School Uniform Blues…
Please note: This post was first written for my parenting website, www.parentresourcecentre.com. But I felt it worked here as well.
The school I’m thinking of sending my daughter to next year has a compulsory school uniform. It’s a private school, of course. The public system cannot enforce a school uniform.
I like uniforms. I think they take some thought out of what to put on each day and they help to foster a sense of belonging. I also like schools with no uniform. I think they help to foster individual taste and creativity.
No, uniforms themselves are not the problem at hand.
This school has a set of options for the girls’ uniform, and a set of options for the boys’ uniform. These options are not the same. Private schools in general tend to be conservative, but there’s no need for them to be. I have inspected private primary schools with high fees and toffee-nosed reputations which have identical school uniform codes for boys and girls. But not this primary school.
The girls are expected to wear a pinafore dress. They can choose whether to wear a short sleeved shirt or a long sleeved skivvy underneath it. They can choose whether to wear socks or tights. But they cannot choose to wear trousers in winter or shorts in summer.
The boys are expected to wear trousers in winter or shorts in summer. The cannot choose to wear a dress.
Woah, hold up, I hear you say. Choose to wear a dress? Are you serious right now? What boy in his right mind would want to wear a dress? Sure, OK, trousers for girls I can understand, but a dress for boys???
This reflex reaction is the reason why some people find it especially difficult to find peace with themselves for so long – many refuse to accept the gender they are born to (not the gender they are brought up to) until well into their adulthood. Why? Because it’s so taboo for boys to want to be girls or look like girls.
As far as I know, my son will remain my son for the rest of my life. I don’t anticipate him becoming my daughter. I have no idea if he will be gay or not, and I couldn’t care less either way. I sincerely hope, for his sake, that whatever and whoever he is, he is at peace with it throughout his life, and that others are equally at peace with him, just as he is.
I hope the same for my daughter.
Which brings me back to school uniforms. If Ellie attends this school next year, she’ll be wearing one. She is rather fond of dresses and tights. Which is lucky, considering the restrictions. But I am less sanguine. Let’s investigate the benefits of dresses versus trousers, for a minute.
Pros of wearing a dress: You look cute. You look like a little girl. The end.
Pros of wearing trousers: You look comfortable. You look warm. You can go to the toilet without risking your skirt getting wet or getting tucked into your tights. You can be active without worrying about showing your undies, or skinning your knees or putting a ladder in your tights.
We want our girls to play more sports and grow up feeling like the equal of boys. But, in enforcing the impractical clothing our currently culture assigns to girls, they are immediately on the backfoot. Here’s something to ponder: the sport uniform for both genders is identical. Trousers and a polo shirt. What does that tell you about the relative benefits of skirts and dresses for being active?
When we force our girls to wear dresses and tights, it makes it hard for them to be active – they will naturally gravitate to more sedentary pursuits. The boys play soccer, the girls watch. The boys climb trees, the girls do their nails. When a girl escapes from the mould, she ends up with torn tights, with people shaming her for showing her undies, with the epithets ‘hoyden,’ ‘tomboy,’ ‘lezzo.’
Boys get some of this treatment, if they shun their expected stereotype. They might be called ‘gay,’ for preferring to sit and talk or braid hair. Of course, sometimes boys are lauded for behaving more sedately. They are ‘such good, well-behaved boys,’ if they don’t run around for hours, but sit and read. Girls are ‘real go-getters,’ if they work hard at sport. But funnily enough, there are far fewer positive terms for boys and girls alike who break the mould. ‘Studious,’ for boys, perhaps. ‘Sporty,’ for girls. Not much to speak of.
Why do we insist on forcing our children to be other than what they are?
Our girls are told that certain behaviour is ‘not ladylike.’ Running and yelling like a maniac and making bottom jokes, for example. My four year old daughter loves ‘bum’ jokes. When boys do it we say, ‘boys will be boys.’ How can we expect our girls to compete in the current ‘man’s world’ when we give them a double standard from the day they’re born?
To focus on my immediate child’s needs for a moment, allowing girls to choose to wear trousers or shorts has so many benefits. They can express themselves more fully. They can be active – which is essential for long term health – without as many consequences to clothing, or risk of being shamed for being inappropriate (frankly, I see no reason not to show off undies either, especially in young children, but that’s a whole other issue). They can be warmer and more comfortable throughout a long day, in which the crotch of girls’ tights might ride awkwardly down the thigh. They can handle going to the toilet with far more ease.
I am unhappy with the idea that my child will be forced, over time, to into culturally defined behaviours simply because of the clothes she is allowed to wear. For the first years, no doubt, she will get up to as much mischief and action as the boys – she’s never been one of those kids who hates getting their clothes dirty. But eventually, with me yelling at her for laddering her tights (you know it’s gonna happen), with teachers telling her to be more ladylike, with her peers self-segregating into boy groups and girl groups with associated practices – what chance does she have?
So what’s my response? I’ll be asking questions when I speak to the Co-Principal this week. If we do go with this school, I feel strongly enough about this issue to take it up with the parents and the board. If I want my daughter to have certain choices, it falls to me to do my best for her, to get up off my butt and take action. But the fact that it’s necessary? Makes me somewhat furious.