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What would happen if the Prime Minister of Australia banned girls from wearing trousers to school?

Would girls care?

What would they do?

What would YOU do?

Would a bunch of male students actually wear dresses for two months (or for any time at all) to support their female friends in their quest to have equality around school uniforms?

These are the questions raised in Diane Caney’s new novel, Charlie Gets Frocked.

I recently interviewed Caney about her book. She says that she felt compelled to write the story when the high school attended by her daughter would not listen seriously to the pleas of parents and their daughters for a decent pair of school trousers.

Caney says, ‘When the Primary School attended by my daughter did not have a summer time trouser option for girls, I simply bought two frocks and converted one into a top and the other into ‘skorts’. Soon other parents followed, and the school uniform was officially changed. People understand that girls at primary school like to be active. The school had relatively stylish winter trousers for the formal uniform, and trousers for winter and summer sports.’

Caney went on to say, ‘So, in the year before my daughter commenced high school I started lobbying for a stylish trouser option at that school - trousers that would suit summer and winter. But, the school’s “Parents and Friends Committee” wasn’t terribly interested. They held a group analysis with parents and students.’

People were heard actually asking girls if they were pleased that wearing their dresses to school had taught them to be ladies.

‘The tartan trousers my daughter was sold to wear were woollen and itchy. They were hideous and any girl who dared to wear them soon learned through peer pressure that … it wasn’t the done thing.’

Caney rang the Education Department’s ‘diversity officer’ or similar.

Apparently the Tasmanian Education Act devolves power over uniform decision making to principals.

Caney was told that the Principal at the high school was perfectly satisfied with the uniform. And, so, she was told, were the girls and the parents.

Caney went on to do some lobbying at the political level, but that didn’t get her very far. So, she decided to write a fun teen novel to hopefully inspire Australian teenagers to stick up for themselves and get school uniforms that are stylish, that include CHOICE, and that suit every body shape and size.

That was back in 2004.

It’s taken her a long while to build the story, which includes a male Prime Minister who bans girls from wearing trousers to school. Caney says that many people assume that girls have a ‘trouser option’ and they simply choose not to wear it. But, she assures me that this is not the case.

Caney says that she’s had a lot of encouragement from teen readers along the way.

She’s even met some students who have had their own struggles with their school’s uniform policy. For instance, when Tessa Knowles went to Deloraine High a few years ago, she chose not to wear a school uniform at all. Tessa’s primary school was very free and taught her to think for herself. Even though her primary school was in the public system, it was run on alternative principles, loosely based on the philosophies of Rudolf Steiner.

At Meander Primary School, students were taught to approach life as intelligent, individual beings.

But, when Tessa attended Deloraine High School, she was expected to leave that thinking behind, especially in regard to her decision not to wear the high school’s uniform. The school’s principal at the time was so in favour of the school uniform that he often wore the boys’ school uniform to schoolhimself!

Tessa was eventually given permission not to wear her uniform to school, but she was discriminated against when students went on school excursions, or when there were other ‘special events’. At such times, Tessa had a choice – to either ‘dress up’ or ‘not attend’.

Tessa took her fight against school uniforms to the Premier. Her battle was reported in the Mercury on 25 Jun 2008.

In addition, the Greens took her fight to Parliament. See the Hansard transcript here in which Nick McKim stands up for Tessa:
http://www.parliament.tas.gov.au/ParliamentSearch/isysquery/1cba7f9c-6312-484f-9727-90bee88cbf08/1/doc/

Oddly enough, however, when Nick McKim became Minister for Education, he forgot about Tessa’s woes and did nothing to solve the long-term dilemma of Tasmanian students who want to wear clothing that suits them to school.

Further afield, inWesternAustralia,in 2006 students were banned from wearing denim to school because of a decree by their Premier. At the time the Education Minister in WA said that because denim is associated with ‘having a good time’, it has no place in primary or secondary schools.

It seems odd that an informed person in such a position of power would not see the irony of trying to eliminate ‘having a good time’ from LEARNING.See more about the ban here: http://tasmaniantimes.com/index.php?/weblog/article/the-jean-genius/

Sadly, the Western Australian decree is still in place. See the fifth dot point on this link on the WA Education Department website which states, ‘Denim items must be excluded from all school dress codes and uniforms except where a school has been granted a general exemption for its senior students’: http://bit.ly/1l2FpBY

In November 2013,Bathurst Public School angered parents when it banned primary schoolgirls from wearing shorts. The school’s uniform policy was amended, deleting the summer shorts option for girls and leaving only the tunic. This policy was implemented against the wishes of a number of students and their parents. http://bit.ly/19GmMFd

Charlie Gets Frocked skirts around the issues of sexism and isn’t heavy handed in its approach, but Caney says she does want to see students debate gender equality and how gender stereotypes are moulded both directly and indirectly. She feels that this debate is lacking in Australia.

In France, however the debate is alive and well.

As recently as May 2014, French schoolboys were invited to lose their trousers for the day in a stand against sexism. In Nantes, 27 public schools took part in the initiative which was dreamed up by the students themselves. The campaign was called, ‘Lift the Skirt’ and aimed to raise awareness about sexism against girls and women. Students who did not want to bare their legs were able to wear a sticker which said, ‘I am fighting against sexism, are you?’http://rt.com/news/159000-france-schoolboys-skirts-equality/

Not everyone wants to ditch their school uniform. But, most of this generation of young women and young men want to wear clothes that suit them at high school. Clothing is an important part of their lives, and most of what is happening around clothing at school links back to the last century, if not the one before that!

Ideally, school students today would like to choose from a range of school colours in the style of uniform they’d like – whether it be shorts, trousers, dresses or skirts, blazers, polar fleeces or ... beanies.

And, why not add in hoodies? Are they necessarily ‘bad’? Or, are they simply warm, and practical?

Charlie Gets Frocked is a cry from one parent and her daughter for school uniforms to come into the Twenty First Century.

It’s a great read.

I recommend it to you.

Caney says the follow up book is about a student being bullied. It’s called, Alice Gets Mocked.

*Lily Gunter is a 22 year old student studying Journalism and Criminology at the University of Tasmania. She went to a school with strict rules around its uniform. Her main qualm was not being allowed to wear her sports uniform for a whole day, rather having to change out of her formal uniform for a one-hour sports class, and then get back into the formal uniform afterwards. Lily loves being at University where people wear whatever they like and no one bats an eyelid. She asks, ‘Who cares what you look like? Everyone is at University to learn, and that’s what it should be like at school as well.’

Charlie Gets Frocked is available on iBooks here:
https://itunes.apple.com/au/book/charlie-gets-frocked/id848303708?mt=11

Or, in hard copy at:
http://www.lulu.com/shop/search.ep?keyWords=charlie+gets+frocked&categoryId=100501

Charlie is also on Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Charlie-Gets-Frocked/603144619763955?fref=ts