Sarah DeVries
Male students in Mexico City don skirts in an annual demonstration against social prejudice. Male students in Mexico City don skirts in an annual demonstration against social prejudice over clothing.

Who cares what’s inside other people’s pants or under their skirts?

Chill out: it hardly matters unless you're interested in a romantic relationship

If you want to insult a woman, call her a whore. If you want to insult a man, call him a woman.

There’s been much talk (and abundant memes) about the school dress code in Mexico City that was recently revamped to allow for more variety in the school uniforms despite students’ genders.

Not only will girls be able to wear pants instead of skirts, but boys will officially be allowed to wear skirts if they choose.

To hear people talk, you’d think the president himself had decreed that no male may step out of his house without full makeup and heels.

The announcement seemed tailor-made to upset the growing religious right of Mexico, what with its talk of equality and sensitivity, and the buzzword (or is it a buzzphrase?) ideología de género (gender ideology) has been making the rounds on social media, presented as something as ridiculous as it is despicable.

Gender is the primary way that we classify people. Are you or a boy, or are you a girl? There’s probably no bigger determinant of how we behave toward someone (or how we expect them to behave) than that. When there are those who don’t convincingly perform the assigned gender of their biological sex — especially when men don’t conform — people seem to have a real problem with it.

The question of whether or not gender non-conformity is more a psychological or a sociological phenomenon is constantly being debated, with those with stricter views insisting that it’s a psychological disorder. To them, anyone who goes along with their delusion is stupid at best, and crazy themselves at worst.

To those so passionately concerned about what’s in other people’s pants, under their skirts or in their brains, I would say: “People, chill.”

Unless you are personally interested in a romantic relationship with that person, I hardly see why it should matter. By now it’s clear that one cannot be “turned gay” any more than someone can be forced to be straight (and believe me, plenty of people have tried), and I’m pretty sure the same applies to gender expression, or non-expression for that matter.

But the idea persists that children’s sexuality is malleable and that they are under constant threat of being convinced to not conform.

Let’s pretend that the “gender non-conformity warriors” (which is a phrase that I just made up) succeeded in their imagined quest to get all the children of the world to be 100% okay with expressing themselves as whatever gender, combination of genders or absence of gender they wished.

What calamity would await? None, that’s what. This is literally about the opposite of forcing people to be a certain way. If citizens, because of their religious beliefs, are not okay with it, that’s quite literally their problem, as no religion has the right to oblige society at large to follow their moral guidelines. The danger of letting people express themselves as they wish is simply null.

I’m a sociologist, but I feel behind the times when it comes to gender identity.

I won’t lie: I don’t feel I understand all the variants or how the desire for something different comes about completely, the same way I didn’t understand my best friend’s desperation to have a baby when I myself had had a very “Meh, I could take it or leave it” attitude toward motherhood before my own pregnancy.

But not understanding doesn’t mean that respect isn’t owed, as one’s gender identity on its own literally hurts no one; it certainly doesn’t hurt children (for the largest group of people who consistently abuse children sexually, both by percentage and sheer number, look no further than self-identified straight men; many can be found in positions of power in the church).

The fact that girls were only allowed to wear skirted uniforms well into the 21st century is, to me, the only real scandal here. As a child I sat in wonder hearing my mother’s stories about how she was not allowed to wear pants as a child, and in horror as she described the constant sexual abuse she suffered.

It’s not that I think wearing skirts causes sexual abuse — obviously sexual abusers cause sexual abuse — but I feel fairly certain that there is a correlation between rigidly policed gender norms and the kind of “boys will be boys” mentality that allows for real abuse to be dismissed as “just joking/playing/flirting,” etc.

If boys want to wear skirts, let them. After a few scary experiences with strange men and their very unwelcome hands reaching up my own skirt on the street, I’ll pass on them for myself, and am grateful that my child won’t be obliged to take that particular risk of abuse either, no matter what school she happens to go to.

Freedom to express ourselves in ways that make us feel fully actualized and fulfilled is a right. Just like people were able to get over their disgust at biracial marriage and women in the voting booth, they’ll get over this.

Sarah DeVries writes from her home in Xalapa, Veracruz.

Reader forum