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.

‘I wear them, don’t you?’ More schools give pants a chance

The school dress is becoming a less common sight across Victoria. From The Age.

June 3, 2019

https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/i-wear-them-don-t-you-more-schools-give-pants-a-chance-20190510-p51m4n.html

The school dress is becoming a less common sight across Victoria.

It’s been more than 12 months since Victorian government mandated that all state schools must offer pants and shorts for girls. Private schools are increasingly doing the same, in the name of choice, comfort, promoting movement and preparing girls for the adult world.

Sacred Heart Girls’ College in Hughesdale, Mercy College in Coburg, Ave Maria College in Aberfeldie, and Kilbreda College in Mentone this year introduced a pant option. Korowa Anglican Girls’ School in Glen Iris will “shortly” bring in pants, while Loreto College Ballarat will introduce both pants and shorts in 2020.

Polly Flanagan, principal of Shelford Girls’ Grammar in Caulfield, said her students loved the pant option introduced this year.

“A number of girls’ schools are moving to pants and it’s probably one of those ‘it’s time’ moments,” she said. “Girls these days are not as constrained by notions of femininity and what people think of them as they might have been 20 years ago. They are making sensible choices about comfort. We have tights with our dresses, and they say the pants save them seven minutes in the morning when they are getting dressed.”

MLC in Kew has long offered pants and this year added shorts. “Whilst it was partly student driven, it was also MLC responding to the changing times and being happy to provide choices for students’ individual preferences.”

Kate Dishon, principal of Mount St Joseph Girls’ College in Altona, said her school had replaced a “dated” uniform – which included a kilt and tie – with the option of pants and shorts this year.

Melbourne Girls Grammar will next term introduce the choice of pants and shorts following a group of Year 10 girls turning up to school last November in pants.

Principal Toni Meath said research showed clothing affected confidence, sense of self and identity.

The uniform changes across Victoria have followed discussions between students, staff and parents. Many schools have introduced trans-seasonal uniforms so students are able to mix and match the articles of clothing depending on the weather.

Shorts are less likely to be offered than pants. For many schools, such as Shelford Girls’ Grammar and Melbourne Girls Grammar, it is back to the future as pants were offered decades ago.

The uptake of pants and shorts varies across schools. Darren Atkinson, principal of Aquinas College in Ringwood, which introduced them in 2017, said the take-up had not been overwhelming, but “the important thing is that it is an option.”

Mater Christi College in Belgrave, which has long offered pants, said students were “only slowly moving across to trousers. Does this reflect something of a stronger socially innate ‘princess image’ at play, perhaps something to do with enjoying the swish of the formal secondary uniform?” asked principal Mary Fitz-Gerald.

Uniforms remain a sensitive topic for some schools. Strathcona Baptist Girls Grammar in Canterbury declined, via a public relations firm, to say what its uniform was.

Eva Dobozy is an education researcher and associate professor in the Faculty of Business and Law at Curtin University. Dr Dobozy said “students all around Australia complain about what they perceive as unfair practices concerning school uniforms” and gender-neutral uniforms remained a “contested idea.”

Girls’ Uniform Agenda is a 12-strong group of mothers across Australia which lobbies schools to offer girls the choice of pants and shorts, and helps parents do the same. It says research shows girls do less exercise in dresses and skirts and are more self-conscious doing everyday things such as bending over.

Co-founder Simone Cariss said the shift to the choice of pants and shorts was “definitely happening but there’s still a long way to go and it’s a little slower than we would like.” She said the group had obtained preliminary legal advice that schools which did not offer choice were breaching anti-discrimination laws.

Ms Cariss said schools tended to reject the introduction of pants and shorts due to tradition, expectations of how girls should look, and the principal’s preference for skirts and dresses.

One of its Girls’ Uniform Agenda’s youth ambassadors is 16-year-old Audrey Gray, who has attended public, private, religious and non-religious schools in Melbourne and overseas.

Ms Gray said skirts and dresses were “inconvenient”, restricted girls from physical activity such as spontaneously playing football on the oval, and had the potential to embarrass girls as they reached puberty.

“Throughout my high school experience, I’ve witnessed there are so many reasons only being able to wear skirts and dresses to school is bad for girls, especially as they grow older,” she said.

The Alliance of Girls’ Schools Australasia – whose members are mostly non-government schools – said “more and more schools are choosing diverse uniform options” and “schools make these choices based on a lot of different factors individual to each specific school.”

