12 October 2007

Wearing Pants

There was time, in the olden days, when only boys were allowed to wear pants in school.

I remember it was 1958, and we’d come back to the states from Japan to a small Air Base outside of Lincoln, Nebraska.

The winters there, while not as cold as Japan’s, brought plenty of sleet. Please understand that sleet does not fall – it stabs. It is driven into bare skin by horizontal winds that invariably blow from the direction you are walking into.

For a little girl in a dress, sleet is excruciating. Mercifully, the principal of our elementary school decreed that on wintry days, for the walk to and from school, girls might wear pants under their dresses.

And I remember those coldest days when Mom would have me slip on corduroy pants. Up under my skirt and tucked into my boots, they kept me snug and warm.

For most girls, this was enough. They walked to school, gathered close, by the doors, and talked till the bell rang. And then, along with their earmuffs, mittens, and coats, they dutifully removed their pants, and draped them over the radiators to dry.

Not me. It didn’t take long before I figured out that if I tucked my dress into my pants, I could climb onto the jungle gym, race little boys on the gravel, and even play chicken on the monkey bars.

Eventually, it got so that with just a hint of cold in the air, I’d slip on a pair of pants, and as soon as I was out of Mom’s sight, I’d tuck my dress in, and run to school. I got away with it for a while, until one day a teacher recognized me, and sent me to the principal’s. He sent me home with a note, reminding my mother that girls were only allowed to wear pants when the temperatures were below freezing or if the sky was actually falling.

~ ~ ~ ~

By 1969, we were living in northern California. (If anyone ever tells you these are a liberal people, he is lying.)

I was in high school, and it was still illegal for a girl to wear pants in school. This was such utter bullshit to me, and I was about fed up. I got together with two other girls, and we decided to say something about it. We organized a protest. We convinced 100 or so girls to bring a pair of slacks to school. And during the break between 2nd and 3rd period, we all met in the girl’s room just east of C-wing, and changed.

Quietly, we lined up outside the wing, in pairs, and waited till ten minutes into the classes we were all now missing. We opened up the double-doors, and marched in singing:

♪ All we are say-ying is, ‘give pants a chance.’ ♪

We marched down the hall, and out through the double-doors at the other end, did a once-around the administration building, and then stopped once we had completely circled. We started clapping while we sang.

Several of the office ladies looked out to see what the commotion was. I remember two who smiled, but most of them were shocked, and the principal - he was outraged. He called the Wheatland Police(man), who showed up within minutes. Together, they threatened us all with arrest if we - didn’t - shut - up.

The cop took all our names, and one by one, we were lead into the vice-principal’s, principal’s, and nurse’s offices for questioning. “Who instigated this?” “Who convinced you to break the law?”

It didn’t take long for someone to spill the beans, and give up the names of the 3 bad seeds who’d evilly influenced these otherwise innocent girls.

All participants were sent home for the day. This was no small feat, by the way. The high school was a good twenty-minute drive from Beale Air Force Base, and while busses were provided to bring us there, the school wasn’t about to waste good money to taxi a bunch of juvenile delinquents home. The parking lot only had enough spaces for employees, so our parents were forced to park their cars all along the narrow lane that led to our school from the highway. 100+ students meant 100+ cars and 100+ very angry parents.

The other protestors were allowed back to school the following day, but my two cohorts and I were suspended for 3 days, and the entire disgraceful incident was documented on our transcripts – our permanent records.

The slacks I wore that day were of thin-waled corduroy. A fine black and white hound’s-tooth. I kept them for years as a reminder.


Mick said...

Just curious, but how many of the boys wore dresses as a 180 degree show of support? :O ... what? Not a single coward dared don a pleated mini? The shame! :D

Sometimes Saintly Nick said...

I don’t remember those days when females were prohibited to wear pants. I was there: in 1958 I was 12 years old. Perhaps since I wasn’t female I didn’t realize what the rule was.

Now, after reading your words, I am angered and incensed at the prejudice and stupidity of the schools.

I applaud you for your demonstration. I wonder if it enlightened any of the adults in the school. I suspect it certainly enlightened the female students. Right on!

Dawn Coyote said...

Marvelous story. I wish I'd been that aware at that age. I can just see all those girls lined up, singing. What a seminal moment that must have been. Bad pun. Sorry.

