How we make girls suffer for conformity and societal expectation. It starts at primary school, with the uniforms spelling out the inequity – boys get to wear practical shorts and tops that are easy to move in, girls get dresses that curb their physical activity.
From 2017 female students at Melbourne private school Carey Grammar
will be able to opt for gender neutral uniforms. In the UK, 80 state schools, including 40 primary schools, allow girls to wear pants and boys to wear skirts. (The Guardian, 14 June 2016)
School uniforms prescribed for girls are uncomfortable, impractical and downright stressful – I have been there, and I applaud any school that enables girls to wear a uniform that allows them the freedom of dress boys take for granted.
My own school uniform is seared into my memory, and that of all my friends. Every school reunion, talk will inevitably turn to the uniform and the notorious 'knicker checks' and skirt length checks at the girls' school I attended.
In these enlightened times of equity and diversity, it will seem strange indeed, and a violation of all sorts of rights, when I describe how the Middle School Headmistress would line the girls up and make us expose our underwear to check we were wearing the regulation school colors and sturdy cotton knickers, brown for every day and bright yellow to go under the obscenely short yellow sports tunic.
You lost House points if you turned up to school wearing non-regulation knickers. Those detested Bonds Cottontails that make my stomach turn if I see them lined up crisply in a shop, full of their intentional virginal overtones. Double points were taken off for the naughty fashion forward girls who provoked the Headmistress's ire by turning up in brightly colored Witches Britches, which created a shock of static electricity from belly button to knee.
But we girls were not outraged. We were suffering too much to be outraged. Oh, how we suffered in our uniforms. Suffering from the uncomfortable, humiliating, unflattering and restricting school uniform. Suffering from the sports tunic that was so short, barely grazing one's pubes, which meant every girl opted to wear tracksuit pants underneath no matter how hot it was.
How we avoided heat stroke was a miracle. In the middle of summer, on the sports oval, there we would be – dark brown tracksuit pants affording us a modicum of modesty and ability to move without everyone looking at our nether regions.
If that wasn't bad enough, any girl who had the misfortune of actually having a bust ended up wearing the heavy wool dark brown jumper all summer as well, as the summer sports uniform was cut so that it gaped in the middle buttons across one's chest, save for those who had not yet entered puberty.
Did I mention this foul ensemble was poly cotton, so mercilessly clung to our puppy fat? I can't recall if the school produced any sporting champions. It would appear unlikely given the clothing restrictions.
The general uniform was equally as bad. Let me describe it in all its glory – an A lined poly cotton dress, with buttons down the front so each could gape apart in turn, especially if you had a bust. Under a totalitarian regime, peons will find a way to subvert the system, and so we did – we wore the thick jumper year round as a mass protest against 'the gape', and the more radical among us would roll the top up so it sat firmly under the bust.
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