Everyday Sexism in high schools: School dress codes – a personal account.

I’ve juggled many activities to occupy my time since graduating from University. Earlier this year, I decided to utilise my fervent desire to help others by taking a Teaching Assistant position in a high school.

Akin to most support staff, my initial preference was potato-printing with 5 five year olds and talking favourite One Direction members with Year 6’s (previously Zayn, now Harry). Before long however, my recruitment agency intervened to elect me as crowd control and GCSE support to the teens of today; a position in which you are constantly reminded of how quickly youth escapes you, as you are surrounded by people who think anybody 20+ is old.

Fortunately, most teenagers are manageable and the newly-built school is so modern and business-like, (cabinets of laptops for every classroom?!) it bares little resemblance to my own adolescent experience. A hardcore ‘Smiths fan at age 13, school was not my happy place. I was the kind of kid who persistently asked why institutions restrict individual expression and how a maths formula will be useful in the real world?!?! In other words I was a barrel of laughs, yet ‘always a pleasure to teach’. In a pattern familiar to prior generations, I have since learned to feign apathy towards the irrational expectations put upon you in life and thus get on with it.

Women and Self-love

An obvious perk of working with children is your newfound ability to help with their emotional development. Teenage girls are most likely to experience a sudden identity crisis and low self worth – fueled by the pressures of gender discrimination and learned self-objectification. As an adult who only overcame such hurdles after many years of self-taught self-love, the prospect of debugging the Myth of Woman was a big motivation for returning to the dreaded school gates.

My agency gave me the necessary details: arrive early, smart dress code. Conveniently, my wardrobe is full of suit jackets and the only two beauty products I use regularly are mascara and Vaseline. Despite being a tiny 5 “1 (and a half) I ditched my trusty high heels as well. Practicality had finally won; I looked the part of ‘normal person doing a job’.

The Dress (Code)

Monday mornings are universally sluggish. I tend to greet them with caffeine withdrawal and dragging feet but on one particular Monday I felt optimistic for the day ahead. My timetable promised me some friendly Year 10’s and an appeasing balance of literary and numeracy-based subjects. Plus, I donned a new work dress courtesy of my sister’s generosity during the weekend.

History was my appointed lesson after break and Year 11 were revising the topic of Hitler’s Germany, unsurprisingly. Revision lessons don’t require much intervention from support staff so I sat down somewhere to survey progress. After a few minutes, an unfamiliar face asked if there was a TA in the class.

“Great!” I thought, “maybe it’s about a student who needs a scribe or something, at least I have something to do – ” 

“I need to speak to you about the length of your skirt (it was a dress). It’s too short. Now we do actually have a dress code here. *I look down* Well… it rises when you walk, I was watching you walk up the stairs and it was rising up. I’m assuming you live too far away to go home and get changed?”

“Yeah I do. I did think it might be a bit figure-hugging –

It’s not that: it’s too short.

Oh, sorry, so has anyone said anything… –

Several members of staff have made complaints and I’m the business manager. And, some of the boys were looking up your skirt too I think, on the stairs.”

A strange response, not only in how adamant she was to tell me her job title but also that ‘several’ teachers had complained by 11.15am. Particularly when I’d interacted perfectly well with the two teachers who had seen me that morning. I am not the oblivious type so it wouldn’t surprise me if there were some fabrications in her account. She also treated my attempts to communicate with her as though I were an insolent child, rather than an adult trying to be compliant. As she walked away, I compulsively pulled down my already lengthy dress so that it covered my knees while the paranoia I suffered in adolescence clouded my mind. Despite being shamed, I knew I had to walk back into the lesson with confidence: I was supposed to be somebody people respected.

Once I sat down, a feeling of acute self-consciousness overcame me. I hugged my arms for comfort – my mind already reeling off possible culprits of who had gossiped about me behind my back, and why.

The dress I wore.
The dress I wore.

My new found perspective on authority now seemed misguided. There was another lesson to go before lunch and ironically enough, I received two compliments on my dress during that time. 

It’s a frequent occurrence: society is entrenched in misogynistic beliefs, some of which are unknowingly internalised by women and spat back out to make other people feel as small.

