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 in shorts at MLC Kew

Girls at Methodist Ladies’ College in Kew are now permitted to wear shorts as part of their summer school uniform.

https://www.mlc.vic.edu.au/About-MLC/MLC-Uniform

In response to student feedback, we are delighted to be adding shorts and a short-sleeve shirt option to our Summer academic uniform.

Both garments have been developed to work with existing uniform items and are similar to the MLC pants and winter shirt. Students have the flexibility to mix and match the various pieces from both the winter and summer uniforms in order to feel most comfortable.

Whilst it is important to have a unifying MLC uniform that students are proud to wear, we also support providing flexible options to suit each students’ individual preferences, much like they will encounter in their future careers, and to continue to support student input.

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.

Girls in shorts at Barker College

Girls at Barker College in Sydney are now permitted to wear shorts as part of their school uniform.

February 2019

https://www.smh.com.au/education/they-love-them-the-shorts-dilemma-facing-private-schools-20190201-p50v39.html

‘They love them’: the shorts dilemma facing private schools

By Jordan Baker

During a visit to an interstate school, one comment stopped Barker headmaster Phillip Heath in his tracks. “One of the girls said to me, ‘I love to play chasings, and I can’t in this dress’. It was because the dress was too narrow in the knees.”

In 20 years, no-one had asked the girls what they thought of their uniform, and they’d become resigned to it. “I don’t want that [at Barker],” Mr Heath said. “If a girl wants to play chasings, no garment from the school will prevent that.”

After a change to uniform policy last year, NSW public schools are now required to offer shorts and trouser options to girls. But the edict doesn’t cover private schools, and many in Sydney are reluctant to follow suit.

For most, the tradition is the stumbling block; any proposal to change a uniform sparks passion from alumni, students and parents. “You dissatisfy everybody, that’s one of the reasons why … it’s easier to leave them alone,” Mr Heath said.

As pressure grows, some are considering a change. Barker introduced shorts this year. Ravenswood will consult its students this term. MLC has changed uniform suppliers to allow it to “look at the direction for our uniform in the future”.

Yet many private girls’ schools did not answer the Herald’s query or said they had no plans for pants. Presbyterian Ladies College said it would continue to offer shorts only as part of its sports uniform due to tradition and the school’s “rich Scottish heritage”.

Alison Boston from the Girls’ Uniform Agenda said schools should prioritise girls’ comfort over tradition. “You can’t say that the rights of girls are less important,” she said.

“We certainly don’t advocate for removing dresses or skirts, if that’s not what the girls want. But it’s about having schools represent society. In society, woman can choose from shorts, dresses, pants, to suit what they are doing.”

When Barker College began its transition from a boys’-only school to co-ed in its junior ranks (it has long had female students in its senior school), it took the opportunity to review the uniform.

Mr Heath called in designer Jonathan Ward, who has created uniforms for Loreto Kirribilli, Meriden and St Andrews Cathedral school, among others, and began a two-year process of consultation.

He wanted a a uniform that combines tradition with a “level of formality that is still comfortable,” and allows young men and women to “express their identity without gender intruding unhelpfully and emphatically”.

A committee consulted students, alumni, parents (future and present), and neighbours. It laid out patterns on floors, tested samples on students, explored fabric weights and tried out different layering options.

“For every ten people, there were 15 opinions, and those opinions would change,” said Mr Heath.

It also discovered 22 different shades of red in existing uniforms and accessories, which it narrowed down to two.

Finally, it came up with a uniform incorporates the traditional Barker stripe into a uniform that uses a modern design, with “trans-seasonal” layering options, as well as trouser and shorts options for junior girls who want them.

From next year, pants will be offered to senior girls as well. “The girls were extremely eager that we introduced pants and short options,” said Mr Heath.

“They didn’t commit to always wearing those things, but they wanted the choice, and I’m all for it.”

When Mr Ward began designing uniforms 20 years ago, girls did not embrace pants on the rare occasions they had the option. But these days, “they love them,” he said.

“It’s so important for these kids to feel comfortable, and feel they have some choice.”