Modesty shorts for 4 year old girls?

7th June 2021

Dr Jessica Taylor

Today, ITV Loose Women ran a poll which caused significant debate and discussion:

Should schoolgirls as young as four years old wear ‘modesty shorts’ under their skirts and school dresses to ‘protect’ them?

Feelings were mixed, with the poll resulting in shifting outcomes of between 50-60% of respondents in agreement.

I voted ‘no’ in the poll, and want to outline my reasons for disagreeing with the idea that little girls (or teen girls) should be wearing shorts under their skirts or dresses to ‘protect them’.

My main reasons for this are as follows:

1. This makes little girls responsible for male violence, harassment and assault

2. This encourages the conservative view that girls should cover up if they don’t want to be harassed or assaulted

3. What happens if they don’t wear the modesty shorts?

4. Boys need to be held responsible for their behaviours, girls should not have to wear extra layers of clothing to protect them from misogyny and abuse

This makes little girls responsible for male violence, harassment and assault

The most pressing argument for me is the way that this idea will position girls as responsible for male violence. Research from NSPCC in 2016, Barnardo’s in 2014 and the Women Equalities Committee in 2016 have repeatedly demonstrated that little girls are regularly sexually harassed and assaulted at school by boys. This includes lifting up their skirts, pulling down their skirts and underwear, touching them inappropriately, pinging their bra straps, pushing them over, calling them sexist slurs, coercing them to send or receive nudes and harassing them about their bodies and relationships.

What this speaks to, is a much larger issue of misogyny and male violence which is perpetrated and accepted from a very early age (often, this begins in primary schools). Reports show that teachers often ignore the minimise boys’ behaviours and call it ‘banter’ or ‘boys being typical boys’.

Previously, this has led to schools banning school skirts and even banning girls from showing their collarbones – due to their bodies not just ‘distracting the boys from their education’ – but also distracting male teaching staff. I wrote about this in my book ‘Why Women are Blamed for Everything’, and I’ll repeat my message:

If male staff members have the entitlement and confidence to report that they are distracted by little girls bodies and clothing, sack them immediately. That is not a normal way to look at children. Ever.

Encouraging or asking infant girls to wear shorts under their skirts is just banning skirts by stealth. Rather than banning the skirts or dresses, schools simply suggest that girls should be wearing shorts under their clothing to protect them.

This has actually been happening for over a decade in UK schools. I remember talking to teen girls about it about 8-10 years ago, and they all had the same reason for wearing the shorts: to protect them from the boys.

The schools didn’t encourage it, but the girls had felt so endangered by boys assaults and harassment that they had not only started wearing shorts but had created a culture in which girls who didn’t wear shorts were shamed as sluts who wanted to have their skirts lifted. More on that later.

Ultimately, all of this means that the shorts are a symbol of victim blaming and female responsibility for male abuse and offending. Girls are never responsible for the assaults, abuse and harassment of boys and men – and yet, here we are, advising girls to cover up.

This encourages the conservative view that girls should cover up if they don’t want to be harassed or assaulted

The conservative view of women is that they should be modest, submissive, obedient and should only show themselves to their male partner. Anything else is ‘asking for it’.

It might seem like ‘common sense’ to ask the girls to wear shorts, but all it is really reinforcing is that to protect yourself as a girl, you should be covering your body and wearing multiple layers. This has the added effect of teaching very young girls and boys that girls who value themselves and want to protect themselves will wear the shorts, and the girls who don’t (or can’t) must be asking for it.

Be wary of any initiative which encourages girls to change their appearance, behaviour or lifestyle to ‘protect’ themselves from male violence (which you will notice, is never explicitly mentioned).

What happens if they don’t wear the modesty shorts?

So the next stage of this misogynistic idea, is what happens when a girl can’t or won’t wear the shorts? What happens if she is sexually assaulted by a boy?

Further, what happens when the sexual harassment and assaults continue despite the shorts?

Let’s work through these issues one by one. Will a girl who does not or cannot wear the shorts be seen as a slut? Asking for it? Wanting the attention? Not protecting herself enough? Taking risks? To blame for anything that boys do to her?

“You should have been wearing your shorts,” they might say. ‘They’ being the teachers, parents, police or maybe even a defence barrister in a trial.

And what happens when inevitably, the shorts solve precisely fuck all?

What happens when boys continue to sexually harass and assault girls at schools, even with their magical protective shorts on? What then? Overalls? Turtlenecks? Sleeping bags?

It’s as if people deliberately ignore the reality that the majority of all sexual assaults and rapes are committed against women and girls wearing their everyday clothes (jeans, jumpers, coats, pyjamas, sportswear). Clothing doesn’t cause sexual harassment, assaults and rapes of girls. It never has and it never will. Women are abused and assaulted even when fully covered. Babies are assaulted and abused.