Phallocentric Perspectives

Dress codes are inherently sexist because they elevate clothes made especially for men as professional and deem any sign of a female body inappropriate; sexual. The physicality of a woman is different to a man’s, but a female form isn’t necessarily sexual – it just ‘is’. In this specific case, I wore black and white to match school colours, a dress that finishes just above the knee, and flat shoes. There was nothing individual or intriguing about my appearance at all, let alone any sexuality on show. Unfortunately we are conditioned to hypersexualise a woman’s appearance.

Appropriate sign in a US high school
Appropriate sign in a US high school

Incidents like this are being flagged up on various social media sites as people become more aware of the subtle ways in which women are demeaned in their daily lives. I’d like to echo a popular statement on this topic: we need to prevent the objectification of women by teaching boys not to sexualise a girl’s appearance. This opposes the current system of inventing promiscuity from a person’s appearance and blaming them for your own preconceived projection. 

Schools have a responsibility to encourage progressive thinking in their pupils – and staff – including the rejection of gender discrimination. The rejuvenation of what it means to be a feminist will help this evolution take place but until then the internet provides a platform for women to document their experiences publicly. 


When You Love Yourself, Something Magical Happens…


Sometimes people use loyalty to bind you to the toxic relationship you have with them. Ignore them, you don’t need the approval of anybody but yourself. It’s an act of self-preservation to disconnect from people who treat you badly.

The difference between selfishness and self-love is that the first is done at the expense of what’s better for yourself and others, while the latter is a necessary act of self-care.

Feelings of guilt

For years I let feelings of guilt trap me in toxic relationships (platonic and romantic) and trick me into uncomfortable situations until I realised it’s okay to value your own mental health. Remember to always balance what’s best for everybody involved in every conversation, long-term relationship or ordinary situation. Sometimes you should champion your own needs and sometimes other people take priority -trust your judgement and intuition.

Accepting yourself 

Reject expectations if those ideals hinder your life rather than exalt your happiness. An example would be how women are conditioned into passivity as though they are merely vessels for another person’s happiness. If somebody wrongs you on purpose, you are justified if you show them that actions have consequences. Actively try to accept yourself for who you are as an individual and you will succeed. Cancel out the negative self-talk chipping away at your self-worth because if you set aside limiting beliefs, you can do whatever you want to do. In fact, that’s what you should be doing. You are worthy and free to believe in yourself so you can make the most of life’s blessings.

Internet Nuggets: Angelina Jolie the inspiration, Women’s body hair & Introverts

A lot is happening in the world, all the time.

Here are some entertaining snippets of some of those happenings – may April bring us many more.

Anais Charles recently wrote a personal piece of insight into social stigma surrounding women and body hair, with empowering photography intertwined in the text. Anais Charles: Shame & Women’s Body Hair.

If you dig music written in the minor key with synth sounds and a brooding vocal, Depeche Mode’s classic album Violator is for you.

I have adored Angelina Jolie since I was a young girl for her individuality, compassion and beauty. An ambassador for women and self-expression, she’s now written an open letter to explain her choice to remove female body parts so other women feel no shame in bold self-care.

Maleficent is a wonderful film that saw her excel in the lead role. During her speech at the Kids’ Choice awards, she advocated self-expression by telling everybody that Different is Good.

Jurassic Park & Lego in one sweet fusion. That is all.

More music talk. This time it’s about Manchester’s indie legends James. Brian Eno produced the 1993 album Laid

Graduates are offered a surplus of Sales jobs but can introversion and cold-calling co-exist happily?

Alongside all of this Spring goodness, March has also told us a sombre tale: The end of One Direction as a 5-piece following Zayn Malik’s departure. Solo material is on the way but I predict a modelling contract will be signed within 6 months and he will be the new ‘face’ of the infamous Calvin Klein adverts. The future is bright.

How To Get Retweeted

There are several secrets to successful blogging: many of them I’ve yet to discover. If you define success by the prevalence of your blog in other people’s lives, you’ll probably want to share your website on social media. Obviously.Some secrets however, are not so transparent.

For instance: whenever I share a link to Popculturepartywarrior on Twitter with the hashtag ‘WordPress’ I get retweeted from an account called WordPress Digest.

