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Gender-neutral school uniforms: far from neutral

On Wednesday this week the Welsh government announced new guidelines to make school uniforms gender-neutral, stating that gender-based uniforms are an outdated concept. So from now on garments will not be gender-specific; trousers will no longer be designated for boys, nor skirts for girls.

We agree that some notions of what is considered suitable for either gender may become outdated as cultural norms change. Whilst Christians affirm biblical descriptions of male and female roles in the family and the church, we nevertheless need to make sure we do not condone extra-biblical gender stereotyping. There is little in the Bible to mandate particular clothing for men and women, but it is a principle that we should not dress in such a way as to confuse genders or suggest one is not the gender with which one was born (see, for example, Deuteronomy 22:5). The Bible also contains teaching on the importance of women dressing modestly and this will have some relevance to school uniforms, especially at secondary level.

But in various situations of life there are many items of clothing that are worn by both genders. There is nothing intrinsically feminine about skirts and dresses and in some cultures they are worn by men, including the Scottish kilt. Nevertheless, in our culture such garments are still pretty much a universal sign of being female, especially amongst children. So why would we pretend otherwise?

The Welsh government guidelines do contain some good ideas about making uniforms practical and affordable, which we welcome. However, this initiative is not really about whether girls should be allowed to wear trousers and boys dresses – it is yet another attempt by our society to pretend gender distinctions do not exist or do not matter, or that they are fluid.

Yes, we want to avoid unnecessary pain for the small minority of students who are confused about their gender. But these policies are part of a package which seeks to legitimise transgenderism as a valid life-choice for children.

The Bible assumes from beginning to end that gender differences are real, important and immutable. We should not ignore these distinctions. We are not “gender neutral”; God has made us as male and female, and thus different. We want to embrace and celebrate those differences.

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