Both Britain and Japan are keen on the fetishisation of a girl’s school uniform. Photo: Ryo FUKAsawa on Flickr, via Creative Commons
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Why I regret dressing up as a sexy schoolgirl

Those who believe the “sexy schoolgirl” to be nothing more than a bit of fun should consider the knock-on effect this sexualisation has on real-life schoolgirls, who are routinely harassed on their way to and from school.

Growing up, we listened to a lot of blues and rock and roll in our house, but there was always one particular song that my mother always told me that she hated. “Good morning little schoolgirl,” it goes, “can I go home with you? Tell your mama and your daddy, that I’m a little schoolboy too.” Regardless of the era in which it was made, it’s hard to view the song’s lyrics as anything other than flesh-crawlingly creepy, and not just because it was covered by the Grateful Dead and the thought of Jerry Garcia dressed incognito as a schoolboy truly is the stuff of nightmares.

I thought of “Good morning little schoolgirl”, somewhat appropriately, this very morning, when I saw that American Apparel had produced a “Back to School” range of miniskirts modelled in poses that would not look amiss on YouJizz. The classic school skirt-riding up to reveal bare buttocks is nothing if not ubiquitous in internet pornography, and “teen porn” is one of the most popular search terms there is. In light of this it’s difficult to conclude that this kind of imagery does not feed in to a sexualised culture involving ‘barely legal’ babes of indeterminate age, whose youthful resemblance to underage girls is capitalised upon by the porn industry. “Your first assignment is to dress accordingly”, the American Apparel lookbook informs us, sounding very much like the kinky headteacher from a Black Lace novel. I’m surprised they didn’t opt to add that any deviations from the dress code would be punished with a vigorous spanking, because you’ve been a very naughty girl, etc, etc.

American Apparel has, naturally, come under fire for its sexist advertising for some time now, and while, like many feminists I cheered its advocacy of the full bush, many of the ways in which the company chooses to depict women unnerves me, not least because the schoolgirl trope is something that I bought into myself. At university, I attended many a “school disco” night, where myself and my friends would dress up in knee-high socks and miniskirts, complete with drawn on freckles and pigtails, in full-knowledge of the sexual connotations. I feel embarrassed by it now, and should probably detag myself from the photographic evidence residing in the deepest depths of my Facebook, but at the time the act of dressing up like little girls seemed like just a bit of fun, a nostalgia trip back to our schooldays. But if I’m honest with myself, the nostalgia argument just doesn’t really wash. When I was at the age that I was attending school discos, I never snogged another girl in the knowledge that it would turn the guys on. I never snogged anyone, in fact, and my outfit mostly involved tie-dye.

Britney Spears notwithstanding, the fetishisation of a girl’s school uniform is a peculiarly British phenomenon (though Japan, where school uniforms are also the norm, also has much to answer for). I’ll never forget a French friend returning from a weekend visiting a British university with a stunned look on his face. “The girls…they all dress up as schoolgirls. For fun,” he said, as though he could barely believe his luck. But those who believe the “sexy schoolgirl” to be nothing more than a bit of fun should perhaps consider the knock-on effect this has on real-life schoolgirls, who use Twitter accounts like @EverydaySexism in their droves to report sexual harassment they receive from men on their way to and from school. I hate the idea that, in sexualising the school uniform, I may have contributed to this kind of culture, a culture I began to understand in my early teens. As thirteen year olds, my friends and I would go into internet chatrooms and talk to “boys”, boys who I’m convinced were pretty much all actually dirty old men. “What are you wearing?” they would ask. “Are you wearing your school uniform?”

This power we seemed to have over these strangers confused and titillated us. That these men should find our school uniforms arousing was accepted at face value, although I’m sure the school uniforms they imagined were a far cry from the reality (marigold yellow polo shirt, polyester sweatshirt, kickers). Nevertheless, we knew on some level that being a schoolgirl had currency. Not consciously, I should add, but we’d been warned enough about talking to strangers to know that our corruptible innocence was tempting to some. The friend of a girl at school had shagged a member of staff who had asked her to call him “teacher”. We’d all heard the term “jailbait”.

As with any form of sexism, things often become clearer when you question whether or not the boys are doing it too, and you only have to imagine an orderly line of adult males bent over in little short shorts, Just William caps and with drawn on freckles on their noses to expose the disturbing place from which the sexual fetishisation of schoolchildren originates. In light of a swathe of revelations and school abuse scandals, most recently that of Highgate Wood school in north London, it’s strange that the tradition of the adult school disco continues. It’s something that very much seems to belong in another place and time, a time that was home to this permissive, 1970s morality we are hearing so much about in the fallout from Operation Yewtree. A time of dolly birds and magician’s assistants, when the age of consent didn’t seem to bother anyone, and rock stars slept with fourteen year olds. But it certainly does not belong in 2014, in a country paralysed by a terror of paedophiles but in which adult women are encouraged to become complicit in the sexualisation of schoolchildren by channelling them through costume. If anything exposes our neurotic attitude to underage sex, then surely this is it. Isn’t it time we put the little schoolgirl to bed once and for all? 

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett is a writer for the New Statesman and the Guardian. She co-founded The Vagenda blog and is co-author of The Vagenda: A Zero Tolerance Guide to the Media.

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Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.