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My daughter had her grade six photos taken recently. First of all, when I was in grade six, we did not have photos taken and nor did we have a ceremony, a yearbook, commemorative T-shirt, or a special fun outing, which is all being planned for her graduating class. I remember we had a dance in the gym and someone dragged in a piece of cardboard, some boys did some breakdancing, including Riaz Keshavjee who did an actual headspin – you know, the kind that killed the kid in Michael Jackson’s Pepsi commercial? Only that kid was Alfonso Ribeiro and he didn’t actually die. My point is, a comparatively big deal is being made of my kid’s grade six graduation.

All of the individual photos are combined into one frame and displayed, as they have been forever, in the hallway by the school office. The grade sixers were given a prescribed wardrobe requirement for the portrait sitting and told that if they didn’t have a white shirt, the photographer would have a spare.

Boys were to wear a black tie.

Gender equality is a hot topic these days. Or, more specifically, for the purpose of this post, gender inequality. This is not a push for affirmative action, nor is it an angry rant about how bad women have it (I actually think that women have tons of opportunities to shine and yeah, there are challenges, but we’re totally up for it. Any less challenge and we’d be bored. But that’s a different post.) What I want to do is ask why.

When my daughter first told me that boys had to wear a tie, we had this conversation:

Me: Why do boys have to wear a tie?
Her: I dunno.
Me: Do you think that’s fair?
Her: Well, it’s not fair for them, I guess. I wouldn’t want to wear a dumb tie.
Me: But do you think there should be different clothes for boys and girls?
Her: Not really. I mean, I don’t get why.
Me: Well, I guess they want to show there’s a difference between boys and girls.
Her: But everyone knows there are differences, obviously. Duh.
Me: Yeah, well, I guess they want to emphasize that difference.
Her: Well, that’s dumb.
Me: I agree. In the adult world, there are a lot of ways that women get treated differently, sometimes worse, than men. And I think that having boys and girls presented differently early on is a subtle way that contributes to this.
Her: Hmm.
Me: You know what would be funny? If you wear a tie. Would you?
Her: …Yeah, I would do that.
Me: Do you think any of your friends would do it too?
Her: Yeah, CD totally would. She was probably already going to wear a tie already. And EC and GJ probably will as well. I don’t know about CE because she’s a little more girly.
Me: Which is totally OK! It should be up to each person individually — as well as their parents, I guess — what they wear for the picture. After all, some parents might feel weird about having a picture of their daughter wearing a tie on their mantelpiece.
Her: Yeah, true.
Me: So, are you going to try to convince some friends to wear a tie?
Her: Yeah, I guess.
Me: Just be sure that you are doing it for the right reason and you tell them that reason too.
Her: I know.

The next day, I told my friend at work about this and she told me that when her daughter had her grade 8 graduation photo taken (again, such a big deal made), boys were posed with a stack of books and girls — holding a single rose.

I’m going to let that steep for a moment…

When my friend, who was with her daughter when the photo was being taken, gave push-back to the photographer about holding the rose, she was told, “But all the girls are doing it.” Although she didn’t like the idea, my friend’s daughter asked her mom to not make a big deal of it to avoid further embarrassment.

I’ve talked to a few people about these two examples and no one has been able to give me a good reason why girls and boys should be photographed in different ways. It was my boyfriend who pointed out that the tie can be considered a symbol of male authority. My mother said that she agrees with boys and girls looking different because, after all, they are different. When I told her that I was writing this post, she told me that I am “too sensitive about these things”.

Before picture day, I sent emails to my kid’s teacher and several of the mothers in the class (the ones I know) to let them know what was up so that they could have a say. About half of them replied to say they supported the idea and would have the conversation, regardless if their daughters decided to wear a tie or not.

My daughter was sent to school on picture day with a tie that her dad bought her, in case the photographer refused to lend her one, plus the reminder that she was not to put any pressure on anyone who didn’t want to wear a tie. She reported back that not only did the photographer not say anything about her wearing a tie, he even helped her adjust hers.

In all, 4 girls in her class wore ties for the picture, a first compared to previous years’ photo compilations, reported my daughter. No kid — boy or girl — asked her why she was wearing a tie. I told my kid I was proud of her for taking a quiet, but meaningful stand, and questioning why things are the way they are, something that I very much hope she continues to do.

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