Top Joburg school refuses to allow male pupil to wear dress

Reddam House Bedfordview (Facebook)

A private school in Johannesburg has been criticised after it barred a male school pupil from wearing a dress at a fashion show.

David Joffe-Hunter, a 17-year-old Grade 11 pupil, participated in the event at Reddam House in Bedfordview last week – but not how he wanted, reports the Sunday Times.

The fashion show is put on annually to raise funds for the school’s matric dance. During rehearsals, Joffe-Hunter wore a dress, he said, as a “form of self-expression” and to challenge gender norms and stereotypes.

The school, however, was not impressed and ordered him to drop the idea when it came to the final event. Teacher James Taylor reportedly warned Joffe-Hunter that he would be laughed at if he wore a dress.

“I told him I did not mind being laughed at,” the student said to the Times. “I don’t feel emasculated in a dress.”

After 83 of his classmates signed a petition supporting Joffe-Hunter’s right to wear a dress, Principal Stephen Hazley told the pupils that “he had never been so disappointed in a Grade 11 group before”.

The school ultimately refused to back down and stopped Joffe-Hunter from wearing the dress in the show. Instead he was only allowed to wear a suit with light makeup.

Joffe-Hunter described the teachers’ decision as “ridiculous and unjust”. His mother, Avril Joffe, supported her son. “It has nothing to do with his own sexuality,” she said. “He’s making a principled stand that stereotypes must be fought against.”

The school told the Times that the fashion show was not the right platform to address matters of gender and “it was agreed to use other avenues to explore these type of issues further”.

The story saw a number of people responding on social media. Writing on Facebook, Keith Peacock said that the school’s position “makes a mockery of @Reddam House’s motto ‘We shall embrace your individuality’ – suppress may be a more apt substitution.”

He added that instead of “disappointment in the class” any “educationalist, with a slightest understanding of fashion as an expression of individuality and the role of education would have expressed pride in the initiative of those students who supported David’s right of expression and the statement he was making”.

Peacock recommended that the teachers undertake “a quick read of present education literature on stereotyping and gender, plus our constitution…”

Gender and sexuality remain sensitive and fraught issues in many South African schools, despite the country’s progressive legislation.

In particular, the choice of pupils to dress in uniforms according to their gender identity has often been restricted by schools. Even the occurrence of same-sex partners attending the matric dance together still makes national headlines.

According to a 2016 report by the Love Not Hate campaign, 56% of LGBT people said that they had experienced discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity in school.

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