“_____ favourited your tweet” usually follows shortly afterwards, along with a surge in people enjoying my content. At least, that’s what I assume they’re doing –  all I can see is the viewing figures going up, and if you heed my words, hopefully yours will too. #wordpress

Internet Nuggets: Tips for writers, Lady Gaga & Madonna are comeback Queens, Voting & More!

It’s March, somehow! Spring will fully blossom between the 19th – 21st of the month and with it, the days will finally get brighter. In the meantime, I want to share with you some of the fascinating viewpoints, pop culture highlights and morsels of news I’ve read about over the past few weeks.

Did you catch Lady Gaga at the Oscars? Her phenomenal voice slayed so magnificently, it stunned the fickle media into proclaiming her the comeback Queen.

Speaking of the Oscars, here’s some statistics on how diverse (or not) the Oscar nominees tend to be: White men everywhere.

Women have periods, whereby the uterus releases blood via the vagina for around 7 days of every month. Surprisingly, none of us consider this a luxurious event. –  It needs to stop being taxed as such.

Kurt Cobain was a feminist and his songs reflected his strong views on non-discrimination. Yes, even the unfortunately titled one.

To digress, I’m personally passionate about boldly using split infinitives because the old guidelines are definitely obsolete…

The speculation might be over by now, but Emma Watson’s response to the rumour that she scored a Prince still rules.

Not to shock you, but Apple lied. ‘Shuffle’ isn’t truly random.

THERE IS GOING TO BE AN ‘ADVENTURE TIME’ FILM by the same producers as the Lego Movie and it’s going to be awesome-sauce.

50 Shades of Grey glamourises an abusive relationship and that’s all it does. Take it from someone who knows.

When I discovered Madonna had fallen down a staircase, I mostly hoped it meant her new single gets 10x the radio play, thus silencing the misogynistic notion that she’s “too old” to make music.

If you’re a writer who hopes to produce long fiction one day, I think these 7 tips for writing a novel are pretty useful.

Noel Gallagher insulted another musician again. Only this time it was an ill thought-out slight against Beyonce’s talent.

London is becoming gentrified, including the underwhelming parts I grew up in. A writer produced a thought-provoking piece on the fetishisation of working class culture.

If you live in the UK, you need to vote. There are links to register here.

One of my favourite programmes at the moment is Cucumber, an original drama about LGBTQ lives from stellar writer Russell T. Davies.

Debbie Harry still performs with Blondie and watches The X Factor in her downtime, apparently.

Politics is interesting – don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. Recently I took the ‘Vote for Policies’ survey and this is one I’m keen to see come into fruition.

INXS – Never Tear Us Apart is one of my favourite songs ever. A writer for the AV Club recently agreed with me.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these nuggets! Let me know if any of the articles inspire or enrage you particularly and I’ll respond in kind.

Life Lessons: Things I’ll Never Do To Myself Again

Tonight I’ve been browsing through my ‘Documents’ folder in the hope of mercilessly casting aside useless files from days gone by; it’s a cleansing ritual I do every 4 months to keep my folder neat and my kilobyte figures low.

Deep in the archives, I found a list I’d made whilst in the recovery period from a particularly tough time in my life. Between summer and Christmas of the previous year, I became increasingly depressed and anxious, with copious work demands and faltering personal relationships crushing my spirit. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a habitual creator of new year’s resolutions and this time it was especially important to ensure I had learned from my mistakes.

Things I’ll Never Do To Myself Again

Lie to myself and deny what I’m feeling
– Think I’m right about everything/everyone
– Disregard my intuition
– Make myself appear smaller or sell myself short
– Overthink – my subconscious will always figure it out
– You can’t intellectualise how you feel so just let feelings happen and rationalise them afterwards 
– Take anybody for granted
– Become emotionally dependent on others
– Offload emotional baggage onto people
– Romanticise a person 
– Try to ‘fix’ anyone
– Think I’m not in control and therefore let others dictate how I feel.

Sometimes we lose ourselves in the process of caring about other people. No matter how rough things get, always take the time to care for yourself.

If you need a starting point, I wrote an ‘everyday self-love’ list here that might help you: A Short Guide to Self-Love.

