School Uniforms: A Failed Risk

I want to be a parent that supports my children in taking risks. I want to champion them as they step out and navigate who they are and what they believe. This “chronicle of risk” is about a time when I was young, impulsive, independent, and confident. I could be all of these things because I had parents who were safe and supportive, even in my impulsiveness. They guided me in my independence and allowed me to think for myself, even equipping me to stand up for my convictions when no one else would stand with me. I am so grateful for their guidance and partnership as I matured into womanhood. What a gift.

I recently read an article about a girl in Australia who “won” the right to add the option of pants to her school uniform due to her mother’s tenacity in fighting along side her daughter.  After reading the story, I so wanted to high-five this Aussie mom. I completely understood both her daughter’s frustration and the empowerment that comes with knowing you’ve got parents willing to get in the ring with you.

I attended a very small, private school during high school and uniforms were mandatory. I hated them, as did most of the student body over 12 years old. The school was Kindergarten through 12th grade and we all wore the same clothes. As a 17 year old, I wore the same things the 6 year old’s were wearing. I was bothered by this. In fact, during my junior year, I wrote a persuasive essay where I argued that allowing the upper classmates to dress like young adults, rather then the 1st graders in the portables next door, might create a desire for more mature behavior, and so, produce less disciplinary issues. It was a darn good paper. I know because my dad, who is an excellent writer, was my editor. He was just as excited as I was to see what change might come as a result of my essay. I get my “dreamer” genes from him. The results were I got my first “C” and a trip to the Principal’s office to discuss my irreverence.

Not joking.

But I didn’t let my crusade stop there. Later in the year, during the snowy winter months, I petitioned the school board to allow the girls to add pants to our uniform. Tights and Mary Jane’s can only go so far in 35 degrees and 6 inches of snow. I organized my thoughts, prepared my case, practiced my speech in front of my folks, and appeared before the school board at their monthly meeting. I was told “no.” Us girls needed to be dressed like “ladies.” Skirts were feminine. We were females.

My parents encouraged me to respectfully appeal. I did and the school board “compromised” by adding longer skirts to our uniform options. I was less than thankful. My parents and I decided it wasn’t a hill to die on and that I just needed to get through the next year. Skirts and all.

I remember being so bothered by that unfair grade on my paper and the response from my request for pants. I was offended that my suggestion in regards to the type of uniform allowed was somehow considered “disrespectful” and “un-ladylike.” It made no sense to me. I understood the “why” behind uniforms in general (less comparison, no dress-code issues, etc.), but I didn’t understand why the boys could wear pants and the girls could not. “Because you are a girl” just wasn’t cutting it for me.

Many moons have passed since my junior year in high school. I literally burned parts of my uniform after graduation. I still wear skirts. I also rock pants. I’ve managed to maintain my “lady-ness” regardless of my clothing. The reality is that even though my wardrobe is no longer limited due to my gender, there are still things in my life that are. And those things still offend, confuse, and baffle me. The good news is, I am now a “grown up” with a grown up voice. I can have opinions and convictions and share them without fear of a bad grade or an invitation to the Principal’s office or a school board to tell me “no.” This brings me hope and lights a fire under me, especially as the mother of a daughter who is strong willed, and brave, and smart, and creative, and capable. Knowing that there are still barriers and glass ceilings that she will have to take on because of her gender, makes me sad. But you better believe that, like the mother in Australia who partnered with her daughter, and like my parents who helped me navigate how to respectfully, but boldly, stand up for my convictions, I will have Jane’s back as she presses forward into the callings on her life. I want to teach my daughter to navigate her womanhood well and to lead her generation (males and females) into the Kingdom of God where, according to the Creator of gender, we are co-heirs with Jesus.



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