School bans boy from wearing frock
● A top private school in Johannesburg has stopped a 17-year-old pupil, a boy, from wearing a woman’s dress at a fashion show.
Reddam House in Bedfordview rejected a petition by 83 classmates of David Joffe Hunter in support of him wearing the dress.
David is one of 102 Grade 11 pupils at the school.
The school’s decision was “cowardly”, said David’s mother, Avril Joffe.
David took part in the fashion show on Thursday and Friday night last week wearing a suit and some light make-up.
The show was an annual fundraising event for the matric dance and was attended by pupils and parents.
David said he wanted to wear the dress as a “form of self-expression” and to challenge gender norms and provoke discussion on the issue.
“I don’t feel emasculated in a dress,” he said.
When he wore the dress during rehearsals, “some teachers raised eyebrows”, he said, but the pupils supported him.
The next day he told James Taylor, the teacher in charge of Grade 11s, why he wanted to wear a dress in the show. He said Taylor had told him he would be laughed at.
“I told him I did not mind being laughed at,” said David.
Taylor had told him that the consensus among the teachers was that the fashion show was not the right platform for what he wanted to do.
He decided to circulate a petition. But before it could be handed over to the head of pupil affairs, Caroline Alberts, she and Taylor addressed all Grade 11 pupils, telling them the dress would not be allowed.
David said that the principal, Stephen Hazley, told the Grade 11s “he had never been so disappointed in a Grade 11 group before”.
David said the school’s decision was “ridiculous and unjust”.
“None of the arguments they gave for why I shouldn’t wear a dress made any sense.”
Another Grade 11 pupil at the school said David had the support of his classmates.
“We do not think there is anything wrong with what he wanted to do,” he said.
Avril Joffe said her son “had a principled stand to challenge gender stereotypes”.
“It has nothing to do with his own sexuality. He’s making a principled stand that stereotypes must be fought against.”
A former teacher from the Western Cape, Genevieve Louw, said David was brave to challenge the gender binary, male and female, that was so prevalent in schools.
The director-general of the Department of Basic Education, Mathanzima Mweli, said he would have to get the facts of the case before commenting.
“I wouldn’t dismiss it or deny that such things do happen. The code of conduct adopted at both public and private schools should be in line with the constitution of the country,” he said.
Hazley said in an e-mailed response to the Sunday Times: “In this situation, members of staff had supportive discussions with the student around his views on gender equality and it was agreed to use other avenues to explore these type of issues further.
“Working with teenagers is always exciting, with something new to discuss every day, and we are in the fortunate position to be able to facilitate conversation and encourage debate.”
He said the school was, and would always be, an environment that promoted tolerance of a wide range of viewpoints, world views, faiths and opinions.