Matthew Flinders Girls Secondary College principal Michelle Crofts said students were increasingly taking up the option – introduced in 2014 – to wear pants and shorts.

“Well, girls wear pants, too,” she said. “It did not make sense to not offer shorts and pants. I wear them, don’t you? In fact, when you look at women walking down the street and in work places, most are wearing pants.”

Girls’ school shoes are hobbling their chances in life

Are tlimsy, open-topped shoes marketed to little girls telling them they aren’t meant to be physically active? From The Guardian.

11 Septmber 2017

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/sep/11/school-shoes-girls-boys-hobbling-life-chances-flimsy-sturdy-sexism-gender

Last week, like many parents, I walked into a shoe shop to buy my daughter some school shoes. Outside it was raining, and all I wanted was a nice, stylish, practical pair of shoes for my daughter to start the new school year.

We went over to the girls’ section and, as usual, found 25 pairs of Mary Jane or ballet pump style shoes. Just five pairs of shoes on display actually covered the whole of a girl’s foot.

Out on the street adult women wore shoes that protected their feet from the heavy rain, but on the school run little girls stomped along with half covered feet, grey tights darkening in the damp.

Forget all the rowing about “gender neutral” and boys wearing dresses; whether you are ideologically invested in your daughters’ footwear and clothing or not (and by that I mean concerned by the evidence that shows overly gendered influences hold back girls in Stem subjects and beyond), surely we all just want our kids’ feet to be warm and dry?

Think about it. Boys have sturdy shoes that cover their whole foot and are suitable for running, climbing and adventuring. Girls have Mary Janes that are suitable for … a party. (A party where you get soggy feet if it rains.) And this is the picture up and down the country. It’s insane. We’re pumping millions of pounds into trying to get girls active – the brilliant This Girl Can campaign cost £10m – and yet every damn day we’re sending them out in school shoes that they cannot be properly active in.

And then we wonder why only one in 10 of all 14-year-old girls do the right amount of exercise to be healthy, or why 2 million fewer 14- to 40-year-old women than men play sport regularly. Sport England’s research that led to This Girl Can revealed that 75% of women want to be more active but that fear of judgment by others is the primary barrier holding them back from participating in sport.

Where does this judgment come from? I think I know. Because I already see it rearing its ugly little head at my five-year-old daughter. She’s already being told that “football’s for boys” – she can see that in the shoe shop where the football motifs only appear in the boys’ section – and she’s well used to the colour coding and messaging telling her which toys/activities/careers/hobbies she should be interested in according to her sex. It is good to see retailers such as John Lewis and Clarks beginning to redress some of this in their labelling, but as long as the products themselves remain so gendered it’s all just decoration on a big old sexist cake.

It’s no surprise how that translates in the playground – with girls rarely playing ball games at lunchtime – or PE lessons and after-school sports clubs, where coaches complain that boys won’t pass girls the ball, or girls are reluctant to attend. Education specialists describe school playgrounds being dominated by boys playing active games, while girls occupy the outer edges of the space, taking up less physical room. This at a developmental stage where boys and girls are still the same size. It’s the childhood precursor to “manspreading” and all that it symbolises.

Of course discussing the gendered state of clothes and toys is seen as ideological brainwashing, loony leftism taken a step too far. But the reality is that toys and clothes in the 21st century are more gendered now than they were for my generation growing up in the early 1980s. In the Sears catalogue advertisements from 1975, for example, less than 2% of toys were explicitly marketed to either boys or girls.

Why? It all comes down to profit. Why sell one box of Lego when you can sell two just by gendering the colours and themes on the box. In Jacques Peretti’s excellent BBC documentary The Men Who Made Us Spend (2014), he examined the way in which children are increasingly targeted by marketers as mini consumers – with the average British child seeing 10,000 TV adverts a year. Any parent who’s ever sat through just one ad break on a children’s channel will be able to tell you that it’s the most explicitly gendered thing you’ve ever seen – with boys and girls typically appearing separately, in a whirl of pink and high-pitched voices or blue with a backdrop of angry guitar music.

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Why does this matter? All the studies tell us that being physically active is good for our children, in particular for girls who frequently struggle with body image issues and self-confidence. Sport and exercise have the power to change our daughters’ lives – bringing enhanced career opportunities, biting back at the gender pay gap, and boosting their self esteem. Who wouldn’t want that for their kids?

