school

An open letter to the principal of my children's school.

Dear Principal,

My children started at your school this year so I have recently purchased a full boy’s and girl’s school uniform. When I bought the uniforms I realised that the general availability and prices of the uniform make it easier for families with boys rather than girls.

I find this disappointing, not only because this is our local state school and uniforms are supposed to be a way of reducing differences rather than exacerbating them, but also because of the messages it sends to the students.

In some schools, girls are being asked to lengthen their skirts. Watch Mia Freedman, Kate de Brito and Monique Bowley weigh in. Post continues after video…

You may not be aware that there are many areas in which women are at a financial disadvantage from men. A French feminist group has called these financial disadvantages ‘the Woman Tax’, and a few examples of the way this affects the lives of Australians are as follows:

  • Women working full time earn 84c in the male dollar;
  • The pay divide between women and men increases when you factor in that more women than men work part time;
  • Products aimed at women often cost more per item than comparable products designed for a male consumer.

I was therefore, particularly saddened to discover that the woman tax begins at school age with uniforms. Two key ways this manifests itself are pricing and availability.

Pricing:

I have made a list of all the basic items required for a summer, winter, and sports uniform. Once you cancel out anything that can be worn by both boys and girls, and discard any optional items, there is a $45 difference between the cheapest possible boy’s and girl’s uniforms. I also noticed that girls need to own three kinds of socks during the course of the school year: summer, winter, and sports – whereas boys only need school socks and sports socks as they are able to wear their grey ankle socks all year round.

As the list of uniform items only includes one of each kind, the financial differences between the uniform for boys and girls will be multiplied by the number of uniforms required by the family. The $45 difference ($61 if you buy the optional parts of the uniform) between one set of essentials for boys and girls would be $90 difference if two full uniforms are bought. A family with three daughters would have to pay $135 more than a family with three sons for only one set of the school uniform for each child.

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"I was particularly saddened to discover that the woman tax begins at school age with uniforms." (Image via iStock)

Availability:

Another issue is that the girl’s uniform is significantly less generic than the boy’s uniform. While I acknowledge the work of the school’s uniform shop, you can get grey socks from Target or Kmart any day of the week (not just Tuesday afternoon and Thursday morning) for approximately $5 for a three pack, but you cannot buy these socks at these shops in the colour required for girls.

Similarly, it is possible to buy plain white short or long sleeve shirts, grey boxer shorts and long grey trousers at a number of shops for prices that are at least as cheap as those sold in the uniform shop, but this is not possible for the girl’s summer dress or winter tunic.

The result is that girls are penalised financially, in terms of how much their uniform costs; that there are no cheaper options for families with girls; and that parents of boys have more choice in relation to where and when they obtain parts of the school uniform. Why are my choices limited for my daughter and not for my son? It would not take much revision or ingenuity to provide some generic options for girls in summer and winter.

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"Why are my choices limited for my daughter and not for my son?" (Image via iStock)

Second hand clothing:

The second hand uniform shop is wonderful and pricing discrepancies between the boy’s and girl’s uniforms are largely non-existent with clothes sold at this shop. Nonetheless, there are a number of reasons why parents should be given options for buying new clothes (if they desire), with the same opportunities for their girl children as for their boy children, and the reasons can be educational as well as financial.

This is a state school and has families from a range of socio-economic backgrounds. Parents may choose to buy new uniforms because they want their child to look smart, or because they are time poor and want the uniforms to last as long as possible; they may have strong memories of being forced to wear second-hand uniforms themselves as a child, determined that their children will have a better life. Each parent will have their own decision making process for their child, and the motivation will be influenced by their other commitments, their experiences, and their financial situation.

"You are in a position to shape the expectations and aspirations of this generation of students." (Image via iStock)
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Your school website says that you want students to realise their full potential and that you aim to provide the best possible learning outcomes for all students. The differences between the boy’s and girl’s uniform are not isolated, but are part of a bigger picture and a bigger problem. Financial differences between the sexes impact learning and life opportunities for families including extra-curricular activities and nutrition.

This means it is statistically more likely that girl students will not be able to realise their full potential or experience a wide range of educational opportunities when you take into account the relative costs of clothing, that women tend to earn less than men, and the fact that products for women cost more than comparable products for men.

You are in a position to shape the expectations and aspirations of this generation of students. Girls do not need to grow up with the expectation that their clothes will cost more, be more difficult to obtain, and have more parts than the clothes of their male classmates.

If they expect equality and are given it from a young age, perhaps by the time they are adults they will be able to overcome the gender imbalances that are built into modern life and achieve what their parents could not: true gender equality.

Yours truly,

A Parent

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