Disclaimer: What follows below is the radically abbreviated version of a piece that spanned the better part of 8,000 words. I have spared you by removing, in essence, the diverging opinions and their myriad reasons and statistical quantifications as well as some of the debate in monologue I was having with myself on their behalf. What remains is the core of the issue, along with my unpopular opinion, in a short, reader-friendly editorial of less than 1500 words.
As always your comments are appreciated, both publically and privately, and I look forward to hearing from you all.
Without further ado:
Skirting the Issue
Much like heavy weight title fights where promoters do their utmost to ensure the biggest possible hype for the shortest possible fight – a real life example of securing your investment and the age-old idiom ‘time is money’ – Japanese media is dragging their long-standing tradition of school uniforms through another round of frenzied pseudo-intelligible debate. For those of you who know even the slightest thing about this issue, you will not be surprised to hear that once again it is the skirt length of the girl uniforms that has caused all the hullabaloo, and no, not because they are too long.
So, the girls in Japan are back to rolling up, hemming, and tucking their way to shorter skirt lengths than are mandated by their schools. This is not news. Japan has had ample time to develop an entire sub culture around the issue of young girls in short skirts, but every so often there is a public outcry (presumably to appease the parents of sexually precocious adolescents), where many brows are furrowed, data is collected (often comically), and everyone concludes this is a serious issue only to be forgotten within a week.
Still varying opinions abound both as to the cause of this epidemic of skirt shortening as well as its effects. I heard an elderly lady say in a live television interview that short skirts draw attention from boys as if to suggest human beings should be the only mammals on earth that communicate budding sexuality through telepathy as opposed to signs the opposite sex can easily pick up on. All kidding aside, there are arguments to be made in favor of both school uniforms and skirts that leave slightly more to the imagination. Studies into the phenomenon accompanying the implementation of school uniforms are few and far between, most studies focusing instead on schools that either have long had, or have yet to implement school uniforms and comparing the two, but there are some compelling reasons and fun numerical statistics to promote the idea. Whatever your personal view, be it for or against, if you are reading this chances are you are well beyond the stage where this decision affects you personally. Though it may be true that you feel strongly one way or the other with respect to your own children, I think the issue is merely a symptom of a much larger issue. Namely, children, especially those in high school, suffer an enormous burden whether they realize it or not. Children, otherwise known as human offspring, are (in horribly oversimplified terms) the sum of two parts. You know them as mom and dad.
In stark contrast to mom and dad however, at some point – often quite unexpectedly – you became your own person, complete with silly notions and fervently held opinions. By the time children reach high school this process is well under way. In this most dreaded phase of human development known as adolescence, the biological imperative to be unique and self-sufficient outs itself as defiance, irrational emotions, misdirected anger and appearance. The keen observer will have noticed that these separate issues come together nicely in the subject at hand and speak to some of the reasons Japanese school girls prefer short skirts to the standard-issue knee-length fashion faux pas they are forced to buy at the commencement of their secondary education (the elementary and middle school uniforms are different).
Without speaking to motive, I want to address causality. Having read more than I intended to on the subject and having lived in Japan for a few years now I have come to understand something that is missing entirely from the debate. Even tourists who come to Japan with nothing but their foolish albeit amusing preconceptions of samurai warriors and geishas roaming the streets of modern day Tokyo quickly discover a truth inherent to the national identity of the vast majority of Japanese: once grown, they are among the most respectful, well-mannered, and impeccably dressed adults on the planet. Look around you in Tokyo at anyone over the age of 18 and you will immediately notice that gone are the tube socks, and pleated miniskirts (to my great dismay!) having been replaced by sensible work clothes, elegant ladies wear reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn meets Alice in Wonderland (the old, family friendly Disney version) and a perfectly delightful demeanor. These women know, better even than the finest ‘experts’ in the field, that no matter how they dressed in high school, they have come to recognize that distinct period of time in their lives as an ultimately (very) fleeting phase. Why that fact does not nip the issue in the bud is beyond me, but presumably the media would be flummoxed – much like the characters of a two-hour action movie – what to do with the remaining time if the plot issues are all resolved three minutes in.
Better yet, the Japanese school year – among the longest in the world – paired with their exceptional philosophy for education, and cultural willingness to work their collective asses off means that even whilst wearing skirts so short they could make a stripper blush they consistently score better on exams than their Western counterparts (and most certainly the strippers). Education in Japan is about more than school and frankly it shows. I cannot begin to describe how little the length of a girl’s skirt has to do with the end product of 12-20 years of education. In a similar vein to how I was assured by my parents, my teachers, and frankly everyone I met from the moment I set foot in a school to the day I graduated high school that “math is very important later on in life,” I have yet to avail myself of my extensive (though catastrophically rusty) knowledge of advanced trigonometry and imaginary numbers since joining what is affectively life. Surely if the countless hours of needlessly complicated math lessons were a complete waste of time, surely the clothes I wore have long since lost any and all relevance as well.
Proponents of school uniforms as well as the fashion fascists who insist on knee-length skirts are not without basis for their desire to see 18-year-olds dress like nuns from the 1970s, but considering the overwhelming evidence to the contrary as mentioned above, and the fact that these people do not have to wear the uniforms themselves, I think we should all have a coke and a smile and let this one slide. Alas, I knew from the moment the newscaster opened his mouth it was not to be and thus:
Endless time and money is being spent, nay, wasted in an utterly futile attempt to drive the budding humanity from our children as soon as it emerges. Quite expectedly, the kids are having none of it – as they have not for the countless century man has marked the passage of time – and in a wonderfully self-evident display of my point roll down their skirts for inspection only to smile and roll them back up as soon as the slightly perverted headmaster puts the measuring tape away. I applaud the girls for realizing, even in their precocious adolescence, that the very notion of telling a teenage girl what to do is fraught with the same difficulties as preventing the sun from rising and having the mental acuity to pick up on the hilarity of the situation.
I do not mean to suggest we should let our kids do whatever they please, nor that setting clear boundaries is ineffective or unnecessary, but I am saying that stymieing a child’s individualism because we have all learned to be uncomfortable with the skin on other people’s thighs is ridiculous.
The other side of the same argument is one I have personal experience with. Namely, I was once a high school boy and can safely say that the level of interest I had in girls at the time had reached its maximum level – well above the limits adults consider safe – long before the girls reached the age where wearing risqué miniskirts became a thing. Short of dressing all the girls in the elegant garb of radical Islamic nations, there is not a damn thing that can be done about the biological imperative that burns within young men and women to seek each other out and procreate. The very fact that even well into adulthood most men have only partial and fleeting control over their genitalia would suggest that attempting to circumvent this problem through a dress code is akin to such spectacular lunacy as to rival the plot line of most porn films.
I say, rather than attempting to rationalize our fascination with and propensity for imposing our values on others by measuring skirt lengths and pretending the corresponding number bears any relevance with regard to education we hand these kids some condoms and tell them they can dress however they like.