The reason for male violence has absolutely nothing to do with clothing, clothing has only ever been an excuse, perpetuated by misogynists and bystanders. So if clothing isn’t the cause, and the shorts are not the solution, what happens when the abuse and harassment of girls continues?

Where will the blame shift next and why does it never shift to the perpetrators?

Boys need to be held responsible for their behaviours, girls should not have to wear extra layers of clothing to protect them from misogyny and abuse

The answer to the shorts debacle is to stop ignoring male violence towards girls in education settings, to stop allowing misogynistic ideals into our schools, colleges and universities and for everyone to grow a backbone and stand up for girls. They wouldn’t need to wear shorts if they weren’t going to school in an environment of sexualisation, objectification and hatred of girls.

This issue has been going on for over a decade (and broadly, much, much longer) and we have made zero progress. Every time feminists and women speak out about this, it’s met with ridicule and silence.

The misogyny and objectification of women has slowly seeped into every single part of women and girls lives, younger and younger, bit by bit, until now we are having national debates and polls about whether four year old girls should be wearing ‘modesty shorts’ to school.

In all of those years, no one has been able to do anything significant about male violence, or boys attitudes towards girls. Schools have not taken a strong position on misogyny and have instead watched as sexual assaults and rapes on school and university campuses have increased year on year.

These girls are the women of our future. They are our future thinkers, leaders, scientists, writers, inventors, sports stars, carers and mothers. Is this what we want to teach them? Is this really our message?

‘Cover up Dear, or you’ll get sexually assaulted by the boys at school.’


Written by Dr Jessica Taylor

7th June 2021

Tweet: @DrJessTaylor



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9 thoughts on “Modesty shorts for 4 year old girls?

  1. Whilst I absolutely agree with all of this I have a problem with this particular paragraph:

    “If male staff members have the entitlement and confidence to report that they are distracted by little girls bodies and clothing, sack them immediately. That is not a normal way to look at children. Ever.”
    I agree but is that really what’s happening? Are male teachers really viewing little girls as sexual objects or are we speaking in fact about young women? What’s your definition of a “little girl”? There is never an excuse for misogyny or male to female violence or abuse but to imply that male teachers are distracted by “little girls” as opposed to young women – is inflammatory. It suggests not only abuse but paedophilia, and that conflation is not helpful in my view. Respectfully yours, Chris Penney


    1. Anytime there is a sexually motivated thought about a person under the legal age of consent, it’s paedophilia. It doesn’t matter if that person is 6 months, 6 years or 16 years old. It doesn’t matter if that person is a boy or girl, it doesn’t matter if they are stark fucking naked, or covered head to toe.

      It doesn’t matter if the thought is acted upon or even vocalised. If you view children in a sexual manner, regardless of their age, maturity level or choice of clothing, you’re a paedophile and should seek professional help to overcome that issue.

      If you have and acted on sexually motivated thoughts about an adult without their consent or with their consent but you are in a position of power over them whether that be physically, intellectually, economically or otherwise, that’s rape/sexual assault and you are a rapist or sexual predator.

      Teachers are both adults and in a position of power, so regardless of the age of the student (even if they are a student above the legal age of consent), it is inappropriate to be having and/or acting on inappropriate sexual thoughts about your students, no matter how they dress or act.

      Let’s apply this thinking to different scenarios.

      Let’s consider the Doctors at a children’s hospital, who frequently have to ask their patients to remove their clothing (or in emergencies, don’t ask, they just take them off). Imagine if male Doctors and Nurses started saying that seeing naked bodies is ‘distracting’ and female patients should have to be covered up to protect them from sexual assault? Would it still be inflammatory to call those men out as paedophiles for looking at girls and young women like that?

      Or lets say a 15-year-old girl is hit by a car or something, she’s not breathing and has no pulse and needs CPR/AED. A passerby (adult male) is a first responder and has to cut away her clothing in order to expose her chest and apply an AED and hopefully save her life. Are you suggesting that it is okay for this man (or anyone in the vicinity observing) to cut open the girls clothing and think ‘nice rack for a kid’?

      Oh, I have a good one. Let’s say, you’re a residential care worker. You are an adult male and your client who is disabled and requires assistance with personal hygiene, dressing etc, is a 14-year-old female with a fully developed body. Is it okay for the male worker to have thoughts like ‘Waste of a great body, too bad she’s a disabled kid’?

      No, in every situation, it’s not fucking appropriate, it’s paedophilia and if you knew the males in these scenarios were having these thoughts, you’d say ‘they shouldn’t be working in that job’. I’m a fucking adult and shouldn’t have to worry that if I need medical attention, the Doctor is going to be looking at my body in a sexual way, let alone a kid.

