises any child who does not ‘fit’ the mold.

3) Conformity: I think maintaining conformity is about maintaining our hierarchical society. I believe it is misogynistic as well as classist: setting out a clear difference between those who are important and those who are not.

4) Material Culture of Uniforms: Uniforms tend to be of poor quality, prone to die problems and rip easily. it is more expensive to keep replacing cheap items of clothing that it is to purchase new better quality clothes. jeans from Tescos (£10) last a lot longer on a physical child that a pair of cheap nylon trousers. If you have more than one child, you are more likely to get more wear out of Tescos jeans than you are the cheap nylon trousers.

5) Respect: This is where I think the issue of uniforms moves into questions of patriarchy. I think, in many ways, they are outward emblems of social control designed to make children ‘others’. If you think of the work which requires uniforms, most are of low status and equally low pay [sanitation workers etc]; many of these jobs which are frequently preformed by women.

It is also the outward signifier of respect: those in power require these to make themselves feel better. Its like the idea that you can never be rude to your ‘elders’ because they are old, they must be obeyed. Why should you have to respect a 90 year old man because he’s old. He may also be a paedophile, have committed severe violence against his wife or children, be a violent alcoholic. Requiring respect for being old implies that the opposite, children, require no respect. As a society, we are reaping serious social damage due to our lack of respect for our children.

There are so many other things that schools need to worry about; such as children who are being abused at home, or who are being bullied, ensuring that all kids leave literate even if they have multiple severe problems, which makes continuous school attendance difficult. Arguing over a tie just seems petty. The argument becomes you must wear the tie because I told you to not because it is of any benefit to you.

The other part is the more time we spend faffing about over uniforms, the less time we spend actually ensuring that the kid who is lashing out isn’t lashing out because he’s just testing boundaries [normal for teenagers] but is lashing out because of abuse, anxiety, fear or a 101 other reasons. Uniforms are a form of hierarchical social control and, fundamentally, only serve to reinforce patriarchal norms at the expense of our children’s education and their self-respect.

Sexualised Violence Against Jewish Women in the Holocaust

In December 2010, a significant text on the experience of Jewish women in the Holocaust was published. The book, Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During the Holocaust, wasn’t the first text to address the issue of sexualized violence in the Holocaust. After all, survivors started writing about their experiences in diaries during the war and testimonies published in the immediate post-war era. However, and as with the experience of many women in history, these stories were subsumed and eradicated in a discourse that universalised the experience of men; even though men also experienced sexual violence during the Holocaust.*  Rape, during the Holocaust, was not a systemic part of the genocide, as seen in Bosnia, but the frequency with which it occurred suggests, at the very least, a policy of mass-rape as a by-product.

It is an honour and a privilege to be a contributor to this text and I cannot thank Rochelle G Saidel and Sonja M Hedgepeth for their tireless work in ensuring that Jewish women’s experiences aren’t forgotten. It is a testament to their work that  Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During the Holocaust was one of the key pieces of research that led to Gloria Steinam to founding the Women Under Siege online project. It features 6 conflicts during the 20th century in which rape is used as a tactic of war: Holocaust, Bangladesh, Rwanda, Darfur-Sudan, Egypt and Libya as well as blog posts on sexualised violence in other war zones in the 20th century. The erasure of the gendered experiences of women in war from mainstream political and historical analysis is shameful and the most concrete example of Patriarchal-Capitalist Misogyny in practise.

This International Women’s Day, we need to stand up for these women and make sure their voices are heard; that their experiences are no longer white-washed out of history in order to support the aims of the destructive patriarchal  military-industrial complex.

Sexual Violence Against Jewish Women During the Holocaust Contents

1. Aspects of Sexual Violence

Death and the Maidens: Prostitution, Rape and Sexual Slavery during World War Two by Nomi Levenkrom

Sexualised Violence against Women during Nazi “Racial” Persecution by Brigitte Halbmayr

Sexual Exploitation of Jewish Women in Nazi Concentration Camp Brothels by Robert Sommer

Schillinger and the Dancer: Representing Agency and Sexual Violence in Holocaust Testimonies by Kirsty Chatwood

2. Rape of Jewish Women

“Only Pretty Women Were Raped”: The Effect of Sexual Violence on Gender Identities in the Concentration Camps by Monika J. Flaschka 

The Tragic Fate of Ukrainian Jewish Women Under Nazi Occupation, 1941-1944 by Anatoly Podolsky

The Rape of Jewish Women during the Holocaust by Helene J. SinnreichRape and Sexual Abuse in Hiding by Zoe Waxman

3. Assaults on Motherhood

Reproduction Under the Swastika: The Other Side of the Glorification of
Motherhood by Helga Amesberger

Forced Sterilisation and Abortion as Sexual Abuse by Ellen Ben-Sefer

4. Sexual Violence in Literature and Cinema

Sexual Abuse in Holocaust Literature: Memoir and Fiction by S. Lillian Kremer

“Stoning the Messenger”: Yehiel Dinur’s House of Dolls and Piepel by Miryam Sivan

Nava Semel’s And the Rat Lauged: A Tale of Sexual Violation by Sonja Hedgepath and Rochelle Saidel

“Public Property”: Sexual Abuse of Women and Girls in Cinematic Memory by Yvonne Kozlovsky-Golan

 5. The Violated Self

Sexual Abuse of Jewish Women during and after the Holocaust: A Psychological Perspective by Eva Fogelman