Check your trackback.

catnapping said...

mick: sorry to disappoint - the boys used to save that fun for the homecoming parade!

nick: there were places my mother absolutely could not enter wearing slacks. in fact, there wasn't a building on base a woman could enter in slacks. what blows me away is that this really wasn't that long ago...

dawn: i still hafta chuckle when i think of us borrowing from lennon. omg - we thought we were sooo clever!

Courtney said...

That's a transcript I would frame! :D

Anonymous said...

Oh my! So what year did it become legal to wear slacks over there? You even had sleet to contend with!! My Mother returned to Australia from America because wanted me born in Australia. She said the two places were the same back then, apart from American 'conservatism'. My rebellion in high school was not wearing the uniform even though slacks! But walked out of a history lesson about WWII ...

Enjoyed your story a lot!

Anonymous said...


ValGalArt said...

I read this last night but blogger wouldn't let me comment! I remember these times and living in San Diego it was a wonderful time when we were finally allowed to wear pants! A triumph!!! I totally relate to this and enjoyed it thouroughly!

merlinprincesse said...

I really love your story. We had COSTUMES in primary school (gray jumper) and an horrible green tartan in Highschool. I went in a Catholic Highschool and the nuns wanted us to have our skirts at the knee level. BUT when we were getting out of school, we were rolling the tops of those skirts to show our legs and tbe nice drawings we had made on our knees during school....LOL... Those were the end of the Sixties. Mini time! :) Hhehe! I remember waiting the bus at minus 40 in my mini...hehehhe. :) Now I almost only wear pants in Winter... :) Thanks for the story!

Catnapping said...

courtney: that's not a bad idea. i know it gave some folks at the UM a chuckle when i applied there. they asked me about it before accepting me.

sandy: yep. our sacrifices, huh? i can remember only being allowed to take drafting class if the boys taking it didn't fill all the slots available.

switchsky: agreed!

anonybird: wow. what were they teaching in your history class? i remember getting into more than one argument with teachers over myths perpetuated about indians and other "pagans."

princess: hehe. i do remember hiking my skirts. my mom wouldn't let me hem them any higher than 4 inches above my knees...(the school allowed 6 - which, when you think about it...is an arbitrary number ... really short girls could, in effect, wear micro minis, while someone long-legged looked relatively modest.)

dinahmow said...

School bosses do some dumb things! I recall (early 60s) one Samoan boy being allowed to wear long trousers because "he came from the tropics." We had other Samoan, Fijian, Rarotongan and Tongan kids who'd lived in town for years who had to wear the short pants uniform.

Gypsy said...

I wonder how many kids would be sent to the nurses office for something like this in today's modern times? Back then they sent everyone to the nurses office for every little thing. What was the point? did they want to check you girls out to see if maybe there was something medically wrong that might have caused this? I can see it, too; nurse Ratchett's all waiting for the three of you to show up, licking their lips with anticipation: mmmmmmm Hariett! more bad little girls comin' in!

somewhere joe said...

cat, I knew you were a head of your time. :oP

Must feel rather good to be vindicated by history in due course. Brava!

Borut said...

Enjoyed reading the story!:)

Gawpo said...

Cat, this is so well written. You must have broken the dress code mold. By the time I was in junior high at Brown in Turlock, the girls were wearing pants whenever they wished. That was 1967/8.

I loved reading this. Thanks for sharing.

Somewhere Joe's jokes are just as bad as mine. Don't you love him for that?

And I'll add a Brava! right here and now.

tsduff said...

I am impressed. You've got ovaries and then some :) We had a sit-in at my high school (Southern California) in 71, but I was no instigator. I was one of those easily impressed groupies who loved the action but had no leadership qualities. My rebellion was slipping off my bra on the way to the bus stop - and carefully putting it back on on the way home before Mom could see.

Janet said...

Yes!...I remember those freezing mornings waiting at the bus stop with icy legs!
We were finally allowed to wear pants to school when I was in 1oth grade, I think (1972).But...we had to wear pant suits (remember those?)....AND...when holding your arms down at your side, the hem of the pant suits top, had to be as long as your wrists! How stupid was that?

Mim said...

It scares me that I remmeber this, I remember the akward feel of pants under a dress and the feeling of 'what the hell do you mean, I can't wear pants"
Love your story and I can relate to every bit of it.