I Ruined My Hair! & How I’m Fixing It.

I’ve had enough, this is my prayer That I’ll die livin’ just as free as my hair

Lady Gaga

Our hair is a part of our identity. It’s a reflection of our personality, and while the purist in you might wish appearances didn’t matter, you realise the value society places upon it. Our skeptical selves gather information about a person subconsciously, so when somebody maintains their appearance we assess them as having high self-esteem. Since we can’t walk around in philosophical discussion 24/7, we need visual indicators to help us understand each other on a basic level. Whenever we go through personal changes, or process a break-up, or even just get bored, we change our hair to mark the occasion. In the words of Oscar Wilde, “It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances.”

The Samson effect

Hence, our hair can be compared to the lion’s mane: a symbol of personal power and societal status. Some people express their individuality through bright hair and under cuts, while others keep it short and straight to show they mean business. It’s fun to play with the outer shell of our identity as our adolescent selves knew all too well. Whenever my sister took me shopping as a child, she had to bribe me with a fast-food lunch or else I’d lose motivation. There were only a few material things that excited me, namely tops and dresses, stationary and hair dye. I can recall standing in Boots/Superdrug with my mouth ajar at how many different colours your hair could be. My deepest wish was to be as blonde as Britney but my eye was also drawn to the mystery of jet-black hair.

My hair inspiration: Britney Spears.

Drastic Measures

It wasn’t until adolescence hijacked my hormones that I actually planned to transform my mousey-brown locks. I remember browsing through a hairstyle magazine with my best friend, age 12, when suddenly I decided red highlights on a black bob was the right look for me; luckily my parents loved me enough to deny me their permission. Still, my headstrong self kept the dream of cool hair alive until my 13th birthday, when I was given the go-ahead for a pixie cut. I’d fallen in love with it as it looked amazing on the hair model. It looked amazing. On the hair model. The hair model suited the hairstyle. Hair. Model.

I was too young to factor in my face shape and skin tone, thus meaning I was clueless to the rules surrounding androgynous haircuts mixing with round faces. Generally speaking, faces slim enough for pixie cuts during adulthood, however I was no older than Juliet and soon to have a lot less hair. The next step, I thought, would be to paint it black: increasing the edgy factor would be my saving grace. My goth phase was in full swing at this point, thus meaning I’d look even cooler on my weekend trips to Camden.

My mum refused. She now tells the story of how she let me browse a boot fair for my jet-black bottle dreams in the knowledge that nobody had any to sell. It didn’t work as a deterrence for long though as I soon had a hairstyle akin to Gerard Way, circa 2005:

Gerard Way in Helena
A fair representation of my hair – and face – at the time.

I used to wear red eye shadow too. Don’t ask me why, I’ve no idea. By the time I was 14 I’d learned my lesson, or so everyone thought. My drastic haircut coincided with a dip in my social status now that I was a confirmed ‘alternative’ and I eventually conceded to the idea that I’d made a mistake. Maybe mousey-brown locks were my destiny and choppy layers were only for those blessed with higher cheekbones. Alternatively, I just wanted what I couldn’t have and missed having long hair as a symbol of femininity. Either way, my thick mane of dull brown hair couldn’t grow back quick enough.

Suicide blonde

I barely did anything to my appearance when I was 15, other than filter my photos into black and white so I had a new default picture for MySpace. As I turned 16 and left high school I decided enough was enough – pass me that bottle of bleach!

“No.” My mum said.

“Oh. Okay” I replied.

Nevertheless, my years of longing for barbie’s mane had proved my devotion to the hair colour gentlemen allegedly prefer. Before the inevitable ‘reinvention’ of myself in time for Sixth form, I had honey blonde streaks painted into my hair. The idea was to prevent hair damage by highlighting my light brown hair into a golden hue, thus tricking your eye into perceiving an all-over blonde effect. The result of this sneaky tactic?

Me at 16. In the bathroom by the mirror, naturally.

Lots of people adored my fresh look. My hairdresser had explained to me the importance of matching my fair skin-tone with darker blonde shades, while the kind spirits on Yahoo! answers emphasised to ‘STAY AWAY FROM ASH BLONDE.’