The Shame is Always There by Esther Dror and Ruth Linn

Other Academic Texts Discussing Sexualised Violence During the Holocaust
Elizabeth R. Baer & Myrna Goldenberg, Experience and Expression: Women, The Nazis and the Holocaust, (Detroit: Wayne University State Press, 2003)Judith Tydor Baumel, Double Jeopardy: Gender and the Holocaust, (London: Vallentine Mitchell, 1998)

Renate Bridenthal, Atina Grossmann & Marion Kaplan, When Biology Became Destiny: Women in Weimar and Nazi Germany, (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1984)

Jonathon C. Friedman, Speaking the Unspeakable: Essays on Sexuality, Gender and Holocaust Survivor Memory, (Lanham: University Press of America, 2002)

Esther Fuchs, Women and the Holocaust: Narrative and Representation, (Lanham: University Press of America, 1993)

Marlene E. Heinemann, Gender and Destiny: Women Writers and the Holocaust, (New York: Greenwood Press, 1986)

Esther Hertzog, Life, Death and Sacrifice: Women and Family in the Holocaust, (Jerusalem: Gefen Publishing House, 2008)

R. Ruth Linden, Making Stories, Making Selves: Feminist Reflections on the Holocaust, (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1993)

Dalia Ofer & Lenore Weitzman, Women in the Holocaust, (Yale: Yale University Press, 1998)

Carol Rittner & John K. Roth, Different Voices: Women and the Holocaust, (Minnesota, Paragon House, 1993)Rochelle Saidel, The Jewish Women of Ravensbruck Concentration Camp, (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2004)

Zoe Waxman, Writing the Holocaust: Identity, Testimony and Representation, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006)

 

*

Gavin De Becker’s The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect us From Violence


The February Non-Fiction Mumsnet Feminist book club was Gavin De Becker’s The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect us from Violence. It isn’t an explicitly feminist text [and, obviously, not written by a woman] but I was so incensed by the absolute misogynistic twaddle being peddled as “romance” in Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife that I think the following information can not be stressed enough:

(T)here are many reliable pre-incident indicators associated with spousal violence and murder. They won’t all be present in every case, but if a situation has several of these signals, there is reason for concern:

1) The woman has intuitive feelings that she is at risk.

2) At the inception of the relationship, the man accelerated the pace, prematurely placing on the agenda such things as commitment, living together, and marriage.

3) He resolves conflict with intimidation, bullying, and violence.

4) He is verbally abusive.


5) He uses threats and intimidation as instruments of control or abuse. This includes threats to harm physically, to defame, to embarrass, to restrict freedom, to disclose secrets, to cut off support, to abandon, and to commit suicide.

6) He breaks or strikes things in anger. He uses symbolic violence (tearing a wedding photo, marring a face in a photo, etc.).

7) He has battered in prior relationships.

8) He uses alcohol or drugs with adverse affects (memory loss, hostility, cruelty).

9) He cites alcohol or drugs as an excuse or explanation for hostile or violent conduct (“That was the booze talking, not me; I got so drunk I was crazy”).

10) His history includes police encounters for behavioral offenses (threats, stalking, assault, battery).

11) There has been more than one incident of violent behavior (including vandalism, breaking things, throwing things).

12) He uses money to control the activities, purchases, and behavior of his wife/ partner.

13) He becomes jealous of anyone or anything that takes her time away from the relationship; he keeps her on a “tight leash,” requires her to account for her time.

14) He refuses to accept rejection.

15) He expects the relationship to go on forever, perhaps using phrases like “together for life,” “always,” “no matter what.”

16) He projects extreme emotions onto others (hate, love, jealousy, commitment) even when there is no evidence that would lead a reasonable person to perceive them.

17) He minimizes incidents of abuse.

18) He spends a disproportionate amount of time talking about his wife/ partner and derives much of his identity fiom being her husband, lover, etc.

19) He tries to enlist his wife’s friends or relatives in a campaign to keep or recover the relationship.

20) He has inappropriately surveilled or followed his wife/ partner.

21) He believes others are out to get him. He believes that those around his wife/partner dislike him and encourage her to leave.

22) He resists change and is described as inflexible, unwilling to compromise.

23) He identifies with or compares himself to violent people in films, news stories, fiction, or history He characterizes the violence of others as justified.

24) He suffers mood swings or is sullen, angry, or depressed.

25) He consistently blames others for problems of his own making; he refuses to take responsibility for the results of his actions.

26) He refers to weapons as instruments of power, control, or revenge.

27) Weapons are a substantial part of his persona; he has a gun or he talks about, jokes about, reads about, or collects weapons.

28) He uses “male privilege” as a justification for his conduct (treats her like a servant, makes all the big decisions, acts like the “master of the house”).

29) He experienced or witnessed violence as a child.

30) His wife/partner fears he will injure or kill her. She has discussed this with others or has made plans to be carried out in the event of her death (e.g., designating someone to care for children).

De Becker’s book is not without criticism particularly in its use of “choice” discourse in discussing intimate partner violence [IPV]. There are two clearly competing and conflicting theories: one in which women need to trust their instincts to prevent being victims and one in which women are being held responsible for being victims. He’s quite honest about his abusive father and I wonder how much of the second theory is [unconscious] unresolved anger at his own mother for not “protecting” him even though he [consciously] understands the pathology of IPV. However, the psychological IPV in The Paris Wife is so constant and insidious that the idea that it can be “romantic” is dangerous, destructive and the reason that Mumsnet has such a well-used Relationships board.