When I was ten years old, my primary school did “underwear checks” on the girls. You lined up and hitched up a corner of your dress discreetly in front of a female teacher. Your knickers, you see, were expected to be the official school colour. It was the school’s way of helping to deter the boys from looking up our dresses, I suppose. Nothing to see here, boys! Just regulation navy undies!
Does it sound weird? It was.
But as girls our dignity was paramount and well, let’s face it, wearing a dress came with issues. Back then I cautiously climbed open staircases where boys lingered underneath. And every little lunch and big lunch our games were just naturally tempered by the unspoken rule that at all times we must be careful to keep our dresses down. Looking back it was the first time I got the message that how I looked as a girl – what I wore – was prioritised over what I could do.
That was in the early 80s.
Some schools have gone so far as to request that girls lengthen their skirts to avoid attention. Post continues after video.
Over 30 years later and it’s disheartening to see that in some schools little has changed.
The underwear checks may be history but it’s shocking to me that some schools continue to insist on forcing girls – not boys, just girls – to wear clothing designed to impede their movement and relegate them to a duller, more passive playground experience. All based on what? The outdated, inherently sexist notion that girls belong in dresses.
Well this week one Melbourne mother took a stand and I bloody wanted to high-five her for it.
Simone Cariss (you legend!) started a petition asking for her six-year-old daughter Asha to be permitted to wear trousers to school – like her male classmates. If you somehow missed yesterday’s media storm about Simone let me repost her words from her petition here:
“My daughter’s primary school in Melbourne has declined a request for my daughter to wear pants as part of the winter uniform. Pants are approved school uniform for the boys only. Girls must wear a tunic in winter and a dress in summer (apart from sports uniform days).
My daughter, like many other girls, simply wants the choice to wear pants like half of her peers, with the warmth and freedom to be active at school and travelling to/from school. She constantly asks “why can’t I wear pants like the boys?” “Because you’re a girl” is not something I am prepared to say to my 6 year old daughter. A daughter who I have raised to believe she can do and conquer anything, regardless of her gender, and that she can like what she wants to like and not what gender stereotypes dictate she should like.
Dresses disadvantage girls like my daughter who want to play footy, run, climb and ride a bike to school. The boys get to wear pants and shorts which facilitate these activities far better than a dress. I won’t stand for a policy that only encourages and promotes girls to be active on sports days (at my daughters school this is twice per week). What about the rest of the time?”
Sing it, sister!
Over 13,000 Australians signed that petition and I am delighted to say that the school in question has reconsidered and is now re-evaluating their uniform policy. Here’s hoping they fall in line with many government schools around the country and offer a gender neutral uniform option or at least give their female students the choice to wear either a dress or trousers.