“Ash blonde ay, what an idea. I love the smell of peroxide in the morning” – My stupid mind. Probably.

Highlights were not what my angsty self had set out to achieve but unfortunate circumstances meant my self-care took a backseat for the duration of my 17th year. Blinded by own vision, I worked up the courage to have my hair dyed bleach-blonde in time for my 18th birthday despite not needing the hair damage…

18 and blonde.

I think blonde suited me, despite its distance from my natural hue. For some reason, I was never content with my hair and always wanted to improve whatever beautiful hairstyle I had. At the time, I was working in a bakery and fawned over the light blonde bob my co-worker had. How could she afford to maintain it so well?!

She gave me the number of a freelance hairdresser who came to my house with hair bleach and gave me a brighter colour for a discounted price. It was a kind act that lead to a kaleidoscope effect in my hair.

– Sometimes you can get addicted to mercilessly dying your hair because you want to look perfect, but perfection comes at a high price! Ask yourself if you really need to re-dye your ‘do and ensure you condition your hair to prevent damage! –

At age 19, I had completed the gap year I haven’t told you about yet (it happened: it was okay) and about to set off for University. Whilst I now had the blonde hair I’d always wanted, I felt the new pastures should be greeted be a ‘new me’ hairstyle-wise. Luckily blonde is a great base for any colour as you’re guaranteed to get a bright result, and soon my hair was pillarbox-red:

Fiery red hair. So shiny and thick in texture.

I used the XXL Live permanent hair dye numerous times if I thought the colour wasn’t bright enough, or if I could get 2 for the price of 1. After a solid year of this follicle debauchery, my 20th birthday arrived and I decided to dye it yet again. The result was a gorgeous, deep red akin to Freida from Abba. When I travelled back home to London during the Easter holidays, everybody was happy…except for my mum.

“Do you want your hair to fall out?” She said. “It won’t!” I probably said. Good point, well made.

In case it wasn’t already obvious, my mum was right. The above picture was taken just before my hair rapidly started falling out. It wasn’t just in the shower either – strands upon strands fell onto my bed, kitchen utensils…even the communal sofas I shared with 11 other flatmates. It had gotten so out of hand, a group of them blue-tacked a stray clump of my ruby locks to the wall to signify their annoyance. (Admittedly they were also just bullies.) Remember what I told you in paragraph 1? The state of your hair reflects the state of your mind, and it had become obvious to others that I lacked self-care.

Despite this, I didn’t acknowledge the warning signs that my thick hair was soon to shed into thin wisps. Somehow it had come to my attention that semi-permanent hairdye actually conditions your hair into better health. Cue another transformation:

Somebody said I look like an anime character. How kind.

I did what I could to salvage my mane until I grew restless. One day, XXL announced a simple way to dye your hair ash blonde and my student loan arrived just in time for me add this new concoction to my list of hair regrets…

A fake smile for a failed attempt at blonde hair.

Nobody has a name for that hair colour because it’s a mess of never allowing my hair to fully grow out. I was beginning to wish I’d never ditched the thick blonde mane I had lusted after and attained in the years prior. There’s a visible difference between the texture and shine of this mane and my prior photos. By summer, my hair had thinned to such an extent it looked greasy everyday, no matter how much I conditioned it:

Thinning hair in a dry, damaged condition.

Eventually I settled with the idea of having dull hair until I could condition it into behaving like the silky mane I once loved. In the meantime, I successfully wore a 10-day wash-out box of purple magic last year, aged 22.

Wash-out colours will not damage your hair.

Nothing as drastic has happened since and I’m a content brunette. This has taken some time and I might’ve experimented with red and brown semi-permanent dyes along the way, but I’m finally here. I still hope my hair will re-grow with the same thickness it once had, although I don’t hold out hope. I just wanted to share with you my tale of hair woe in the hope you will learn from my mistakes.

1) Sometimes you have to leave your hair alone and accept yourself enough to respect your current appearance.

2) It’s easier to go from a light colour to dark, but damaging to reverse this process.

3) Don’t dye your hair too much. It really is that simple, apparently!

a happy winter
Brunette is back, with red highlights sneaking in.