Remembering the great Pant Debate of 1993

A look back at the day in 1993 that my daughter took a stand and wore pants to school. From The Age.

September 6, 2018

https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/remembering-the-great-pant-debate-of-1993-20180830-p500s5.html

The year is 1993. A year 11 student, wears trousers to Mt Waverley Secondary School against uniform policy.

Our family had railed against the inequity of the policy and my daughter was passionate about taking the challenge up to the school council and principal. We knew there would be repercussions and thought we were prepared.

There was a time when trousers were listed as part of the school uniform for girls. Way back in the ’70s. Yellow corduroy. Who would, even in the ’70s wear yellow corduroy? But the policy disappeared as the school’s image grew in status. Private schools didn’t allow girls to wear trousers. Could this be a status symbol?

We had made plans. During a workshop in Melbourne city I was called to the phone. My daughter had been sent home. I immediately raced to a telephone box in a busy main street to call the Equal Opportunity Board.

“I want to speak to someone who can help me about sexual discrimination please.”

She had been banned from the school that day, and only she could take out a claim against the school for not conforming to school policy. That afternoon we met an officer of the Department and she filed an objection.

Weeks later, she officially wore trousers to school. It was proved that it was against the Commonwealth Government’s Sexual Discrimination Rules and provided the child wore the official uniform, no school official could stop attendance. At conciliation that followed during the turmoil of those weeks, Mount Waverley School Council agreed that girls could wear the same grey trousers that boys wore. That weekend I commissioned a single pair of grey trousers so that she could wear them on the next school day.

The phone kept ringing. A Current Affair wanted to interview her. Channel 7 got in first. While we were being interviewed by Mal Walden, a helicopter was landing on the school grounds to interview the school’s principal.

What followed that day was weeks of sexism, sinister and debilitating, because it was underground. People frightened to take a side. Either you were with the principal on his stand of “it is against school policy” or with the other side of “stand by the girl” who has the guts to stare down the system.

Hate mail, radio conversations, women defending the school’s position, school committees riling up against our family, the newspapers full of sexist condemnation. All Australian newspapers and some in New Zealand covered the story. It was front-page news. The Midday Show as well as the current affair shows. My position in the school council was targeted. I was the devil, the pot stirrer, the one who put my daughter up to this ghastly act. I plead guilty to taking the demand for equality to the Equal Opportunity Committee and to lobbying the school community. But as a family we chose to stand up for the rights of all women.

My lasting gut-wrenching memory of the 1993 Pant Debate is of a member of the female sex describing the act of wearing trousers as being unhygienic. Granted this debate was 25 years ago, but an intelligent woman suggesting that having material covering either male or female body below the waist and over an undergarment can be more unhygienic for a female than a male?

We are proud of our daughter.

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