Guest blog from Early Year’s Teacher and Girls’ Uniform Agenda Supporter, Louise Lenzo
I work as a teacher in a non-denominational private school, which caters for learners from pre-school to year 12. The early learning unit is based on a modern Montessori method of teaching and learning. The Montessori Method of education is based on self-directed activities with hands on learning where children make choices and develop their potential. With the Montessori approach in mind, I find the uniform options for the girls in my class contradictory to this philosophy. I teach first year of school, with children who are 5 to 6 years old. The girls only have one uniform choice, a pinafore (like a dress) with a blouse underneath. On sports day, they have a separate uniform, which is a polo shirt and shorts, the same for both genders.
Girls’ Uniform Preferences
I have asked a number of girls which uniform they prefer and why, and all stated that they prefer the sports uniform, because it feels nicer and softer on their skin. Students commented:
“When you run, the sports uniform is more comfortable than the dress.”
“I like the sports uniform. It doesn’t show your undies.”
“I like my sports uniform because I can do cartwheels and handstands.”
My Day as a Teacher
Let me give you some examples of how I spend a large portion of the four days each week that the young girls in my class come to school in their pinafore and blouse:
Girls and Their Uniform
I remind girls to keep their legs closed when seated on a chair.
I remind girls to pull their dress over their knees when seated cross-legged on the floor, and when sitting at assembly.
I have come to dread swimming lessons; the nightmare of helping girls to change in and out of wet bathers as they cannot dress themselves. The pinafore has a button on the shoulder. I must undo the buttons to pull it over the girls head as the children cannot undo, nor do back up, the buttons by themselves.
The blouse worn under the pinafore has a very tiny button at the back near the neck, which the girls cannot reach much less do up on their own.
Hair constantly gets caught in the back button of the blouse. I end up cutting hair loose quite frequently as it often cannot be untangled.
I talk with girls in the playground who comment that they don͛t want to play as their dress flies up and they show their underwear.
I try to calm girls who get increasingly annoyed at the boys looking at their underwear.
I try to support girls who become increasingly self-conscious of underwear choice. Girls are tending to wear bike shorts under their dress, which proves to be hot in our humid tropical weather.
Boys and Their Uniform
Want to know about the conversations I have with boys around their uniform, which is shorts and a button-up shirt?
I sometimes have to help a boy do up his shoe when his shoelace becomes undone.
That’s it! I am also constantly reminding boys to not look under girl͛s dresses and comment on their underwear.
Do You Get The Message?
By forcing girls to wear a dress or skirt in the classroom, and refusing them the choice of shorts and pants, we send a very clear message –being a girl, dressed in appropriate ‘girls’ clothing, is more important than her wishes, her comfort, and her ability to play. She is confined by outdated social rules which may limit her learning, her individualism, her potential, and constrain her social interactions. By refusing to give girls a choice as to which uniform they wear we perpetuate the idea that it is okay to discriminate against some children. And as girls experience the struggles they face in their clothing, struggles that boys simply do not have, they learn that it is normal that they be disadvantaged, while boys be respected.
It’s Time for Change
It’s more than time to defy expectations about what we are ‘supposed’ to wear because of our gender. Our modern-day world encourages forward thinking and the pushing of boundaries – this is how we grow, develop and transfigure society.
Spread the word far and wide. If you are a teacher, discuss, debate and draw attention to this agenda in your classroom and staffroom. At my school, we recently had a day of action where female teachers came to work in their shorts and pants, and we took a photo to share with Girls’ Uniform Agenda to help spread the word.
With our combined effort, we can create the change our girls so desperately need us to create. In having choice, we have freedom; the freedom to be who we are, to express ourselves vocally, artistically, physically, spiritually and emotionally. Children need the freedom to focus on being a child. To freely explore all that childhood has to offer without the constraints of clothing which restricts and undermines them. Boys’ uniforms largely allow them to do this, while girls’ uniforms largely do not. Isn’t it time for change?