Monday, 6 March 2017

Who's wearing the trousers?

 Credit: Oli Scharff Getty 
Last week the RAF caused a furore when it announced a new trousers-only rule for servicewomen on parade. Or to put it another way (and the way used by most of the media) the RAF is banning women from wearing skirts when marching.

The outcry seems ironic at a time when hundreds and thousands of women (wearing what they choose) are marching in support and protest for causes close to their hearts including the misogynistic behaviour of the 45th President of the US and his dictum that White House staff ‘should dress like ladies.’

One explanation given for the RAF ruling is that it will make the service more inclusive, particularly for the increasing number of transgender people, prompting a raft of objections from conservative quarters. The fact that a number of servicewomen have been complaining for some time that the uniform skirts are uncomfortable to wear when marching has been largely ignored.

This brings to mind an episode of the BBC’s Countryfile nearly four years ago. Reporter Julia Bradbury was invited by members of the Scottish Ladies Climbing Club to go on an expedition in Glencoe – dressed in the tweed skirt and jacket and hob nailed boots that the Club’s founders wore back in 1908. The climbers were roped together and equipped with stout sticks and long ice axes to tackle the North East Ridge of Creag Coire na Tulaich. As Julia Bradbury experienced, the ‘Grade 3 scramble/moderate rock climb’ was rather more challenging in vintage clothing.

Scottish Ladies Climbing Club:: Meet at Crianlarich New Year 1909  
It is difficult to believe that we are still engaged in this conversation. Back in 1977 when Rose Ann Vuich became the first woman member of the California State Senate, “…the fellows gave me a sermon and told me they wanted me to dress like a lady and not wear pants,” she recalled.

Sixteen years later the indomitable Barbara Mikulski and her fellow Senator Nancy Kassebaum mounted a Washington DC protest one weekend that amounted to something rather simple: they wore trousers and told female staffers at Capitol Hill to do the same.  "The Senate parliamentarian had looked at the rules to see if it was okay," she said.  "When I turned up in pants, you would have thought I was walking on the moon. It caused a big stir." But from then on, the rule changed and the trouser suit became routine. 

As I complete this post, I am alerted to an article in today’s Guardian referring to Trousers for All, a UK wide campaign to give girls the option of wearing trousers as part of their school uniform. Although most UK schools have introduced trousers for girls into their uniform codes in the last twenty years, some continue to ban them and will send home any girl who turns up wearing them. The ban on trousers for girls covers the entire spectrum of schools: primary, secondary, public and private, faith and non-faith. 

But back to our intrepid climbers. The story goes that some doughty women mountaineers would set off in ladylike garb, but once out of sight would remove their skirts and hide them under boulders before setting off to tackle the mountains in practical trousers. As one intrepid climber put it, "It's 20 per cent harder in a skirt."

Maybe that’s the cunning plan – a handicap to slow down those uppity women aiming for the summit. 
Achallader 1909.

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