There are no uniform answers in Sex Education

Moordale High’s new headmistress uses shame to create order

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Hello, it’s me: Netflix Pause editor and sexpert Jared Richards [citation needed]. Okay, maybe one of those qualifiers isn’t true -- and considering what you’re currently reading, it’s easy to figure out which it is. (Speaking of, have you subscribed?)

Growing up, I would have killed to have a resource like Sex Education. But after Otis and Maeve’s money-making sex advice scheme liberated Moordale High’s students, a very familiar ‘sweeping under the rug’ approach surprisingly pops up in Season 3 of Sex Education, thanks to a new stern headmistress played by none other than Girls star Jemima Thee Kirke.

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Sex Education

One of the immediate standouts of the first two seasons of Sex Education were the outfits — a colourful mixture of eras and styles that depicted Moordale High’s students as a real motley crew. It’s pretty jarring, then, to see Otis and co. dressed completely in grey for much of Season 3, after headmistress Hope (Kirke) introduces a mandatory uniform. 

It’s crushing for these students, but for most Australians and Kiwis, a school uniform isn’t a huge deal. Most schools mandate them, and there’s something to be said for its equalising effect: no-one had to learn that I was significantly poorer than them unless they were a close enough friend to come over, for instance. 

Besides, teenagers will always find a way to express their individuality, even with a uniform. Since you asked, my accessory of choice was a binder adorned with images of Cobra Starship and Paramore. But in Sex Education, they can’t even make those small gestures: pride pins, dyed hair and face piercings are against the rules. The uniform isn’t for obedience alone, but to crush spirits and reinstitute a sense of shame for any markers of difference. After spending the last two seasons accepting their freakier fancies, shame creeps in across the school.

Accessories can be your whole identity while you’re still trying to work out everything else: Riverdale’s Jughead wears his beanie so people know he’s a weirdo, but would he even be a weirdo without his beanie? It might explain some of the crises of confidences across the season (and also mine, when the friend I copied a new-found pop-punk obsession from told me to stop). 

Hope has a uniform of her own, too. The new headmistress is almost always wearing a respectable, chic jumpsuit — the kind you’d spot in coworking spaces across Brooklyn or on Jessa, the bohemian Girls character that catapulted Kirke into an it girl. But Hope couldn’t be further from Hannah Horvath’s core-four. She’s incredibly successful for starters: a 30-something savant whose hard-line disciplinary practices have made her into something of an education-world celebrity. 

Her on-trend outfits hide a conservatism that’s unleashed when faced with Sex Education’s unruly students, as she quickly becomes a millennial version of Harry Potter’s Doroles Umbridge or Matilda’s Miss Trunchbull — if they shopped at Shein. But aren’t the cool teachers always capable of the most cruelty? 

While Hope isn’t quite as cartoonishly evil as those characters, she has her moments — especially against non-binary students who don’t wear their ascribed uniforms ‘correctly’. It’s an incredibly fun role to see Kirke in, and to see her go tet-a-tet with Gillian Anderson is a treat (as you can imagine, sex therapist Jean doesn’t approve of her pro-abstinence curriculum). 

Repression only works for so long, especially against horny teenagers. What Hope or a uniform can’t stop is the air of openness that Otis (Asa Butterfield) and Maeve (Emma Mackey) have created. Whether it’s shame around bottoming, chest binding or writing love poems, Sex Education reminds us there’s no uniform way to deal with our issues, only honesty.

Sex Education S3 is streaming on Netflix from 5pm today.

Watch these too:

  • Never Have I Ever, a coming-of-age show based around co-creator Mindy Kaling’s experiences growing up as an Indian-American. It’s just as frank as Sex Education about how awkward and painful being a teenager can be, while also tearing down stereotypes around South East Asians.

  • Big Mouth, an ultra-lewd cartoon where teens navigate puberty with the help of Hormone Monsters. Like Sex Education, it’s refreshingly real about how gross and disorientating puberty is; however, unlike Sex Education, it’s completely ridiculous. Also, among its voice cast are some of our finest comic actors, including Nick Kroll, Maya Rudolf, John Mulaney, and Jason Mantzoukas.

  • Derry Girls, a sweet teen comedy set in ‘90s Northern Ireland, capturing the bizarre world of growing up during the Troubles and within the strong cultural hold of Catholicism.

  • Crashing, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s show before Fleabag, which she also created, wrote, and stars in. Set in a disused hospital turned into unconventional housing (think squatting, but legal), this six-episode sitcom is filled with the charm, wit, and emotional maturity of Fleabag, but is a much lighter watch.

The internet can’t stop talking about:

  • The Met Gala, duh. This year’s theme “In America: A Lexicon In Fashion” was a mixed bag, meaning the internet could do what it does best: be savage. With hundreds of outfits to judge, it was easy to miss some of the most important cultural moments of the night, such as this video of Timothée Chalamet flirting with Keke Palmer, playwright Jeremy O. Harris’ Aaliyah-indebted look, and, of course, the reports from the after parties.

  • 52-year-old TikTok star Michelle Rider, AKA Orange Michelle, AKA a charming Southern mum of four who’s had a case of stolen identity while competing on S3 of social media competition The Circle. If you know, you know; if you don’t, you should (but also, spoilers!).

  • Ex-SNL comedian Norm Macdonald, who died aged 61 this week. Best-of clips are everywhere across Twitter: Junkee’s round-up includes plenty of greats, but my favourite is when he completely derails a 1997 Conan appearance by actress Courtney Thorne-Smith, who is on to promote a film co-starring Carrot Top.

  • Boom Boom Lemon, the fictional Japanese soft drink in assassin flick Kate which looks soooo good. One YouTuber has even created his own version and shared the recipe: if you’ll excuse me, I need to go buy as much citrus as I can carry.

Finally, from where you’d rather be:

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Jared Richards is a critic living on Gadigal Land who has written for The Guardian, The Monthly, Junkee and more. He tweets at @jrdjms
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