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Are School Uniforms Holding Girls Back?

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In playgrounds all over the country girls and boys behave very differently.

Boys will run, kick, jump and sweat it out with physical activity right up until that final bell indicating it’s time to head back to class. Some girls (especially younger ones) will be the same, but as they grow older, their propensity to interact with physical exercise during their recess and lunch wanes.

Some use this as proof that girls “just aren’t into sport” but few have identified that the uniforms they wear are acting like physical shackles.

Boys wear shorts, hardier shoes, shirts that breathe and ties that can be loosened and undone during lunchtime. Girls uniforms, in general, do not allow such physical freedom.

The skirts and dresses pose the biggest problem, even the simple act of running can cause them to fly up exposing parts of themselves that can cause huge schoolyard humiliation. Should they fall over, then the embarrassment of showing undies, and beyond, can plunge them further into schoolyard shame.

 

I see young girls in long, thick school uniforms struggle to run and jump while their male peers are able to move freely in theirs

 

In winter many of these skirts are longer and heavier, impeding them physically, partner this with stockings that can easily ladder, tear or become sweaty, then it’s no wonder many choose to sit out a simple game of run across or soccer.

I was first confronted with such stark differences in behaviour when I was at school. I started year 7 at a public school in the NSW country town of Orange. At Canobolas High School the word “uniform” had a loose interpretation. Able to wear pants and sneakers, I would spend recess and lunch playing sport; basketball, run across and anything with a ball in hand. In year 11, I moved to an all girls private school in Sydney and I’ll never forget the confusion I felt at my first recess when all the girls just sat down in groups.

“Aren’t we going to play on the oval,” I said looking longingly at the sparse grass pastures of the school oval, like a dog stares at a park hopeful its owner will take it there to play ball.

“No, this is what we do at recess”. We sat. We talked. No one in the school was playing, unless it was a pre-organised sports training session. And it was no wonder, with long skirts, thick stockings, long blouses that required ironing and rules that prevented you wearing sports uniform unless you had P.E, many thought it was too hard to be physical during playtimes. There was also a cultural snowball affect in the school, in that as soon as the year 7s saw the rest of the school behaving that way, they too would take on that behaviour, each year a new grade would be slowed down to a physical halt.

Sports interest isn’t genetically defined, it’s learned. The more difficult we make physical activity for girls, the more likely they will be to resist taking part in it. I see young girls in long, thick school uniforms struggle to run and jump while their male peers are able to move freely in theirs. I know this is not the case in all schools, but in many it still is.

I hear a lot from people “but boys just want to run around and play at every opportunity they get, while girls just aren’t the same.” We teach our girls from a young age that’s the case. We need to re-examine our generalisations and language to our young girls and boys that inadvertently position females as the weaker, slower, inferior sex.

It inhibits, slows and distances them from sport and physical activity

I have written about this before in 5 Things To Stop Saying About Our Girls, but it goes beyond that.

A friend recently wrote to her child’s primary school after a school cross-country carnival was separated into girls and boys races. Her daughter was just in Kindergarten and she argued (and had numerous studies to prove it) that at that age, there’s no physical difference between genders and sends the message that the boys are somewhat athletically superior.

What we make girls wear at school, for 13 formative years and through an impressionable stage in their lives also inadvertently sends them a damaging message.  It inhibits, slows and distances them from sport and physical activity. It’s no wonder so many girls stop playing sport during their teenage years.

When you’re buying your school uniforms for 2016 or planning to sit on your school’s P&C committee, please consider this when looking at how you dress your girls. They’re not running and playing because they don’t want to, we’re just making it really hard for young girls to feel free.

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