Breakfast host on The Hits, columnist for nzherald.co.nz Life & Style.

Polly Gillespie: Let girls wear shorts

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What does wearing a skirt allow a girl to do that wearing shorts doesn't? Photo / Supplied
What does wearing a skirt allow a girl to do that wearing shorts doesn't? Photo / Supplied

Today, as I sat in a waiting room contemplating getting light therapy that would apparently make me look 17, I chatted away to a gregarious, beautiful woman and her 13-year-old daughter.

This woman's daughter was quite obviously a super sporty kid. I asked her what she was good at at school and she replied, with a wry smile: "Everything".

I liked the kid's confidence and spunk. I asked her what sport she played. "Soccer," she replied. She was Maori so I passed the obvious comment, "Soccer-playing-Maori-girls. I bet that's a small club at your school."

She laughed. This girl was confident and cool and had moxie, and to be honest looked androgynous. Very attractive, but girl? Boy? Could have been either. She was dressed in a school uniform that included shorts and a shirt. I asked her what school she went to, and she told me it was the only one she could get into that allowed girls to wear shorts and not skirts ...

Wait ... what?

It's 2016 and girls don't have the choice of shorts or skirts at some high schools? At Taita College in Wellington the boys can wear skirts if they want, so why are there still schools that insist girls wear skirts?

If it made sense I'd be cool with it. If wearing a skirt meant a girl could jump higher, run faster, catch a ball better, play netball better or soccer more skilfully, then I'd be all for skirts for girls.

If it meant girls could use the science lab more easily or spell better or learn history more accurately I'd be all aboard the skirt train, but what does wearing a skirt allow a girl to do that wearing shorts doesn't?

In fact, surely a girl can do more wearing shorts than a skirt. They don't have to be short shorts, just regular baggy old school shorts like the boys wear.

Apparently this family had been to so many schools to try to find one that would allow their daughter to dress in shorts. She hasn't worn a dress or skirt since she was 6 and was not about to start, and why should she?

There were three high schools in this large metropolitan city that seemed to condone shorts for girls. Both of the other two were out of zone and full. At one of the high schools where they had an interview, the principal told mother, father and daughter that the only other girl who wore shorts at his school was transgender. So if this girl chose to do the same then she would be bullied for being "different".

Holy crap, where have I been hiding? Under a school fish tank rockery? How is this even an issue in 2016?

It sounds like a story from 1975. It sounds implausible. From what I've seen of most intermediate schools the dress is asexual. There is no uniform gender bias, and the only thing mandatory appears to be a dorky sun hat which, yes, I understand needs to look dorky to protect our kids from the harmful rays of the Kiwi killer sun.

If I had to wear a dress or skirt to work I'd be taking issue with human resources, the Human Rights commission, and the Ministry of Sensible Ideas (this is a very small ministry. Not a lot of people know about it).

How the hell would wearing a skirt help me broadcast, write, or tell ludicrous stories?

It was the mid 80s and I was back from college in America and looking for a job. I had imagined I'd come home and television would be begging me to come be on it. It wasn't.

I was interviewing everywhere in Auckland for a temporary office job. On this particular day I was wearing smart black trousers, pumps (very 1980s), a nice white blouse and makeup.

'Well, you certainly are qualified," said the manager. "Just one thing. If you work here you'll have to wear frocks."

I was very young and it was the 80s, but even then I knew that was effed up.

"I don't want the job, thank you. I appreciate the opportunity though."

I left the office feeling embarrassed and dirty, and like I'd been ever-so-slightly molested.

Why, in 2016, are girls at some schools made to wear dresses or skirts? Is someone afraid the girls will magically grow penises overnight?

Is there some fear that lesbianism is born of trouser wearing? Why a dress? It doesn't help them learn. It doesn't make them faster or smarter or kinder. It doesn't make them a better friend, tougher prefect, more studious.

Why skirts and dresses? If a girl wants to wear a skirt as part of her uniform then maybe it should be optional, but to deny a girl the right to wear perfectly modest and comfortable shorts is outrageous and sexist and just plain inappropriate in this era.

I know there are lots of high schools that do have shorts as part of the girls' uniform, but in two of our biggest cities, you'll be hard pressed to find more than a couple.

I love that these parents kept looking until they found a school that said "Sure!"

I asked the girl: "Have more girls started wearing shorts at your school since you have been?"

'"Yes," she said, smiling. "A few of the senior girls and some in my year."

"Good on you!" I said "You're helping to change the world."

- nzherald.co.nz

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Breakfast host on The Hits, columnist for nzherald.co.nz Life & Style.

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