I think I have found the impasse of single sex education in New Zealand. There is a piece of fabric that is commonly known as pants that seems to send some single sex (girls) schools into a hysteria over gender. This piece of clothing has been worn by women for a long time, yet girls schools in the 21st century maintain skirts and culottes and tunics (WTF…seriously…) as the only way for young ‘women’ to be recognised in public as belonging to a ‘girls school’.
I have already expressed my frustration with an open letter to secondary principals, but this one is particularly for girls schools. I thought feminism (in all its fraught, contested and colonised ways) enabled women to express a freedom of embodiment that was not reduced to a singular way of being female that is ‘feminine’ via dressing in coded uniforms, effectively cancelling out feminism. All this talk about empowering women while disabling their freedom to be uniquely powerful with their individuality. The paranoia about the public perception of ‘girls in pants’.
If young women are questioning their gender identity or expression at a girls school, are they ‘betraying feminism’? Do trans guys at girls schools represent some sort of confused status of ‘growing strong young women’? Does the public image of a school outweigh the mental health of transguys – who might be experiencing extreme dysphoria, anxiety, depression and possibly feel suicidal? How is that schools can give medical dispensation for students undergoing other forms of medical treatment to wear modified uniforms yet transguys cant wear pants to help them feel safe, secure and relieve the anxiety of the dysphoria that is exacerbated by being forced into femininity!
What is the point of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) if the ‘universe’ it proclaims to design for ignores the margins, or pretends they don’t go out that far here (i.e. but there are no transgender students here).
Seriously – denying young people the right to feel comfortable and safe in their own bodies sickens me. It is an institutional form of abuse I am tired of hearing wrapped up in rhetoric around community consultation, and tradition. I’m tired and fed up with platitudes of caring about student well-being and requiring them to be exposed to a dis-ease infested environment. I sometimes wonder if the 21st century fell out of the spacetime continuum and they had to pick up something to replace it so we got bits of the 20th up until about 1950 because I’m not seeing a lot of shift in schools towards freedom of individuality – but the complete opposite.
So if you are a doctor or medical professional who is supporting a young trans guy attending an all girls school, please write them a medical certificate that reads – ‘administer systemic change to your schools uniform policy, but in the mean time give this student pants’ – wear daily, wash regularly.
A couple of weeks back, I left a meeting and was called back to be politely told ‘you can’t wear jandals anymore at work under the new health and safety regulations – have you got sandals’? The irony of the meeting being about uniform mingled with confusion but I answered in the affirmative. Flip flopping my way back to my office in my very flash, Havaianas that I had especially brought to go with my new summer wardrobe I wondered about these new Health and Safety Regulations.
So I searched, and I put in the word jandals, I searched under footwear, I scoured documents for any reference to the hazards of sitting in my office with my toenails painted chrome to match the metallic look of my straps. A counsellors office doesn’t usually have hazardous chemicals, chisels, or hot glue guns. I understand there are some work environments where open toed footwear doesn’t cut it. I worked in a foundry for 4 summers as a student and accepted the need to wear steel capped boots in February. But I’m very happy for someone to point me in the right direction with the new legislation.
Then it dawned on me. The jandal is one of the few forms of gender neutral footwear out there. The idea that somehow my equally flimsy sandals might offer more ‘protection’ doesn’t wash. But they do look more ‘feminine’. Looking around at the large array of high heels worn hiking up and down stairs, in wet slippery corridors, I have to wonder how much safer they are. I know I am not safe to drive heels but they are apparently safe. They safely define feminine and give a clear coded sense of ‘professional dress’.
I am quietly cynical about this latest attempt to manage my footwear in the name of my health and well-being but quite frankly it seems like a back handed way of bringing in a professional standard of dress and one that pushes for a more coded form of gender. It will be interesting to see what happens on school camps. I know how painful it is kicking a tent peg in jandals. I hope there can be some transparency about it if indeed it is the case, up front and honest rather than half buried in rhetoric trip over.
Tuesday I will be at the first health and safety meeting of the year so will pitch some of these questions to the committee. Maybe I’ll wear knee high doc martins to be on the safe side.
