Henderson High School and the above-the-knees rape culture problem

Over the weekend Henderson High School’s dress code hit the national headlines after female Year 11 students were told that they must lower their hemlines to their knees to prevent distracting male students.

Knees are a nice part of the body. According to Henderson High School, they’re a nice and safe part of the body. Knees don’t distract boys or create a bad working environment for male staff members like anything above the knees does. The female above-the-knees-region is dangerous. Anything above the knees may give boys ideas. And we all know that ideas are bad.

And because the ideas that the above-the-knees-region may inspire are dangerous and bad, girls and women must take it upon themselves to make sure that their above-the-knees-regions don’t cause any boys or men to have any thoughts that may cause them to not be able to control themselves. Because if boys and men can’t control themselves and their ideas (that were made bad by girls and women’s above-the-knees-regions) it is surely the fault of the girls and the women.

Because rape culture. Because victim-blaming. Because gender roles. Because patriarchy. Because everyday sexism.

Funnily enough (in the sense that your funny bone is called your funny bone when it should really be called your omg-that-fucking-hurts bone) the above-the-knees regions of boys are not dangerous and bad. Boys’ above-the-knees regions apparently don’t inspire any thoughts that Henderson High School is worried about. Which is so completely unsurprising that my eyes are rolling out of my head and bouncing along the floor.


Bounce, bounce.

In the aftermath, Henderson High School issued a defiant statement in which principal Mike Purcell said that he made “no apology for insisting on high standards.” That whiff of sexism you smell lurking just behind the surface? That girls wearing skirts that show their thighs would apparently be demonstrating low standards. And that the “high standards” of the girls are more important to him than the standards that should be expected of the boys: ie. the notion of general decency inherent in not treating girls and women like sexual objects.

All in all, a spectacular own-goal from a principal tasked with leading his students through a time in which New Zealand has the worst sexual violence statistics in the OECD. A time when Roast Busters is a very recent memory. A time when one in three girls may be sexually abused before she turns 16-years-old.

So Mike Purcell, sir. Next time you talk to the national press about how you think your female students should uphold “high standards”, how about you talk to your male students about the fact that girls and women’s bodies aren’t an invitation to fulfil any kind of sexual urge? That if they should find themselves struggling to “focus” because of a girl or a woman’s thighs, they should remind themselves that it is #herbodyherterms and get their mind back to the task at hand. That girls and women’s bodies do not exist for their titillation, no matter how short their skirts may be. And remind them that they are salient beings that possess all of the qualities necessary for self-control.

Maybe throw in a chat about consent while you’re at it. Can’t hurt.

And as for your male staff members. If you, or deputy principal Cherith Telford, are concerned that some of them may be distracted by the length of your underage female students’ skirts, may I humbly suggest that you stop talking to the media and start talking to the police.