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Skirting around the skirt issue

Pants option please, and now. TGC students Imogen Logan, Shae Northfield, Galadriel Forrest, and Amelie Logan. Sharnae Hope.

It wasn’t going to be a protest. “More a demonstration of support for a cause,” says Galadriel Forrest. “A visual petition.”

A visual petition, she says, about skirts versus pants, of human rights, the right to choose and cold knees.

Fifteen-year-old Galadriel is a student at Tauranga Girls’ College - an all-girls school of 1349 pupils and in the dead of winter, potentially 2698 cold knees. Because TGC’s tradition is steeped in skirts – has been since 1958 when it was founded. That’s 60 years of skirts; 60 years of no pants.

Galadriel and a friend Shae Northfield have become champions for change at TGC. Not champions for one or other, not pants or skirts, but having the option. And they have been lobbying, emailing, petitioning and campaigning.

Shae took one bold step further. “I wore pants to school the other day because I was cold. When a teacher asked me why, I asked her why she was wearing pants” The girls decided to ramp things up – they organised ‘an event’, a protest by another name.

“An event to show the depth of feeling,” says Shae. “We wanted lots and lots of girls to come to school today wearing the kind of pants they want to wear to school, that they want to be part of the uniform.” Not a protest, they insist, but a demonstration of feeling.

That depth of feeling was evident recently. “At mufti day,” says Galadriel. “I only saw about three girls in skirts all day. About 1400 girls at school and just three girls in skirts because that’s not what girls want to wear these days.”

Galadriel’s mother, Kazel Cass, says she first raised the issue with the college early this year, then again last week. “I asked the school specifically if Galadriel could wear trousers. They didn’t say no, she can’t. We call it being fobbed off.”

Then earlier this week, a breakthrough. “I took the pants uniform option to the board and asked for it to be explored,” says principal, Tara Kanji. “Uniform is board policy and takes some time to change. But the board has given me that approval.”

So Galadriel and Shae were told there was no need to wear pants as a part of a protest and that everyone should turn up to school in correct uniform.

And if Galadriel and Shae wanted to participate in change, they were invited to join the student board representative this week at the beginning of a student consultation process over uniform options.

 However, for Galadriel and Shae, it was too little and not soon enough.

“We want change this year, not next year,” says Galadriel. “So it’s valid to apply pressure to bring about change sooner.” Galadriel and Shae encouraged everyone to attend the consultation to press for pants now, not next winter. And on their ‘wear pants to school day’, the girls intended to present their petitions to the school.

“I think they are keen for me to hear their voice and realise I am open to change,” says Tara “And I am really keen to support what might be an alternative to skirts and tights.”

 “But I think some students don’t really understand or appreciate all the stuff that has to go on behind the scenes first.” The school is dealing with two contracted uniform suppliers who have to be consulted over what’s achievable and when. “Some student are demanding change and demanding change now. But considering winter is upon us and how long it takes to get uniform stock for the following year….it all takes some time.

Fifteen-year-old Shae has three skirts in her wardrobe – none by choice – two for uniform and one for netball. So if she’s not at school then she’s not in skirts. “They are inconvenient and uncomfortable. Not uncomfortable to wear, uncomfortable that I’m made to wear them.”

 “Hate skirts,” says Galadriel. “I haven’t chosen to wear skirts since I was four or five.” Her personal out-of-school uniform of choice is jeans.

Galadriel first railed against skirts when shopping for a school uniform. “She spoke of her embarrassment, her shame,” says Kazel, “How it didn’t feel right. She just hated having to do it.”

And behaviours changed. “Once upon a time Galadriel would cartwheel and do handstands without a care – that completely stopped, so her body confidence went downhill. It was sad to watch.”

And skirts are annoying it seems. “For decency and modesty sake you have to wear something under them, otherwise everyone can see your underwear.” And when she first went to TGC, Galadriel discovered she had to tuck her skirt beneath her. “Weird. I had never had to do that. So they even change the way you sit down.” 

There are other big issues for the school to consider – like affordability. “If you introduce a uniform change without first considering who can and can’t afford it, then you can create a greater inequity than that around the fairness of the new option,” says Tara.

“We need to make sure parents have time to be in a position to afford it, rather than be under pressure – you know, the daughter’s friends have got it so why can’t we.”

 “We don’t want to embarrass the school; we’re trying to do everything right” says Kazel.  And their campaign, they say, is a celebration of young women pushing an agenda and using their initiative. And after all, they say, this a college that promotes ‘empowering tomorrow’s women’.

“There’s a social studies unit standard that says something about participating in a civil protest,” says Kazel. “So we told the girls their show of feeling would just be them doing their homework.”

There has also been a student petition. It states: “In 2018 we are still being limited to a choice of uniform that conforms to an age old stereotype that encourages no choice, or freedom of expression regards our gender, and our right to embrace or dismiss these ideals. As a school that appears to promote pro-feminist ideology, we think that Tauranga Girls’ should permit pants as part of our school attire.”

But pants are coming, and it’s just a matter of when. “This winter? I don’t know,” says the principal. “It might be towards the end of winter that students have the opportunity to enjoy pants for the short time before summer kicks in.”

