Looking for research/journal articles about girls play clothes/uniforms.
March 25, 2013 8:57 PM   Subscribe

Our school is reviewing uniform policies and I’m trying to find research, or guidelines to inform the discussion. I’m in Australia where uniforms for students are the norm. This is a government school where it’s not legally mandated, but where it’s universally worn in different forms. Several teachers at our current school and my daughter’s pre-school have mentioned that they prefer girls not to wear dresses and skirts to school because it impedes free play. I agree and am encouraging our primary school to phase out the dresses for girls and have regulation polo shirts for all kids and skorts/culotte type shorts for the girls, and unisex shorts for the boys and any girls that want to wear them.

In addition to presenting the views of the teachers, we’d like to survey the parent population. Prior to this, I’d like to present them evidence that these kinds of clothes are not great for sport and free play (and possibly that they foster gendered play).

I’m struggling with my literature searches (absolutely no google-fu)... and also struggling to find government recommendations. Any government would do. Not just Australian.

I’m also open to presenting cogent and intelligent arguments from perceptive metafilter educators .

So.... are you able to help me find some i) journal articles, ii) guidelines or iii)persuasive points online?

(Obviously, if the research resoundingly said that it's not true, then I need to know that too. I doubt very much it does, but it would be important to know that.)
posted by taff to Education (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This is a toughie. Most of the actual research on uniforms is more broadly aligned than that, as in "are you uniforms good?", or aimed at older kids I did find this petition from the Transgender Alliance to Scottish parliament, whilst not being research made a lot of cogent and good points.

You may find this study on clothing and gender construction interesting (some mefites *cough* Blasdelb) may help with access issues should you have any.

I think you might also find some very good ammo from the APA Report on the Sexualisation of Girls.

Best of luck in your search. :)
posted by smoke at 9:29 PM on March 25, 2013

I looked through my university's catalogue for journal articles and it is a tough one! I found a lot of little random excerpts. It may or may not help.

This article points to New York City schools debating the issues of skirts.

It appears that the UK government de-sexed their uniforms in the 90s. I found this little excerpt in a book.

I also found this where the author argues that uniforms cannot be designed in a way that impedes one sex.

Hope this helps.
posted by cyml at 10:02 PM on March 25, 2013

I conducted an otherwise-uninformed little sweep of the resources available to me on Google Scholar. It was a bit difficult to find good search terms (though maybe that's just because I have no experience researching anything resembling this topic). Apologies that you likely can't access the full text of these articles:

Mindy Blaise, doing ethnographic research on a(n Australian!) kindergarten classroom, writes in Early Childhood Research Quarterly, "Not only did skirts and dresses prohibit girls from climbing and swinging on play equipment outside (because their panties would show), but they also enforced certain ways that the girls sat on the rug during group times. For example, Sophie was seen frantically waving her hands, attempting to inform Laura, who was sitting across from her in the circle, that her panties were showing. Sophie showed Laura how to delicately pull her skirt over her legs and appropriately sit with her knees together so that no one could see her panties. Clothes enforced a different set of rules for the girls, since the boys did not seem to worry about how their clothing might prevent them from participating in activities or being a certain kind of boy."

In a similarly observation-based study of pre-schoolers, written up in American Sociological Review, Karin A. Martin found that "[w]earing a dress limited girls' physicality in preschool. However, it is not only the dress itself, but knowledge about how to behave in a dress that is restrictive. Many girls already knew that some behaviors were not allowed in a dress."

A Richard Green et al. study in Archives of Sexual Behavior, looking at daughters of lesbian couples, goes on this relevant tangent: "The daughters of lesbian mothers are less traditionally feminine in current dress, interest in rough-and-tumble play, activity preferences at school and in the neighborhood, and anticipated occupation. The dress preferences of daughters of lesbian mothers may be related to their greater participation in rough-and-tumble play and/or the result of a pattern set by their mothers, who also dress more often in pants or jeans." (drawing a line between "rough-and-tumble play" and eschewing dresses)

It sounds like this article from Child Study Journal ("Sex typing of play activities by girls' clothing style: Pants versus skirts"; can't find it anywhere online, though) discusses the question extensively, but it also seemed, from the paper that led me to it, as though it concludes that skirts do not deter girls from playing actively.

