“The F* word, and why I use it around my kids.”

My kids know it. Hell, they learnt it from me. And I hope they too will be using it often. Yep, the F* word. Feminism.

Growing up in the 70’s, my mum taught us kids that song, you know, the one that goes; ‘Anything you can do, I can do better….’ We all took it to heart, which led to some pretty obnoxious moments in our household, but it was her way of giving a big ‘up yours’ to gender stereotypes. As a child I really believed it. But little kids do believe stuff, don’t they? Some of that stuff sticks, the stuff about who they are. There’s no doubt about why they call them the formative years.

I now have kids of my own and I also teach them about feminism. I don’t read them feminist literature at bedtime; but do it in a quieter way. Apart from how our bodies work, in our house, gender is rarely mentioned. It’s feminism in the ‘we’re all in this together, so let’s just get on with it’, kind of way.

My daughter wants to be a superhero and my son wants to dress up as a princess? Fine by me. Image supplied.

So we tootled along in our happy way until last year when, BAM, Primary School. Pop goes the bubble.

I’d had a mild interest in the uniforms. Having seen some of the girls at the local secondary school kicking around in school trousers, I’d assumed it would be the same at the primary. Its 2015, I’d said to myself, surely….ummm, no. It turned out that they are the very same style of uniform that we used to wear 30 years ago. Dresses for the girls, shorts for the boys.

It didn’t sit quite right with me. Those little kids who had smashed it out together in the preschool playground, a place where ‘comfort ruled’, don’t wear your bestest, favourtitist clothes, but clothes you can conquer the world in, all dressed up in ‘big school’ uniforms that appeared so, well, sexist.

Jemma W's daughter in school uniform
My daughter donned her ‘bought one size too big’ tunic and marched off to big school. Image supplied.

But, I bit my tongue. I didn’t want to be one of those Kindy parents that came out swinging in our very first term. Plus, she wasn’t complaining, why rock the boat?

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Autumn rolled around and time to switch to the winter uniforms. My five year old daughter trotted off in the only options available to her; a starched white shirt, heavy winter tunic, and hideously uncomfortable tights. Watching her line up for assembly was the final straw; un-frigging-believable, the boys are in long sleeved polo t-shirts and elastic waisted pants. Clothes a kid can move in! Why can’t the girls choose to wear that too?? I flashed forward a few years to when her brother would join her at school. How on earth would I explain to them why she had to dress up like a nun while he could be casual and comfortable? Sorry kids, in this world, sometimes females just have to suck it up and wear the dress.

But they don’t, do they? Not anymore. If I worked in the Police Force, the Ambulance Service, hell, even McDonalds, I wouldn’t have to wear a dress. In fact I could probably sue someone for suggesting it. So why does my daughter? Because the Department of Education says so?

Mamamia’s Women of the Year aren’t afraid of the ‘F’ word either. Post continues after video…

It turns out, no, they don’t say so. But nor do they say she shouldn’t. They are maddeningly non-committal about it. They leave it up to the discretion of individual schools to come up with a uniform. Naturally, schools must take into consideration current Anti-Discrimination legislation, but there is no clause spelling out that girls must have a choice. But isn’t this the exact same legislation that governs what I can be asked to wear? How does that translate into one rule for girls, another one for women? Isn’t this a little oh, I don’t know, hypocritical?

But why aren’t the students complaining? I thought. Surely there are some girls out there who are?

So I started watching. It was on our first school mufti day that I had my watershed moment. Kids could wear what they wanted, and there was hardly a dress in sight! Ah! Maybe the girls are complaining. Maybe they are saying it loud and clear, we just haven’t been listening. Every mufti day since has been the same. Given a choice, most of them quietly ditch the dress.

Then I started talking. I met some like minded parents who wanted to do something about it. We researched. We spoke to the school. We wrote an article, and then someone wrote another article. It was all starting to feel like hard work.

And then this happened:

Screenshot supplied by Jemma Wlasichuk

A friend, of a friend, of a friend, from another school entirely, had seen our article online and read it to her daughter. And her daughter had acted. She had marched right out and bought herself a boys’ uniform. Up yours, gender stereotypes.

See, girls choice in school uniforms is not just an intellectual feminist debate – this means something to that little girl. To countless girls who may be struggling through the day in old fashioned, restrictive uniforms. This means something to their brothers who are learning that comfort rules for them, but not their sisters.

A uniform teaches children something about themselves, and each other. Something that may well influence the rest of their lives. We need to take care what that lesson is. I think it’s imperative that we use the F* word around them every chance we get.

Jemma W's kids. Image supplied
I wouldn’t do this in a dress. Would you? Image supplied.
* Update: In very recent developments, change is afoot at my daughters school and the school exec and P&C have recognised the need for a uniform review. While wonderful news for my children, shouldn’t the Department of Education be making choice mandatory for all schools? For all our children?
Jemma Wlasichuk is a former chef and financial manager  who is currently taking a break from the workforce to raise her two young children.  She has a six year old daughter and a three year old son.

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