Riding into work I was greeted by the sight of our park like grounds draped in toilet paper. Windows painted and classrooms set up outside. A grin spontaneously erupted onto my face as a bunch of students scooted towards me in ‘boys’ uniforms. A BMX lay beside the hall (Redline…very nice) and bodies ran and moved freely. But this wasn’t the norm, far from it and yet it was so natural and joyous. The energy and vitality was a welcome contrast to the digital zombies I often see in the morning.
It’s now known as ‘prank day’ but for some reason it seemed more like an ordinary school day, or perhaps what could easily pass for ordinary in other places (minus the tree decorations and occasional water gun). The gender blurring of seeing bodies in shorts and racing around on wheels toyed with the ‘girls school’ image, it enabled freedom of movement to express physicality. The pranking gave gender a well deserved spanking.
Here’s the thing, school uniforms can police gender. If there are no other options other than skirts or culottes then femininity is enforced. I’m occasionally tempted (in my dark sardonic moments – of which there are many) to ask the question ‘why not go the extra step and mandate long hair’. If masculinity in some schools is regulated by hair length, then surely in keeping with ‘uniformity’ of gender girls must maintain long hair.
Its wheels day again tomorrow and I might just have to bust out some moves on a unicycle or borrow a skate board. Gotta make ‘hey-watch out’ while the shun shines on gender-correctness.
Two teams opposing sides playing the same sport, same rules but not the same game. It’s a beautiful game football, a simple game with speed strength power and agility utilising Newtons laws. Bodies in motion with the crowds devotion. But this is not a level playing field. It’s the perfect game to demonstrate gender equality on the world stage with a world cup where the winner takes all. But players in this cup are the fairer sex. Here in lies the flaw and cloaked misogyny, the winners earned less than their male conterparts who were knocked out of the first round it simply does not add up.
They got a parade, yes they were shown off, objectified and used like tokens of national pride and patriotism. There you go girls wave and smile and enjoy the blatant sexism. Be grateful for the opportunity to play and suck up the unfairness with grace and humility, stay silent when the media suggest you’d earn more if you wore less. Your femininity contested and questioned incessantly. It will take a lot to kick the habit of patriarchal hegemony. The athletic woman challenges the gender rule book so penalties are given. You’ve crossed the line, offside with your expectations of equality. Success and victory mean your body is still someones property.
The beautiful game is indeed an ugly reminder that sexism is alive and kicking balls.
I remember dressing up as a kid, I was convinced my red skellerup gumboots were magic but feeling incredibly disappointed that I couldn’t fly and didn’t have super strength no matter what towel I tied around my neck. That was the 70’s and curiously enough superman has had more reboots than my old 486. The interesting thing is the embodiment of superman from Christopher Reeves slightly androgynous but not so muscular to the mesomorphic Henry Cavill who might easily have passed for the Hulk in the 1970’s. Everyone at some point has a fantasy about superpowers – not necessarily involving masks and capes or other stuff.
My favourite game is choosing an X-Men character. So many options and cool amazing abilities but there is one I overlooked for ages – Mystique. She is a shapeshifter and has the ability to alter her physique to be either gender. But she was always either or – never both/and. So although every other character seems to push the limits of physicality, the one person who could ultimately explore and represent alternative gendered embodiments gets stuck in polarity! The irony is in her ‘natural state’ aside from the deep indigo skin, scales and yellow eyes she has a ‘perfect body’.
So while X-Men push the idea of fear of difference, needing to control, eliminate or assimilate expressions of otherness there are some subtle messages that reinforce usual gendered stereotypes and mystique is a very good example. She is also told people should ‘love her in her natural state’ that she should not alter herself. On one level I agree however why on earth would you stick with one experience of your body if you have the ability to be anyone! Containing her fluidity to me is the ultimate act of disempowerment.
There are probably some other as yet unimagined benefits of shapeshifting. Just imagine how easy it would make shopping for jeans! You could choose any style and morph on into them. Then there is travelling! Gosh you could navigate all sorts of tricky culturally bound gendered norms, or other stereotypes that are currently a barrier to suspicion free international travel. Caught in a fight and someone goes to kick you between the legs – it’s probably going to hurt either way but maybe less in one body.
The only other downer about super heroes is they all so self-absorbed, tragic, angsty and tortured. No amount of shapeshifting is going to make that attractive.