In Women, Men, and Gender, Linda L. Carli writes, "If parents dressed boys in less restrictive clothing (for example, in pants instead of in dresses), placed them on the floor more than girls, or encouraged them to stand by pulling them to a standing position more than girls, this differential treatment could account for the gender difference in milestone attainment."

I think there's a lot out there, it's just hard to track down without knowing a few relevant jargon terms to lure out the right stuff! If I get more time later I'll try and find some more.

(why no, of course I'm not procrastinating from a literature review of my own, how dare you)
posted by threeants at 10:55 PM on March 25, 2013 [5 favorites]

Also consider requirements of different religions along with gender considerations. Some kids at my primary school absolutely would not have worn above the knee attire due to church rules, and I grew up in one of least diverse places you could think of. I imagine it is a more relevant consideration in Sydney.

Here's a Dress Code/uniform report from Vic State Parliament that considers Anti Discrimination laws. You can trawl the footnotes for further info - school submissions etc.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 10:57 PM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you really want to go to town, here are the submissions from the Inquiry linked above.

Also, have you checked out the NSW Guidelines for Uniforms in Public Schools brochure? It does have a few points on page 5 about uniforms providing equal chances for participation in activities, and that boys' and girls' uniforms should be of equal cost (as much as possible).
posted by Trivia Newton John at 11:23 PM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]

Stanley, R. M., Boshoff, K., and Dollman, J. (2012) Voices in the playground: A qualitative exploration of the barriers and facilitators of lunchtime play. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport 15 (1) 44-51.

"In the current study, school uniforms were perceived predominately (sic) by girls as a significant barrier to lunchtime play. Uniform design, particularly in the private school sector, restricts movement and is generally impractical for the majority of physical activities. This leads to feelings of discomfort, particularly in mixed-gender environments, and reluctance to engage in play." (p. 49)
posted by Cheese Monster at 1:50 AM on March 26, 2013

It looks like this person has done some relevant research. She has a publication list on her site too. New Zealand has a very similar school uniform culture as Australia, so that's why I was looking there. I'm actually kind of surprised I couldn't find any kind of government guidelines since NZ is often quite good at thinking about these kinds of things, but it seems to be left largely up to each school's Board of Trustees (there are rules about contracting with suppliers but that's not what you need).

This is advice about choosing a new uniform from one of the companies that supplies uniforms in NZ. While there is nothing in there about gender expression, they do make a good point in that choosing the supplier can be a big part of choosing the actual uniform as you essentially choose from whatever they have to offer. It seems like in your situation making sure you have suppliers with a range of suitable items available, including both actual skirts and comfortable unisex shorts if you so decide (I'm not a fan at all of culottes), would go a long way towards assuring all your students can wear what they find appropriate.

Two of the three schools I went to changed uniforms while I was there. In both cases there was a fashion parade at assembly and a brochure sent out with images of what each uniform looks like. For all of these things there were girls wearing the unisex version as well as the skirt version, with both treated as equally valid, and that really helped get across the idea that wearing a skirt was no longer the default girls uniform. Making sure each option has a similar cost and quality is also important for this. So how you present your options is going to matter as well I'd say.
posted by shelleycat at 2:10 AM on March 26, 2013

Sorry, screwed up the first link. It should go here: http://www.drfrock.co.nz/uniforms.php
posted by shelleycat at 2:24 AM on March 26, 2013

It appears that the UK government de-sexed their uniforms in the 90s.

This isn't necessarily the case as it is dependent on the school. My state Catholic secondary school, which I attended until 1998, only allowed girls to wear skirts with knee-high socks, with the exception of Muslim girls (it was a 20% Asian area) who were allowed to wear leggings under their skirts and the boys' tracksuit bottoms for PE for modesty purposes. (Mind you, my school had rules on uniform down to the colour of hair bobbles and decorations on shoes. I was not a fan.) There have been some cases recently where pupils themselves have campaigned for gender neutral uniforms, including a boy who wore a skirt to school, but even state schools can set their own guidelines.

I didn't go to a uniformed primary, but my bus route passes one and the girls I see wear cotton checked dresses in the summer - I've never seen a girl in trousers.
posted by mippy at 9:33 AM on March 26, 2013

"some mefites *cough* Blasdelb"
I just caught the bat signal, if there is anything you would like access to please don't hesitate to memail me with an email address I can send a PDF to and a promise not to distribute it further. For the purposes of this academic discussion you are currently having in AskMe of course.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:26 AM on April 4, 2013

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