Having completed my entire education in an American private school with no uniform policy, I’d had zero experience with the Australian school system until my daughter Elizabeth began kindy in 2015. Needless to say, it was a rude awakening on enrolment day when this feminist academic mum discovered that girls were forced to wear dresses year-round, and that shorts and pants were only available for sports days. Yet comfy cotton pants, shorts and polos were allowed for “active” young boys.
It didn’t take long for my sporty soccer-playing daughter to notice this double standard and blatant discrimination of girls. One morning during Term 2, clearly fed up with being required to dress like a nun, she asked, “Do I really have to wear that itching THING [tunic]?? Why can’t I wear what the boys wear so I can play soccer with them at lunchtime?” Having no good answer for her, I promised to speak with the principal, which I did, along with another likeminded mum whose daughter was asking the same questions.
We were disappointed, to say the least, with the principal’s reply of “Well, this is what the uniform has always been, and no one has complained before.” We replied that we were complaining now, and we backed up our complaints with a request for a formal uniform review, citing compelling research suggesting that what we wear directly influences everything from our activity levels to our self-esteem.
Fortunately, the survey revealed many other like-minded parents in the school and resulted in a uniform overhaul. However, the unisex items we’d requested were rejected on grounds that the girls wouldn’t look “smart” enough. Therefore, formal, slimline pants were required for girls, while the more casual pants options were retained for the “active” boys. Also, rather than unisex shorts being allowed in summer, girls would be required to wear culottes in the same material as the dress (which is being retained as an option). Nevertheless, it is a step in the right direction, though much work remains to be done.
Elizabeth changed schools in January 2017 due to our moving house. Her new school has a pants option for girls in winter, but only the dress in summer. I raised this incongruence between summer and winter options at my first P&C meeting, and received overwhelming support from the majority in attendance, who indicated that the uniform had been the same for fifty years, and that change was well overdue. A couple of corporate parents even went as far to say that if they required females in their workplaces to wear dresses, they would likely be sued. So another survey was born, gauging the interest in a skort/polo option for girls in summer and inviting open feedback on any aspect of the uniform. To date, survey results have not been tabulated, but we are hopeful that good sense will prevail.