      I work in the last scenario as a female adult. I work with female and male clients, children, teens and adult who require personal care that involved me not only seeing, but touching the clients’ private areas (bathing, wiping after toileting, getting dressed, applying medicated creams or lotions). I have worked with clients who have gotten naked in public, gotten erect, even masturbated publically to completion (they do not have the intellectual ability to know/learn that this isn’t appropriate behaviour). I have even had to assist adult males with sex education to help them learn how to understand their body and how to treat it (e.g I have taught an intellectually disabled non-verbal/deaf adult male who was harming his penis out of frustration how to masturbate safely, using picture cards, video content and miming the actions on plastic dicks and in the air).

      I have never once looked at any of them and had a sexualised thought and if I ever did, I’d stop doing the work and seek help. It’s not that fucking hard.

      I don’t see how having a frank discussion about this is inflammatory. It’s the reality of the situation.

      Let me be clear, even if you only think it to yourself in your head, it is still wildly inappropriate to look at a child of any age, even if they have developed adult body parts and are dressed in flattering clothing, and think of them in a sexualised manner. Even if that thought is ‘I can’t blame men for looking, she looks 3 years older in that outfit and is obviously attractive’.

      If I can support an adult male who’s gotten naked on the beach and decided to knock one out and not have a single sexual thought, y’all men can deal with teenaged girls in bathing suits just fine. It’s not normal to think like that, it’s not ingrained, it’s not human nature, it’s not genetics, it’s not our primate brain, it’s society.

      There are tribes around the world where women don’t cover their breasts, strangely, the men in the tribe don’t walk around constantly erect and trying to assault them because ‘they can’t help themselves’, they think it’s normal and just get on with their lives.

      There are countless other professions and situations around the world where people see partially or fully naked bodies of people of all ages, shapes, sizes and genders and they manage to not have sexual thoughts, or (in the case of a consenting adult) to not act on or verbalise those thoughts inappropriately. Anyone who does is an exception to the rule and should seek professional help.

      Your comment reads like you empathise and relate to those male teachers. If that is the case, and you’ve had thoughts about teenage girls, consider this a wake up call that you have inappropriate thoughts and maybe seek out some help. If it isn’t, maybe think about how it comes across when you defend teachers who openly admit that if a teenaged girl is showing too much skin, they find it hard not to get turned on.

      It might be a painful pill to swallow if you’re a man, but in order to change things, we need men to swallow that pill and hold themselves and their fellow men accountable.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I disagree, there’s nothing wrong with a sexual thought just appearing in your head. What’s wrong is acting on it in this case. Also, I think it’s inaccurate to call a 16 year old a “child,” they tend to have developed secondary sexual characteristics and bodies by that age. They are young women. Doesn’t mean it’s not wrong to gawk at them or act on certain thoughts of them, though.
        I also disagree that a staff member should quit their jobs upon encountering a sexual thought about a young woman. Say that there is a cashier who has to deal with all sorts of annoying people throughout his day. He thinks briefly about killing that person, but in the end smiles politely and treats the customer normally. Does that mean the cashier should quit his job? Surely you’ve thought “ugh, I wish that person would just die” from time to time.
        You saying that they should “seek help” is awfully self righteous of you.


  2. I think the ship sailed on this a few years ago; it’s normal now for girls to wear shorts under their dresses, especially if they’re going to be doing active play during seasons when they wouldn’t wear tights. My niece certainly does or did, while I don’t remember my sister doing so. A thing that has changed since I was in primary school in the 80s is that a lot of infant and junior schools have merged so you have one big school which takes kids from age 4 to age 11 and playgrounds are unlikely to be segregated now, as a lot used to be (my Catholic junior school’s playground was; the state junior school I went to for a year after that had one playground for all). So, an infant school boy is unlikely to be interested in a girl’s body (if he hasn’t seen one already, e.g. his sister’s) but an 11-year-old might be. Infant schools often had an all-female staff; junior schools rarely did, and neither do primary schools.

    I think the issue of ‘distraction’ is a red herring. Parents just don’t want random boys or men seeing their daughters’ underwear (all the more so if the underwear is a nappy or pull-up, which in the case of a 4-year-old it might be). People are more aware of the existence of child molesters and paedophiles now than they were then; back then stories about such men still shocked people. It’s not a question of blame or whether the girl chose to wear shorts or not; the parents give them the shorts and the girls wear them, as is usual with clothing for children that age. Teachers (of either sex) certainly shouldn’t be checking up girls’ skirts for them though.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Seems like the Taliban are moving in! I belong to the generation who wore extremely short miniskirts, and while we probably put up with behaviour and comments that would be considered inappropriate now, any unwanted touching would probably provoked a good slap! Sounds like we are going backwards, little girls should not have to worry about boys seeing their knickers!


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