New Brunswick

Dress code fight triggers flashback to 1970 FHS protest

Linda Morehouse of Keswick Ridge says the controversy over the dress code at Fredericton High School is transporting her back in time.

Linda Morehouse and others took on Fredericton High School administration for the right to wear pants

Linda Morehouse of Keswick Ridge says the controversy over the dress code at Fredericton High School is transporting her back in time.

Some Fredericton High School students are getting ready to meet with Anglophone West School District administrators about the school's dress code.
She was part of a group of young female students who first challenged the school's dress code back in 1970.

Back then the fight over the dress code was all about whether girls should be allowed to wear pants to school. 

"I can't believe that we're still at this after so many years, "Morehouse said.

"It's been like 44 years since I was involved with the issue at Fredericton High School."

In 1970, Morehouse joined a group of girls who took on the administration over its rule that said girls could only wear skirts and dresses to school and never pants.

I can't believe we're still doing this 44 years later, we're still dictating to women what is appropriate and what is inappropriate to wear to school, I can't believe it.- Linda Morehouse

No matter what the temperature outside they were expected to follow the dress code, which could lead to bizarre situations.

"You were allowed to wear a mini-skirt but you weren't allowed to wear pants, I'm talking about anything that would cover your legs fully,” she said.

Morehouse said she joined a group of girls that was hatching a plan to fight the dress code. Between 20 and 30 of them met secretly in a classroom to decide on day of action.

"So we had the meeting and we had the date set and what we were going to do at that point is that, 'OK, as a unified group, we were going to wear pants that day,'" Morehouse recalls.

"Now, at that time pants meant maybe a pant suit, a matching top bottom kind of thing, not jeans. We were told we could possibly be sent home. We just said, 'You know what, we’re just going to do this anyway, and let's see what happens.'”

Protest was a turning point

Morehouse said she considers that day a turning point in her life and the lives of many young women who wanted to be treated equally.

The Fredericton Youth Feminists recently released a video that takes aim at FHS’s dress code. The group says the dress code promotes a rape culture by blaming female victims for attracting male aggression.
"The motivation was, I think, that we as a group, were looking at the fact that we were being dictated to as a group of women, young women, how to dress, what we could and could not do, what was appropriate and what was inappropriate for us," said the retired social worker.

"I remember changing classes and seeing other women with the pants on, it was so empowering to me and I thought, ‘Yes, we can make these changes and you know what? The world is not going to crumble around us because of that.’"

She's been cheering on the young feminists this month at Fredericton High School for their efforts against what they perceive as sexist attitudes in the dress code.

Many of them claim they're being sent home or to the principal's office for such violations as visible bra straps or tops that are deemed too sheer.

"I can't believe we're still doing this 44 years later, we're still dictating to women what is appropriate and what is inappropriate to wear to school, I can't believe it,” she said.

No teacher stopped the protest

David McTimoney, the superintendent of the Anglophone West School District, said he will listen to what the dress code opponents have to say at their meeting next week. (CBC)
​Morehouse said she doesn't remember many punishments being handed out back in 1970 and despite her fears, no teacher ever came to her to tell her what she was wearing was inappropriate.

“Shortly after that we were allowed to wear pants. Now it had to be something coordinating, it couldn't be jeans but we could see that we were starting to make little gains along the way,” Morehouse said.

She laughs now at the memory of radicals wearing matching polyester pant suits. The next barriers to fall were jeans for girls and workboots.

Fast forward to 2014 and Morehouse said she's pleased that Anglophone West School District superintendent David McTimoney is offering to meet the young women asking for a more relaxed, individualistic dress code at FHS.

"I think they need to listen to what these women are saying. I was listening to the school supervisor and it seems to me that he is prepared to listen. When you go into negotiation with that kind of attitude – ‘I need to hear what you have to say and you need to listen to what I have to say,  then you can come to some type of middle ground’ and I think that's really important,” she said.

“And I really want the feminists that are leading this at FHS, who I'm very proud of by the  way, I want them to do the same thing. Go into this and listen to what other people have to say and then come to some type of agreement, then it's a win-win for everybody, then it's empowering for everybody."

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