“Dear Mr Payne. Why can’t girls wear shorts for the summer? I am still wearing my trousers, shirt and tie but it’s a bit hot, but I don’t want to wear a dress because: 1. They show your pants 2. They are hard to run in 3. I just don’t like dresses.” – letter from 9-year-old Izzy to school principal, UK
The littlest of people are driving big changes in school uniform policy. In Australia, girl power was on display when eight-year-old Marlie talked to her principal and persuaded her school board to let her wear shorts to school. In the UK, nine-year-old Izzy Lindsey-Clark successfully made the case for wearing shorts too. Izzy wrote to her school principal and put together a presentation on: why she wanted to wear shorts, what type she wanted and where you could buy them. The school board unanimously approved the uniform policy change.
Both girls won their argument and got to wear the shorts that they wanted to; the crucial difference between Marlie and Izzy’s experience was the school response. Izzy’s school fully supported the proposal and made sure the decision was properly implemented, so that the whole school community was fully informed of the changes. Izzy was not left to be a “lone uniform warrior” wearing her shorts. Izzy was not asked lots of questions by other pupils about why she was wearing the “boy’s uniform”. The principal made sure that the information about the uniform change was on the school website, changed in new parent packs and displayed on the school website and Facebook page so all parents were aware. The letter written from the principal to Izzy perfectly shows how we should be responding to our young activists:
“Your actions have made a difference that will matter for years to come. Even after you have left this school, there will be girls who are able to come to school wearing shorts because you were willing to put yourself forward to change rules for the better…
…You made a difference. Our world is now a little more of an equal place just because of you…” – extract from Principal, Mr Payne’s, letter
We need to get right behind our young girls and women when they take a stand on wanting the choice of wearing shorts and pants, because there is no good reason that they should be denied that option. We know that girls are more active and better able to focus on their education when they wear the uniform they are comfortable in.
We know that forcing children to follow rigid gender stereotypes is harmful to their sense of who they are, and leads to the acceptance of inequity. As Mary Barry, the CEO of Our Watch, the national body that works to prevent violence against women and children points out, “continuing to enforce limiting clothing regulations on girls is one of many ways they are reminded of their unequal status. It is seemingly “small” issues like this that, taken together, create a broader landscape of gender inequality across our society”.
Lyn Mikel Brown, author of Powered by Girl, says we should encourage children to be activists: “Engaging in activism decreases feelings of alienation and increases self-esteem, by offering connections and possibilities that help counter all the justified reasons girls can feel numb, angry, alienated and powerless.” Encouraging girls to tap into and demonstrate their girl power allows us all to move a little closer to equity.
Principal Mr Payne’s response to Izzy and his communication with the school community, demonstrates to the girls in that school that their voices are powerful. He has done what we should all do when children share with us what they want; listen, reflect, and respect their needs and point of view.
Izzy and Marlie show us that girls are strong, brave and determined. Never underestimate the power of girls, individually they can change their schools; collectively, the world.