My name is Adam. I’m 37 years old. I am a privileged father of two girls, aged 10 and 7.
In the past 12 months, to enhance my parenting skills and involvement with my children, I have been participating in a program run by the University of Newcastle called ‘Daughters and Dads’. The focus of the program is on the positive outcomes for young women through having healthy relationships with their dads and from being encouraged to be physically active.
Essentially, this program has opened my eyes to gender inequality. Up to this point in my life I’ve never really been concerned with it, as I’m a middle-class white man and life is easy. I find it shocking that I haven’t seen the many instances of inequality within our society until now, and I am equally as shocked to see such behaviours being reinforced by the actions of our government and schools. I have decided I must try and do something to help make the world a better place for my daughters, wife, mother, and all women.
This leads me to my recent experience at our daughters’ school, regarding changing and improving the school uniform. The school openly states that its focus is primarily on academics, and when it was raised at P&C (by another parent) that schools will be required to provide girls with a shorts option in 2021, it was clear that the outdated girls tunic needed to be reviewed.
The P&C executive and Principal took an interesting path once the decision had been made to start the process of changing the uniform. They formed an ‘invitation only’ Uniform Committee (consisting of none of the parents that were pushing for a gender neutral or active uniform, for example polo shirts) and sent out a survey to all school parents through the school bag app, which had questions worded in a way that meant you couldn’t support the school taking on a more gender neutral uniform.
The process that the P&C executive and school Principal took caused much uproar at P&C meetings and upset a lot of parents who felt passionately about the issue. Parents felt they were being silenced and removed from the process. I was one of the parents who felt upset by this seemingly secretive and controlled approach to the uniform change. During a tense moment at one of the P&C meetings the President caved in and asked, “Will it make you happy if you have a representative on the Uniform Committee?” I put my hand up to be a part of the committee.
I went along to these meetings ready to put forward the idea of a gender-neutral, active uniform. The Principal was not keen on this, feeling that a formal uniform was more appropriate for a high achieving academic school. The Uniform Committee and Principal disregarded, ignored, and at times mocked the scientific research I took to meetings, showing that tunics, skirts, and non-active uniforms discouraged young women in being physically active.
The Uniform Committee had no interest in facts, only their own agenda and vision. No amount of preparation for these meetings could have combatted their unwillingness to listen to a different voice. There is no doubt about it, I experienced bullying within these meetings that resulted in a huge amount of stress and loss of sleep for me. I was worried that my views and passions on the subject of uniform change would affect my children, knowing that their teachers were a part of this committee and the heated conversations that had occurred.
But the disbelief and anger I felt after meetings spurred me on to continue to fight for inclusive change at this school. I contacted the Department of Education Health and Wellbeing Officer and even ended up taking the issue to our local state member. I was encouraged to ask the Principal to consider Article 55 (The Transgender Rights of Students) and my local member was extremely supportive, offering to approach the school on my behalf, if needed.
My wife and I put forward Article 55 to the Principal and we were assured days later that although the school uniform would remain formal in nature and essentially gendered (there would be ‘Peter Pan’ rounded collars with culottes for ‘Option 1’ uniform and straight collars with shorts for ‘Option 2’). All students could choose to mix and match the shirts and uniform bottoms of their choice. This means my girls now go to school in straight collared shirts and shorts, and within weeks of wearing the new uniform, my eldest daughter started playing sport at lunchtime – something she hadn’t done before.
I decided that although it wasn’t the win I originally set out for, it was a win none-the-less and should be celebrated. The new uniform is a lot better than the tunics they were wearing before. Plus, I’ve already heard the new kindergarten parents complaining about the ironing of the shirts, so perhaps it won’t be long before someone else asks for polo shirts to be a bigger part of the uniform!
We can make a difference in making this world better for girls. We need to try. If you’re a parent fighting for uniform change in your school, you will require resilience, persistence, a positive attitude, and bravery. It will be hard. You won’t sleep. Support from a loved one will be essential.
But I cannot encourage you enough to have a go. Our girls depend on us.