Thanks must go to the campaign against same sex marriage for alerting me to the very real danger for boys when they wear dresses.
Cella White, a parent of four children, claimed in an advertisement for the Coalition for Marriage that her son's school told him he could wear a dress to school if he felt like it.
That is a complete disgrace.
To be honest, I just hadn't thought about this at all clearly until this point.
Boys. Wearing dresses. At school. Clearly a societal tipping point.
If boys wore frocks at school, our social fabric would be torn asunder.
Why? They would be forced into behaving like girls. Cooking. Cleaning. Making nice. Sitting with their legs together so no-one can see their undies because girls are taught from an early age that their underwear might excite.
Boys in shorts: they can do handstands, hang upside down from monkey bars, climb trees and anything else in their way. Run. Jump. Stand still.
Girls in dresses: Protect their modesty. Be objects.
No wonder White wants out of that lark. Me too.
Dresses should be banned at schools, no matter what your gender.
You have to ask yourself why Cella White has such a horror of her son in a dress. The answer is this: dresses impose a set of behaviours that she doesn't think fit her idea of what a son should be. She wants sporty and free but I always wanted that for my daughters, too.
French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu applied the word illusio to explain how we all come to agree on stuff. I'm reading him for my PhD and I thought illusio was a good way to describe how we have built a common understanding of what gender is, which basically limits women and men. Our illusio of gender, as exemplified by dresses, is women must learn to be adorned. That their clothing is not fit for purpose but fit for objectification.
And Amanda Mergler wants that to stop. Girls Uniform Agenda began when she realised she would have to move her kids from their very local school because her daughter loved shorts. While the school policy itself said girls could wear the shorts available to boys, girls had learned to police femininity even in year one. Her poor daughter was told she had to use the boys' toilet because she was wearing boys' shorts.
"They wanted her to perform in ways that would limit her. She wanted to run and play and her dress would get in the way," she said.
"Her brother was allowed to wear shorts and she wasn't. I refused to say to her because you are girl your brother can wear shorts to school but you can't."
Her two children have now moved to a school where everyone can wear the same comfy cotton elastic-waisted shorts with the pull cord.
Mergler doesn't want to name the school in Queensland because she says there is no point in shaming individual institutions – plus it's everywhere. She says every week her new organisation is being contacted by more and more parents wanting to make change. The latest success is in Western Australia.
Now Girls Uniform Agenda is Australia-wide and researching the sad truth about Australian schools. Public schools are much more likely to allow girls to wear pants. Private schools are a hotbed of frocks.
Ascham School in Sydney's Edgecliff: shorts and pants are only available for sport. Same at Melbourne Girls Grammar, Brisbane Girls Grammar, St Peter's Collegiate Girls School in South Australia. Canberra Girls Grammar has just introduced pants, bless their neatly folded cotton socks. St Michael's Collegiate School in Hobart has optional pants for winter. They need it there.
Canberra Girls Grammar principal Anne Coutts said, "Our decision to offer pants was led by students, parents and staff and in all cases the view was that choice was a good thing and we are glad to provide that." She's English and the schools there offer pants all the time and no-one has died. No-one even raises an eyebrow, she says.
Strangely, when I called these schools, some responded in absolute horror that the uniform policy might come under public scrutiny. "We are a very private school," said one. Real hotbed of reproducing class and gender structures right there not wanting to be examined too closely. Girls at those schools: rise up! Demand the freedom to wear what's comfortable and suitable. Or tell the blokes on your governing councils to start wearing tunics to work and see how that feels.
I asked Peter McNeil, a fashion historian and author, to explain why the whole dress thing unleashes all these feelings. He says it's only been for the past 600 or so years that men have worn pants.
"The irony is that when men began wearing pants, all the moralists complained about them. Bernardino de Siena said parents were pimping out their sons by putting them in trousers."
And trousers provide free movement for all.
Which brings me back to Cella White. I'm on board with her at least for pants. Vote yes for pants for girls and boys.
And yes for same sex marriage. Thanks for putting me straight, Cella.
Jenna Price is a Fairfax Media columnist and an academic at the University of Technology Sydney.
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