Boys at several high schools in the Montreal area have been wearing skirts to school this week, to protest against what they say is a double standard in school dress codes.
Giuseppe Cosentino is a student at College Laval, a private high school. He saw social media posts earlier this week showing boys wearing skirts at schools on Montreal’s South Shore, and decided to organize something in his class.
College Laval, like many high schools, has a rule in its dress code saying skirts must be worn a maximum of 10 centimetres above the knee. There are no equivalent restrictions on clothing generally worn by boys, such as shorts.
Cosentino said the rule discriminates against female students, hypersexualizing them.
“A lot of the teachers say ‘watch out, your skirt is too short, the boys are going to get distracted’,” Cosentino told CBC.
“But that shouldn’t really be a problem for the girls. It should more be a problem for the boys,” he continued.
Along with friends Elissia Farra and Luca Muzzo, Cosentino convinced about 15 of his male classmates to don skirts at school Wednesday.
They wanted to start a conversation not only about gender inequality, but about LGBTQ rights and tolerance.
Protest shut down
The boys wore pants to school, but changed into skirts after phys ed class.
It was Cosentino’s first time wearing a skirt.
“It felt ok. I liked it. I honestly found it pretty nice,” he said.
But the protest was short-lived.
“After about two or three minutes wearing our skirts, the principal came to see us, and said ‘guys, go change right away’,” Cosentino said.
There’s no rule at the school that says boys can’t wear skirts, but Cosentino said the principal called the protest ‘nonsense’, and felt it was disruptive.
“He was basically bashing us for trying to find equality in the school,” Cosentino said.
Cosentino and a few other students later had a meeting with the principal, and explained the ideas behind the event.
“We had a pretty decent talk. He was trying to understand what we were doing,” Cosentino said. He said the principal has agreed to meet with students again to talk about the rules.
Students happy to spark discussion
Farra, who’s been admonished by male teachers about the length of her skirt, said the protest — short though it was — opened up conversations with other students.
“I heard a few of them saying ‘Why are they doing that? It’s ‘gay’ to do that,'” Farra said.
“But l liked to hear that, because then I could go speak to them and explain why we were doing it, and their reaction was actually positive,” she continued.
The protest was especially meaningful for Muzzo, who identifies as non-binary.
While Muzzo has worn skirts before, until now they had always been afraid of wearing one at school.
“Since I was younger I’d get a lot of slurs yelled at me,” Muzzo said.
“The fact that some straight boys wore skirts, it made me feel more comfortable in my skin,” Muzzo continued.
“At the end of the day, a skirt’s just a piece of fabric,” Muzzo said. “It shouldn’t be only for women, and pants only for men.”
Some other schools open to changing rules
Male students at several other schools in the Montreal area also wore skirts Wednesday.
David Bowles, director-general of College Charles-Lemoyne on Montreal’s South Shore, said about 30 male students wore skirts to his school.
“I got a call from my vice-principal and some of my staff who wanted to know what to do with the situation,” Bowles told CBC in an interview Thursday.
“I told my staff not only to send them back to class, but to congratulate them for their gesture,” Bowles said.
“It was a brave move. I wouldn’t imagine boys doing that back when I was in high school,” he continued.
“They’re doing this for a good cause that’s justifiable, and there’s nothing in our rules that prohibits boys from wearing skirts,” Bowles said.
The school does have a rule that restricts female students from wearing skirts higher than five centimetres above the knee.
Bowles said he met with students to hear their concerns about the rule, and he’s open to changing it.
He said he’ll meet with students again once they’ve elected this year’s student council to discuss the idea further.