Photo by a xin on Unsplash.
In year 8, I decided to form my school’s first Gender Inclusive Uniform Association. At my Melbourne-based high school, female students were forced to wear impractical dresses and uncomfortably heavy skirts, which made my knees shiver during the winter. Disgustingly, we often had to line-up and kneel on the ground one-by-one so teachers could check the length of our skirts and dresses.
My experience isn’t unheard of—it’s a common tradition, illustrated by similar stories throughout Australian high schools. ABC News recently exposed that a Tasmanian high school made their female year 8 students kneel down to have their skirts measured. A high school in New South Wales subjected female students to the same treatment, who voiced that they felt “shocked” and like this was “an invasion of privacy”. This shaming and degradation of female and feminine-presenting students across Australia demonstrates the inherent sexism that exists within our education system. My friends and I were determined to advocate for a more inclusive uniform at our school and for Australia’s school system at large.
“This shaming and degradation of female and feminine-presenting students across Australia demonstrates the inherent sexism that exists within our education system.”
I was forced to comply with this tradition from the young age of 12. Like many students across Australia, I was inspected to see if my appearance was ‘appropriate enough’ or ‘too distracting’. This approach plays down what was truly happening—that being my sexualisation as a 12-year-old. I was sick of being cold in the winter, I was sick of being uncomfortable and I was sick of feeling sexualised as a child by adults who were meant to educate me. I was angry.
Something had to change and something was going to change.
Image sourced from https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2018/03/11/15-year-old-tells-politicians-to-support-gender-neutral-school-uniforms/.
Through our Gender Inclusive Uniform Association, we fought for the female students at my school to have the option of wearing pants in our uniform policy. I will never forget the moment a teacher laughed in my face at my proposition of changing our uniform, which only made me more determined. In Year 9 I was the first female student to wear pants to school. I felt so proud of what we had accomplished, though I was nervous of being judged by my peers, who were influenced by the heteronormative cis view of what being a female should be.
In hindsight, I don’t think my year 8 self truly understood the strength I held in standing my ground and speaking outwardly against misogyny in my community. Slut shaming and sexism followed me throughout high school, only highlighting the power I held by rejecting social norms and opposing the patriarchy’s systemic power.
As a queer young female, I can’t allow my voice to go unheard and I remain to not let it. The injustice of having our skirts measured and being forced to wear constrictive clothing made me realise the importance of feminism as a powerful movement of change.
Photo by Gayatri Malhotra on Unsplash.
The fear and nervousness I felt when going to school wearing pants for the first time is exactly what the patriarchy wants all women, trans and non-binary people to feel and believe. The bullying I faced from a few of my male peers exhibits misogyny’s poisonous power to manipulate our judgment from childhood, clouding our perception with a patriarchal fog. The patriarchy has built the foundations of power structures such as governance and law, oppressing those that don’t fit into the norm while boosting those in power, who have traditionally been heterosexual cis white men.
“…taking up space by being authentic and assisting those who have been oppressed can challenge the system and slowly dismantle it.”
When we feel shame for being ourselves it feeds the beast that is the patriarchy. Contrastingly, taking up space by being authentic and assisting those who have been oppressed can challenge the system and slowly dismantle it. ActionAid speaks upon this and highlights how dismantling the patriarchy is a continuous conversation and process.
The change I made in high school pushed back against the position the patriarchy had in my school and community. Even a small change in one’s behaviour can be a powerful act in opposing prejudice, and any small feminist act holds the power to break down the patriarchy.
Image sourced from https://www.messynessychic.com/2021/03/17/the-not-so-straightforward-story-of-women-and-trousers/.
I never wore a school skirt again. I was and always will be the feminist in the pants.
If I am honest, it can be exhausting to continuously fight against toxic ideals. There’s a lot of work we have to put in to fight for gender equality, but it’s all worth it. Collective strength is so powerful, which is my reason to share a tiny part of my experience to highlight the change we can all make, for ourselves and for others.
Annabelle (she/her) is a proud and loud outspoken intersectional feminist and social advocate who is studying Nursing at university. Though she loves the fast paced clinical field, to relax she adores to paint and go camping, while on the weekend she loves to party it up on the dance floor!