Students Lauren hardie, Oli Morphew, Evie tucker and Lola Fowler. Photo / Katie Harris
“I’m not here to be judged for what I’m wearing. Why should my clothes affect my education?”
A Wellington student is still searching for answers as to why she was sent home from school because of her clothing – even after an “adequate” apology from the school.
Lauren Hardie, 17, was asked to leave Wellington Girls College grounds and change if she wouldn’t put a sweater over her singlet because it was “unfair to male staff”.
Hardie believes internalised misogyny, not the leader involved, are to blame.
“It’s like I’m being told by a woman who is in authority over me that what I’m wearing is inappropriate and offensive to men. It’s basically calling me a slut.”
Now, she wants to use her story to inspire others to speak up against body shaming and dress coding.
Hardie said she tried to fight back, questioning why what male teachers thought played into her choice of attire, and why she should have to put on a fleece jersey when it was hot and humid.
“I said I’m not trying to be rude or offend you. But why are you hiring male teachers if they can’t handle themselves?”
It was later revealed that no male teachers had said this.
Soon after, the school held an assembly held to address what happened, but many students felt it did not properly explain why it occurred in the first place.
In the assembly Hardie asked the woman who reprimanded her why she was dress coding people, and she claims the woman said she was doing it because people weren’t “up to standard”.
“But then when I asked ‘what is the standard’ she [said] there is no standard. I said, why are we getting pulled up for a standard?”
Student Lola Fowler then asked what it was about Hardie’s clothing that caused her to be “dress coded”.
“Is it skin that’s distracting? And she said, no, she kept saying, oh, it’s for the committee to decide. And it’s like so then we need to address why it happened in the first place. What was the standard on Friday that made you dress code?”
Principal Julia Davidson said the school thought it had a smart casual standard, but it’s become clear that the students had no concept of what that meant.
“So, actually, there isn’t a standard because no one has any agreement.
“We’ve got a problem, we’ve acknowledged that we didn’t handle it pretty well. The kids now have the chance to come up with a solution. I do want them know to be respectful to everyone in the school.”
Student Oli Morphew said almost every question the pupils asked was “deflected to the new plan”.
The initiative she’s referring to involves a survey, designed by Morphew, and a dress code committee.
One of the arguments the girls said the school tabled was that showing too much skin was offensive in some cultures. But the students said no one in their cohort had made such complaints.
And this, they said, unfairly pushed the “blame” on ethnic or minority students.
The students said another teacher brought up a former student from a minority group who had come forward a few years ago, to say some of the girls’ clothing was offensive to her.
Davidson said she explained to the students they needed to find a sustainable solution so they don’t have to review it every year.
In the assembly, Morphew said a deeply religious student told the hall that she didn’t believe her religion should dictate what others can wear.
Before Friday’s event, Fowler said she felt good about her body but what happened that day changed everything.
“It made me feel even more negative than before. I never really was concerned about other people’s thoughts on my body. And now you just bring that into the picture and it changes everything.”
Their relationships with male teachers have also been tested as many of the girls felt because they were, in part, used as a scapegoat to shoulder the blame of why more modest dress was required.
Hardie, who likes to push the limits, instead of heeding the leaders call to cover up, returned to school in a lower cut top and a push-up bra.
“I had a male teacher straight after I came back from going home. And I asked him, I said, do you have a problem? He goes, no, I don’t care what you wear, as long as you pay attention in my class, and do the best you can do.”
After Hardie was told off, she said two other girls were also told off for wearing what was perceived as revealing clothing.
She told the Herald the concept of dress coding was outdated and directly related to body shaming.
Fellow student Evie Tucker, said she doubts the woman involved holds those views, and believes she was just trying to protect the students.
Like her school mates, she thinks the woman’s actions were partly down to internalised misogyny.
“An issue like that, can’t be easily dealt with, it’s ingrained in history. It’s gonna take a long time to change that.”
After posts about the incident spread online Hardie received direct messages from other students who’d also been asked to cover up at their schools and in other places.
The students spoken to by the Herald said they wanted to emphasise how the senior leadership team is working with students to resolve the situation and quickly it acted.
With a new dress code on the horizon, the girls hope their situation may inspire others to stand up against dress coding in Aotearoa.
“You should never [be] protesting for just existing. That’s the bottom line,” Morphew said.