There’s an unofficial competition where I live that mostly teenage girls engage in, as to which school has the worst school uniform. There’s been quite a bit of debate, and competition, over the years, but all of a sudden a clear winner has emerged. It’s the elite Strathfield Catholic Girls school Santa Sabina. And the thing that tipped it over the edge was the introduction of daggy shorts, not that far removed from the daggy synthetic ones warn with short-sleeved drip-dry shirts, kipper ties and white walk socks to the knee by daring young public servants, bank clerks and Don Dunstan-wannabees in the nylon nadir of the seventies.
Not only is the new uniform daggy, drab and dated, but it’s explicitly designed to reflect a greater gender fluidity. That’s right, the principal believes that not everyone is actually female at her school, and that students are more on a gender continuum or maybe even, “spectrum” (though, of course, the uniform was hailed as an act of “empowerment” in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Guardian Australia has proclaimed it to be part of a “progressive, pragmatic, and inclusive agenda”).
Last Sunday Miranda Devine reported that the result of the gender angles parents turned up to the Strathfield school and threatened to withdraw up to two-hundred students if Maree Herrett, the principal, did not resign.
Now it’s important to stress that parents took no issue with the introduction of shorts and pants. Lots of co-ed and girls schools do that for all kinds of practical reasons and have done so for a generation or more. What raised their ire was that this was a decision that was specifically driven by a “gender fluid” ideology. Devine records Maree Herrett, Santa Sabina’s Principal, as:
Boasting in the media that the uniform change was about enabling “a variety of gender expression…What I think we’re recognising is that there has always been a variety of ways of expressing your femininity or your masculinity.”
But the cat was really let out of the bag when Herrett tweeted—then deleted— this incredibly injudicious semi-advertisement that seemed a little out step with usual understandings of why parents choose all-girls Catholic schools, let alone the church’s teachings:
Devine summarises the content of the book in question, Gender Reckonings, as follows:
Gender Reckonings, edited by James Messerschmidt, who coined the phrase “toxic masculinities”, and transgender academic Raewyn Connell, is chock-full of the insidious Marxist-based theory that underpinned Safe Schools.
The book rails against “the international fundamentalist campaign against the idea of gender fluidity”. It claims the concept of binary sexes — as in male or female — is “impoverished thinking”.
It describes women as “people assigned female at birth”. It praises “polyamory” and criticises monogamy.
It promotes a “movement to assert a multiplicity of sexual and gender identities” and “unbounded fluidity of gender and sexuality (to) escape the constraints of institutionalised heterosexuality”.
Devine’s comment linking Marxism to gender fluidity is no empty slur. As Harriet Evans has a chapter entitled, “Marketing Feminity: Images of the Modern Chinese Woman,” in the book China beyond the Headlines (Rowman & Littlefield, 2000) where she writes the following paragraph:
Between the 1950’s and the late 1970’s – the early decades after the Communist Revolution – the official ideology of gender equality demanded almost complete removal from the public eye of conventional signs of femininity and female eroticism. Women appeared as steelworkers, parachutists, and cotton-workers, or militant Red Guards, often in contexts where production for the good of society was the dominant theme. With shining eyes glazing into the distance, strong hands, and robust bodies, they symbolized energy, hard work, and passionate commitment to a revolutionary ideal. “External beauty” became a metaphor for sexual licentiousness and ideological impurity. “Internal beauty” illuminated the frugal appearance of the true revolutionary. That clothing should be gender-neutral became an automatic corollary of the rhetoric of gender equality. It also effectively obscured the female body from public perusal. Appearance was banished as a publicly accepted standard of women’s social value; sexuality and eroticism were excluded from the vocabulary of revolutionary gender relations.
If Santa Sabina was truly consistent then they would do what Magda Szubansky so desperately longs for, and that is adopt the good old Marxist ‘Mao suit’, and so become completely non-binary. As it is, by simply giving students the option of wearing trousers or dresses they’re ironically, continuing to perpetuate the old ‘traditional’ stereotypes of male and female. And how discriminatory is that?
This whole issue goes beyond something as superficial as fashion, let alone what is practical. Uniforms are always representative of the values that people aspire too and hold dear. And as such, Herrett is completely undermining the teaching of the religious institution that she represents.
Parents have every right to call on the principal of Santa Sabina to resign. And if she doesn’t then I wouldn’t be surprised if a number of parents withdrew their daughter and sent them across the road. It’s the only way to get through to the academic elites that their children will not be used as guinea pigs for their radical Marxist theories.
Mark Powell is the Associate Pastor of Cornerstone Presbyterian Church, Strathfield.
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