This morning my daughter told me that she doesn’t want to wear trousers to school any more because they’re “for boys”. Other parents often tell me the same thing. It was almost a century ago that women in this country won the battle to wear trousers. It is enormously troubling to think we might be raising a generation of children increasingly exposed to regressive ideas about gender, sold down the river for a bit of profit.

The girl who wore the “boys uniform” to school

Found on Twitter.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

The school dress ‘debate’

Is the school dress ‘debate’ nonsense – just have a range of options, and let students choose? From The Conversation.

January 11, 2017

https://theconversation.com/school-dress-debate-is-a-nonsense-just-have-a-range-of-options-and-let-students-choose-71069

Lauren Rosewarne

For Australians growing up on a diet of American film and TV, seeing their parade of chic and shocking school outfits can only ever bristle. Here, uniform is king; over yonder it’s been a rarity since the 1960s.

In recent days a debate has been reignited about girls being “forced” to wear skirts and dresses to school. A debate that feels less like a gender firestorm and more like a disregard for history and widespread school policy.

2017 marks my 20th year out of high school; I finished with that whole shindig back in 1997. Twenty years ago, while my public school offered a delightfully fetching brown kilt or fawn shirt dress, we ladies could also don the charming green pants.

The idea that girls are being forced into chub-rub garments that they can’t easily run in seems to ignore the developments that have transpired in the great majority of schools over a great number of years. Options exist. Pick the slacks, pick the shorts. Alternate.

In researching this article I’ve spoken to friends who are teachers, school counsellors. Parents. In the private sector, in the public. No dress distress that I could locate. At all. I don’t doubt there are exceptions. To suggest, however, that there’s a widespread catastrophe here is folly.

I’m not, therefore, devoting 800 words to selling a case on why school dresses are or aren’t sexist. We’re in an education system where they aren’t commonly compulsory, so there’d be no point. This doesn’t, however, make them uninteresting. Particularly in our current social climate.

As a high schooler I vacillated between believing that having to wear the itchy green school jumper was malarkey, to actually enjoying not having to think about outfits. Sure, I likely harboured vague notions of wanting to “express” the blackness of my soul through apparel I’d self-selected, but even then I knew that having to do so daily would have soon worn thin.

Schools like uniforms for branding purposes. For social cohesion. For classroom control. In a world of teenagers with beards and boobs, they also likely help distinguish teachers from the underlings.

Parents equally favour the fixed costs, the dodged drama about fitting in, the avoided arguments.

In 2017 the uniform story has become complicated, but not because of the mystical properties of any specific garment in a school’s ensemble. Rather, we’re at the part in our social journey where the individual is king. Where freedom of expression consumes more oxygen than all those economic and social factors that once justified the uniform.

I’m not going to write an identity politics essay. It’s January and I’m saving my energies for the start of the academic year when I’ll have to have the debate weekly with my Gender Studies students. Instead, I’ll focus on policy. On how schools can best handle this issue.

Just as Australians don’t really want to steal any of the prom king/homecoming queen/school shooting hideousness from the US education system, my guess is that there’s little impetus here to abandon uniforms. With the endless parade of stories about leggings bans and spaghetti strap scandals, I dare say most Australian schools aren’t the least bit interested in that whole can o’ worms.

So the question that remains is whether uniforms can continue to serve their purpose(s) in a world in where the concept of a “male uniform” and a “female uniform” is complicated, if not even passé, and in a culture that is – rightly – trying to meet the needs of students who don’t always identify as either.

Students not identifying as male, as female, shouldn’t be forced into apparel based on their name or their genitals or their haircut or any of the other markers we used to control gender. Doing so is not only oppressive but will create the capacity for litigation. Something schools most certainly want to avoid.

So the solution – the path of least change, least legal quagmire – is so simple it seems extraordinary that the conversation is still being had. Just have a range of sanctioned options.

Approve the dresses and the blazers and the jumper and the slacks. List the items that constitute the school’s uniform and allow the students to pick. It needn’t be more complicated than this. Get rid of the “girls” list, abandon the “boys” list, and just have a list of approved apparel.

If the primary mission of schools is education, if the primary function of uniforms is cohesion, schools need to enable students – all students – to feel included so that they can concentrate on the learning. The rest is politics and wasted breath.

Mandatory shorts and pants for schoolgirls

Instead of just adding shorts and pants to the school uniform options, Lowther Hall Anglican Grammar School has remove skirts and dresses from the uniform list for kindergarten and year 1 students.

