Friday, June 21, 2024

Girls in pants, boys in skirts, blue hair; seriously, what’s the fuss?

The new school year is upon us, and that means one thing (fine, several things, but also this one): it’s time to argue about school uniforms!

In addition to uniforms, I’ve noticed an uptick this year in discussions regarding how students can wear their hair. For example, Mexico’s government agency the National Council for the Prevention of Discrimination (Conapred) noted in a press release on August 19 — just a few days after high schoolers universally returned to in-person classes — that during Mexico’s two years of distance learning due to COVID-19, many students had suddenly had a lot more freedom to wear their hair how they wanted and dress how they wanted while attending school.

Suddenly, it added, with the return of students of all ages (primary school to university) returning to school campuses en masse, the number of kids being denied entry to their schools for reasons like having long hair (boys), or hair dyed unacceptable colors had shot up. In fact, since some schools in Mexico started bringing back kids to in-person classes in January, the agency has to date recorded 487 cases in 2022 of students being denied entry for these two reasons.

At my daughter’s school (disclaimer: it’s a hippie private school), I’ve seen almost as many boys as girls with long hair and a few with fun hair colors like green and pink. The only rule regarding hair is that it needs to be pulled back; if there’s one thing we’re against, it’s lice, people!

Needless to say, it’s a fashionable, gel-filled place.

Anyway! Back to the uniforms. There’s been a lot of talk lately in Mexico about children’s rights to express themselves in terms of how they dress and generally decorate themselves, with the latest argument regarding uniforms from Veracruz Deputy Gonzalo Durán Chincoya, a lawmaker who identifies as nonbinary.

Durán says that schools should adopt gender-neutral uniform policies because “students should be able to dress in line with the free development of their personalities.”

I won’t lie, I’m not always sure what to think about the gender panorama before us and what it means. I’m not even totally sure how big or intense of a discussion it really is, as social media has a tendency to amplify everything, making issues online Very Big (and usually angry) Deals while in the real world, they could very well be minor issues that most people feel fairly relaxed about.

But honestly, I’m often generally confused by it. Durán … we would say “themself” in English, right? Durán themself, as well as many other self-identifying nonbinary people I have met, seems to present very clearly as someone on one specific end of the “gender binary.” This is fine —  I try to follow a clearly defined “you do you” policy — I’m just confused by it.

Because what does it mean to identify as nonbinary, then? (While writing this, actually, my sister passed me this helpful guide regarding terms.)

I suppose my bigger question, actually, is why is it so important for some people to identify as neither a man nor a woman rather than, as I think the feminist movement tried to help us do, simply expand what it means to be a biological man or a woman to encompass a vast expanse of diversity?

If anything, it’s added yet another layer of complexity to our already overwhelmingly complex world during a time when nuance is not always possible in the social media-sized sound bites with which so many of us typically communicate.

And I’m not down for hurting anyone’s feelings or denying anyone’s conclusion regarding who they are, but my goodness; this world is a lot to keep track of, and it seems that all of us are on edge and extra touchy about things. I find myself both terrified of accidentally insulting or upsetting someone and also a little resentful that there’s now yet another way for me, as a person who admittedly frets extensively when she realizes she’s upset someone, to unwittingly make people really, really mad.

But while I find myself a little bit confused by Deputy Durán’s path to the “gender neutral uniforms” (which seems tailor-made to rile up far-right types against what is actually a very reasonable proposition), I’ve arrived to their same conclusion that gender-neutral uniforms would be preferable.

My own path there is slightly different and mostly has to do with the long tradition in Mexico and elsewhere of imposing skirts on girls. They’re not great for P.E., after all, and lend themselves to both accidental exposure and likely violations (often by people claiming, “It’s just a joke, geez!”).

As someone who’s had unwelcome hands reach up her own skirt on the street, I’m all for not obliging anyone, especially not teenagers, to wear them.

So, by all means, let the kids dress how they want without us imposing gender-specific styles onto them (I mean, reasonably; bikinis or other overtly sexualized outfits in school might be a little distracting). But blue hair, girls in pants and boys in skirts aren’t going to hurt anyone — go wild, kids!

In the end, they’re going to find ways to make any uniform their own, which is what kids everywhere do. The world is becoming more theirs anyway; there’s no use in trying to stop the waves of new generations’ values.

Sarah DeVries is a writer and translator based in Xalapa, Veracruz. She can be reached through her website, and her Patreon page.

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