A Guelph high school student who was upbraided by a teacher for wearing a "The Future is Female" t-shirt has been told by her principal that she is now more than welcome to wear it and stand up for her rights.
Erica Brown, a grade 12 student at Guelph Collegiate Vocational Institute, says the confrontation in the hallway on Monday ended up being a positive experience that has sparked a larger discussion about feminism.
Now, several students want to order their own with the same slogan and the students may organize a day where they all wear it. A guest speaker may be invited to the school to talk about equality.
"Everyone is really supportive," Brown said. "Overall, it's been a positive experience, which is awesome."
Brown said the incident began when she and grade 12 student Alice Kennedy, a friend, were stopped in a hallway. The teacher told Brown that her t-shirt was inappropriate attire for school, saying it sends a message that might make some boys feel uncomfortable.
"To be honest, I thought she was going to compliment my shirt because I've received a lot of compliments from teachers and classmates alike," Brown said. "But instead, she said something along the lines of how she wanted me to think about how it would make the younger male students at the school feel."
Brown was asked whether it would be appropriate for a male student to wear a t-shirt with the slogan "The Future is Male." Then she was told: "I'm not telling you to take it off, but I'm going to talk to my colleagues, and I want you to think about this shirt."
When Kennedy jumped into the conversation, she was told: "Stop being sassy."
The confrontation left both students confused and angry. Brown was too upset to reply. Later, she talked to her parents about it, then wrote an open letter to the teacher, gave it to her, and posted it on Facebook.
"It's taken off from there, I guess," she said. "It's been an amazing response."
Brown said she would like the teacher to apologize but said that is unlikely.
"I would be okay without an apology at this point, but I think it's really important to get a speaker in," she said.
The teacher involved did not return calls for comment.
Principal Julie Prendergast was made aware of the controversy and she, the teacher, Brown and Kennedy had a discussion.
"Education is about empowerment and it creates dialogue," Prendergast said. "Whenever there are issues, we have opportunities to discuss those issues, to problem solve around them and to come to an understanding."
Prendergast said the teacher didn't have the context in which the t-shirt was being worn.
According to the Upper Grand District School Board, the principal resolved the situation when it was brought to her attention, encouraged Brown to continue wearing the t-shirt and told Brown she was proud of the letter the teen wrote.
"We at the school board would also like to applaud this student for her message on what this shirt means to her, explaining the intended movement behind the shirt and how it stands for many things, including equality, empowerment, and support for female health and well-being worldwide."
Male students say they like the slogan
Adam Schmidt, a male student, said he likes the slogan.
"I don't think it's offensive at all to male students. I think it's a great shirt personally because there is such a need for female representation in a lot of high ranking positions. It's not demoting males at all. I think it's an awesome shirt. I bought one."
Henry Peirson, another male student, said he is also supportive.
"I love the t-shirt. I honestly believe that the future is female. I thought it was really inspiring even to myself, as a guy. I found it empowering," he said.
Brown is now collecting orders and Otherwild, the U.S.-based company that produces them, has said it will give her a 25 per cent discount.
Kennedy said: "It really turned kind of a negative experience into a positive one. I'm really thankful to the community for that."