23 October 2018

https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/oct/22/melbourne-school-makes-shorts-and-pants-mandatory-to-encourage-girls-to-exercise?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

Melbourne school makes shorts and pants mandatory to encourage girls to exercise

A Melbourne school has made shorts and pants mandatory to encourage physical activity and play among young girls.

Kindergarten and year 1 students at Lowther Hall Anglican grammar school in Essendon have ditched school uniform dresses and skirts. The school is believed to be one of the first private schools in the state to make the uniform change for its junior primary female pupils.

The school’s principal, Elisabeth Rhodes, said the school had reviewed its uniform wardrobe to make it more fit for purpose.

Girls had previously reported feeling self-conscious and inhibited by dresses and skirts while they were playing and some were choosing to sit and talk instead.

Rhodes reflected on her own schoolgirl days doing gymnastics manoeuvres.

“I was a cartwheeler, I do remember the dress flying up over my head, as well as when you were spinning around on the monkey bars or doing handstands, you were always worried about your dress falling down,” she told the Guardian.

Rhodes said there was strong support from girls and parents behind the move, and they had some input into the design.

“It’s a beautiful uniform even though it is less formal in the early years,” she said.

School principals were conscious of the importance of physical activity not just for warding off childhood obesity but also for good mental health.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if more schools were looking to adopt uniforms that would promote engagement in physical activity,” Rhodes said.

Eveline Jona from the Victorian Parents Council – a lobby group for parents who send children to non-government schools – said it was important for schools to balance issues such as physical and mental health with freedom of choice.

Her organisation encouraged schools to consult their community before making key policy decisions on topics such as school uniform.

The Victorian state government last year sought to give female students at public schools the option to opt for pants and shorts over dresses and skirts.

Next year Queensland public school girls will also have broader uniform choice.

In New South Wales and Western Australia, public schools have also followed suit.

Gender neutral school shoes?

Latest idea from the United Kingdom – gender neutral school shoes. Are they really anything new?

12 September 2017

https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/clarks-gender-neutral-shoes-plans-john-lewis-male-female-a7942081.html

Clarks reveals plans for gender neutral school shoes
The Independent

Clarks has announced plans for unisex school shoes.

The announcement comes after the shoe brand was criticised for “sexist” shoes for children earlier this summer.

In a statement on the company website last month, Clarks says it is promoting a “gender neutral ethos” following “customer feedback.”

Its Spring/Summer 2018 line is set to be “entirely unisex.”

The statement reads: “Clarks has a gender neutral ethos that anyone can choose any style they would like.

“Over the past few seasons, following customer feedback and market research, we have focused on creating more unisex shoes and we are looking at a number of elements of our business to promote this gender neutral ethos, both on our website and within our stores.

“As a large global company, it is not always possible to implement all the changes we want to make as quickly as we would like. However, we are looking to move as fast as we can to ensure this ethos is reflected throughout our brand.

“Today we have more unisex styles in our range than ever before. This means we now have a wider range of closed-in styles, school boots and GORE-TEX® styles and these changes will continue in our Spring Summer 2018 range, which has been designed with an entirely unisex approach.”

A spokesperson for Clarks told The Independent that there is little detail about what the new unisex line will entail, but at the moment it’s planned for children’s rather than adults’ shoes.

In August this year, the shoe shop received a barrage of complaints online after one mother publicly criticised the brand for their “sexist” shoes for girls.

Jemma Moonie-Dalton wrote on Facebook that she was “dismayed” by the choice of school shoes for her daughter in the store.

“I understand, of course, that anyone can choose any style – but children are not stupid, and my seven year old daughter does not want to choose shoes from a section aggressively marketed at boys and clearly not intended for her.

“In the boys’ section the shoes are sturdy, comfortable and weatherproof with soles clearly designed with running and climbing in mind. In contrast, the girls’ shoes have inferior soles, are not fully covered and are not well padded at the ankle. They are not comfortable and are not suited to outdoor activities in British weather.”

The mother suggested that the difference in shoe style sends a message to girls that they should be “satisfied with looking stylish whilst the boys are free to play and achieve in comfort.”

Her post has been shared nearly 18,000 times and has 44,000 reactions.

Clarks has also come under fire for selling shoes for girls with names such as “Dolly Babe,” in contrast to “Leader” for boys.

The brand has apologised for any offence caused though and explained that the Dolly Babe shoe has been discontinued.