Introducing gender neutral uniforms, unisex bathrooms and changing rooms: Positive or negative?

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11865086

“Schools are being urged to offer “gender-neutral” uniform, toilet and changing room options under new guidelines from the secondary teachers’ union.”

As our society grows and changes, the surrounding world needs to make adjustments to fit the people who reside in it. As we learn more about our people and that not everyone has to be who we culturally believe they should be, we need to make changes to make this world a less terrifying place for those who are left feeling alienated. Socially structured gender-roles have put pressure on people for god knows how long, and although the ties are loosening, we still have a long way to go to provide a place that can feel welcoming to everyone.

Although I am a strong believer in gender equality, and the idea that people can choose who they want to be and that their gender* does not have to match their sex**, the main reason I am totally pro-gender neutral uniforms, unisex bathrooms and changing rooms is because I think it is time for a drastic change. Society itself has created the division between men and women, it is the cause of the sexualisation and objectification of woman and the reason for the pressure on men to be masculine and strong.

When I was reading this article and deciding whether or not to talk about this topic, I wondered, how did we actually end up with gender-separated toilets in the first place? I did some reading up and what I can make from what I read is that because it was a period where women were barely seen in the workforce and were confined to their homes in private, they started allowing “safer” places for women for when they left their home. Thinking about that, you can see how gender inequality has a huge part. I’m not exactly sure if this idea was encouraged by women because they wanted a nicer and safer environment for themselves, or if it was men in charge who decided that women were weaker and more vulnerable and that they needed to be protected. I’m going to guess, based on what we know about 19th century society, that this was a decision made by the men in charge. This is a great example of why I’m in for this drastic change, why not go back?

In primary school I was one of those girls who wasn’t interested in wearing a skirt. Once our school introduced a uniform, we were given the option between shorts or a skort. Not that they were far different, but I chose the shorts option of course. I never had the problem of feeling pressured to wear a skirt, and even throughout high school I witnessed many girls wearing shorts, because we had the option, yet I actually chose to wear a skirt at high school (probably because of social pressure and gender-norms). I guess the unfair part is that I don’t think the same options would have been provided for the males. I’d like to believe that the more we grow as a society, the more open schools will be to provide a better education facility that doesn’t have all of this negative pressure on individuals. Even if that means breaking out of some of our comfort-zones and getting used to the idea of seeing a boy in a skirt. Because why should it matter? The sooner we accept it, the better the world will be.

I think many of us can see how terrifying the idea of shared-gender bathrooms might be to many people, typically from parents who are worried for their children and what this change might allow. I can understand this side of it too. We are so used to the way our world is now that considering a change like this is pretty horrifying. In the comment section, there was a lot of parents who were for the gender-neutral uniforms but completely against shared-gender bathrooms. One had worries that this would create an unsafe environment for their children. Other said this would provide a place for kids to have sex, that it would influence bullying and too many kids would be “curious”. Are you aware of why we have that curiosity? Think about it, you separate two genders who are evolutionarily made to reproduce, you socialize them to be shy about the topics of sex and the biological features of another person and you teach them to be ashamed about sexuality. Isn’t it a fact that the more you try to hide something, the more curious an individual becomes?

Many people were clearly worried about this, but the article states:

They also urge schools to provide “individual toilet and shower units with lockable doors and floor-to-ceiling divisions” and “options for students to change and shower in privacy”.

It wasn’t about having completely open unisex changing rooms where they would be exposed to each other, but about giving children a safe place to go where their gender didn’t matter. The fears of these parents were based on thinking that their children would be exposed to members of the opposite gender in a changing room, not that I think that’s a problem anyway. I think this is a positive change, it still provides a private place for children, but it also eliminates the stress that accompanies those who are transgender. If children can see a place that is open to anyone, no matter how they identify, this will educate them and socialise them for the future. Not only will this provide a more comfortable environment for our children, it will also allow them to learn and achieve better without these social restrictions.

“My view is that all kids should feel safe to be who they are culturally and in terms of their sexuality, because we know that if kids can be who they are in a whole range of areas they will achieve better,” – Whetu Cormick, Principals’ Federation president.

Imagine a place where there wasn’t this division between the two sexes, maybe this would allow for understanding and respect for the people around us. Rather than feeling like there is this social wall separating the sexes, we can feel equal yet still learn we are different. Human nature isn’t something to be ashamed of and I think curiosity, underage sex and what not, all stems from parents “protecting” their children from the truth until they’re “old enough to understand”. Is there even an age where a child is more able to understand the human body? This is our world. This is us. These are our bodies. Let’s teach them to understand them and appreciate them as soon as we can before they are influenced by all the negativity we have in our society.

It’s a drastic change, because yeah, it would be difficult at first. We have to reshape the way our society thinks, but that’s exactly why we need it. In the long run we can create a more open-minded society. A place where kids grow up to understand the body, are exposed to different types of bodies and get a real idea on what reality actually is and the people in it. Overall this could help to minimise bullying and lead us towards a more equal and understanding society.

 

 

*Social and cultural differences between men and women

**Biological differences between men and women

Author: shannonrealtalk

20, Hamilton NZ, Psychology Major at the University of Waikato

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