A high school in Sydney has been criticised for introducing gender neutral uniform rules, allowing students to wear any part of the available uniform options.
The Australian Christian Lobby reportedly condemned the gender neutral approach of Newtown High School of Performing Arts, saying they were trying to “make boys’ and girls’ gender disappear,” but parents and students have applauded the move.
The change in uniform regulations means that students can now wear either male or female uniform options regardless of the student’s gender.
Year 11 Newtown High School student, Jo Dwyer, said the aim of having the school uniform rules changed was to make it more inclusive for all students, without them having to go through a difficult process of asking permission first.
“Before the changes were implemented, students had to go through the school with parental permission and notes from psychologists before they were allowed to wear the cross gender uniform, and that wasn’t really a possibility for some students whose parents aren’t supportive of their gender identity,” Dwyer told The Sydney Morning Herald.
The idea of gender neutral schools is not a new one, with the practice being implemented with children as young as 3 and 4 years old at a pre-school in Sweden called Egalia. But the extent of gender neutrality extends further than clothes and toys.
Children aren’t referred to as him or her, but rather “friends”, their names or the genderless suffix “hen” which was coined by the Finnish.
“When we are born in this society, people have different expectations on us depending if we are a boy or a girl. It limits children,” teacher Emelie Andersson said. “In my world, there is no ‘girl’s world’ and there is no ‘boy’s world’,” she says.
There are no boys’ toys and girls’ toys, but rather everything is jumbled together so children can pick and choose what they like and what they want to play with, rather than that information being communicated to them through subtle cues and social norms.
Originally from Germany, Carmen Huser, who holds a Master in Early Childhood Education and is an Education Ph.D. candidate, told SheKnows about some of her own personal reflections on gender neutrality at schools in Australia.
“When I see kids in Australia wearing uniforms, [it often] irritates me, especially when the uniforms highlight gender differences, girls in skirts especially — not every girl likes to wear skirts,” she says.
“Children and young people explore and develop their identities and the most important aspect of supporting them in their identity development is to show acceptance and respect,” adding that children often don’t wear uniforms in German schools.
Huser says that instead of limiting children and young people’s exploration of identity, we should be there to support them and encourage a development of sense of self.
“If uniforms do not represent all of the students’ identities [it may be] time to design new uniforms in collaboration with students.”
Introducing gender neutral uniforms could be a step towards students feeling supported in their exploration of identity. One thing is clear, children of all ages explore their own identities at different times and in different ways including with what they choose to wear.
If we can support them through that time, in any way possible, then they’ll be all the better for it.