Kazel Cass says it’s about 10 years too late and change doesn’t need to wait “It doesn’t have to be a one or two-year process – the girls are getting sick right now.” There are winter uniforms options now but Kazel says most women know going out in winter wearing just woolen tights isn’t adequate.

So what about students having the opportunity to wear warm pants of their choosing while the uniform option is explored. “We want a uniform that’s in standard with the uniform we already have,” says Tara. “So just having something in the meantime is not really a suitable alternative.”

Kazel uses the firepower of the Post Primary Teachers Union to back their argument. It too has called for change – the PPTA’s latest voluntary guidelines call for gender-neutral uniforms to be introduced into schools.

“We go to an all-girls school,” says Shae. “We shouldn’t have to wear skirts to identify us as females, we don’t need skirts to remind us what gender we are.”

Then again some of the girls think skirts “are cute and like them.”

“We think it’s okay for girls who want to wear skirts to wear them,” says Shae. “We are not against skirts, we just prefer not to wear them ourselves; we want the choice.”

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13 Comments
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Skirts away

Posted on 14-06-2018 21:29 | By Captain Hottie

One of the reasons why women wore dresses/skirts is because it was easier to go to the loo. You simply squatted down and did your business (like in the movie Bridesmaids). Trousers would have been too fiddly. These days with proper toilets there’s no need to cling to ’traditionalism’. And again, young ladies didn’t run about or play sports. Which begs the question why do netballers, golfers, tennis players etc still wear skirts? Why not shorts like the Black Ferns or long pants like the White Ferns.

That was attempted humor Darren...

Posted on 09-06-2018 20:54 | By GreertonBoy

All the time I was at the intermediate and then TBC, we only had the option to wear shorts all year round... Miraculously, I survived? I guess these days, people just feel the need to whine?

Re: Rules

Posted on 09-06-2018 12:52 | By Mike Kuipers von Lande

@Darren. Perhaps you should be a Secondary School Principal - you seem to know so much about the requirements.

Re: rules

Posted on 09-06-2018 11:41 | By Darren

@dumbkof2 I guess you are not familiar with the word "zoning"? But yes, I would never have sent my daughter to TGC under the previous principal as I knew too many teachers who quietly despised her bullying and ’seat warming until retirement’ attitude. I had wondered if this new principal would make a difference. I’m sad to see her hiding behind the excuse of bureaucracy. It wouldn’t be hard for her to say in a staff meeting "Don’t report girls for wearing plain black pants until the policy has been changed." As for hiding behind "affordability", if she really cared about affordability she wouldn’t force families pay outrageous prices to a supplier who has a monopoly. No, it seems this new principal may be just as useless as the previous one and we will continue with our plan to send our daughter elsewhere.

I guess soon....

Posted on 09-06-2018 11:33 | By Darren

@GreertonBoy, you seem to have missed the point. Short skirts aren’t practical for cold weather. Not for girls or boys, and certainly not for the staff, principal or board of trustees.

I guess soon....

Posted on 08-06-2018 17:30 | By GreertonBoy

There will have to be a skirt option at TBC as well?

rules

Posted on 08-06-2018 13:32 | By dumbkof2

schools have these rules for a reason. if you don’t like them then go to a school that has your rules

Fair enough

Posted on 08-06-2018 13:28 | By Nash

The girls are quite right. Skirts are ridiculous in cold weather, and inhibit their ability to exercise. For heaven’s sake Tauranga Girls join the 21st century and add plain black trousers to the uniform so the girls can be warm and comfortable - and any simple black trousers, not overpriced "uniform" brands for the sake of family budgets. It’s just commonsense, but there’s precious little of that around.

Too True

Posted on 08-06-2018 12:59 | By Mike Kuipers von Lande

Love your comment Maildrop. Too true. You could have added "And hiking rates".

Choice is everything.

Posted on 08-06-2018 12:22 | By morepork

The girls won’t understand the wheels that have to grind before they can get approval and it could be a good exercise for them to see the process. There are many considerations rather than just skirts or not. Nevertheless, a choice should be available and there should be options for those who want to wear pants to do so. The debate surrounding school uniforms is old and there are powerful arguments for both sides. For now, some schools require uniforms, but within that requirement there must be room for choice.

Old fart traditions

Posted on 08-06-2018 09:43 | By deadlydi

About time, skirts are just such a pain and are quite simply not practical anymore. a lot of the girls wear bike pants underneath for a bit of extra warmth and to not feel so "exposed". Yep, maybe it’s a girl thing but if they aren’t comfortable then why not long pants in winter, same as the boys, instead of stupid tights!

need to get with the times

Posted on 08-06-2018 08:34 | By missusmck

TGC need to realise that times have changed. I went to mount college in the 70s and we weren’t allowed to wear trousers. I distinctly remember our typing teacher telling us in the 6th from that under no circumstances should a young lady ever wear trousers when going for a job interview because it wasn’t feminine!!! surely TGC could have trousers as an option for winter and when you look into the cost of what tights would cost over winter then trousers would probably cost little more and be a lot warmer

The Next Generation

Posted on 08-06-2018 07:48 | By maildrop

This is evolution right before our eyes. In the future the human race will be completely asexual and non gender specific. Getting around by molecular transportation. Selectively bred from labs. Apart from Councillors. They are and always will be a different breed. Still building bus lanes and riding bicycles. Putting skirts in their museum.