A couple of weeks back, my son's school sent a notice that from this academic year onwards, girls would wear maroon t-shirts and maroon skirts on Wednesdays instead of maroon t-shirts and white skirts. It went on to clarify that the uniform of boys would remain unchanged - maroon t-shirts and white shorts. There was a round of cribbing by moms who had already purchased the uniforms for their kids about the economic loss.
I was surprised that no one seemed to be worried about what to me seems a clear step backwards - why is menstruation such a huge taboo? I was even more disturbed by the fact that educated people in my network told me that this change could have come about 'cos parents specifically asked for it !
As a parent of 2 kids - one boy and one girl, this is what my utopian view of a co-ed school is:
There needs to be enough awareness among both boys and girls on how menstruation is a natural process. Boys need to be taught that, yes, it may not be regular in the initial years and hence they may find a classmate bleeding into her uniform. They also need to know of the physical discomforts that accompany it. They need to be taught how to be of use in such situations and not giggle among themselves or turn their faces away in embarassment and confusion. They need to be made aware of where emergency pads can be obtained and how they can help their friend get access to a change of clothes. Girls need to be taught that there is nothing to be ashamed of about the whole process. If a girl falls down and bleeds, boys don't bat an eyelid before helping her. Why should menstrual stains be treated any differently? Why hide behind maroon skirts? If neatness is the concern, then the change has to be gender neutral - my son comes home with dirt caked on his white trousers every week !
Surprisingly, many moms I spoke to also said that while 9-10 may be an appropriate age to teach a girl about menstruation, it is too early to teach a boy about it. I find this ridiculous and intend to teach my son all about it over the next couple of years. In fact, he is already exposed to the fact that there are days when his mom is more tired than usual, has seen a menstrual pad and is in general more aware of the reproductive process than most kids his age.
I am ashamed of myself that I didn't have the guts to raise the issue up with the school management - 'cos my rational brain told me to choose my battles wisely...