It’s hard to know what went on at Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar School in the lead-up to the year 11 formal. Probably the usual: ridiculous overspending on dresses and make-up, and scheming on how to get into a bar afterwards with fake ID.
But what we do know is that two female students, in a relationship, were unable to attend as each other’s date, and that the school actively prevented this from happening.
As a former student, I’m saddened by the actions of the school’s management in their treatment of these girls.
It is downright embarrassing to read that the principal doesn’t “think it’s appropriate they feel discriminated against”. For someone who has been the principal of this exclusive school for almost 15 years to not have any understanding of what it might feel like to be a teenager who is marginalised or discriminated against is amazing. And shows a complete lack of empathy.
When I attended the school in the late 1990s there was a lot of pressure on students to attend functions expressly designed for “socialising” with boys. It seems as though nothing’s changed. While at co-educational schools activities such as formals and school plays — high school rites of passage — are organised for the benefit of students, at IGGS it has always been another story.
From year 9 onwards, there was at least one event per year where you had to bring a date. Having this pressure heaped on you as a teenage girl was overwhelming, and had a very negative effect on my self-esteem and that of many of my friends. This pressure is present in all teenage lives, of course, but the fact it was overseen by the school and continues to be to this day is anachronistic. Despite society catching up, inside the high, beige-painted walls of Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar it is still the 1950s.
When I was there, the pressure heaped on us by the school to be heteros-xual meant that students were quickly initiated into this framework. When anyone cut their hair short, she was instantly branded a l-sbian. While there was plenty of tolerance of and discussion in the curriculum on topics such as racial diversity and gender issues, there was no open discussion of issues affecting same-s-x attracted young people.
The way in which the school has handled this situation has tarnished the way I look back on my mostly happy school days.
Former student Dianne Duncan agrees. “Being gay, you become accustomed to opening the paper and reading yet another politician discussing whether you should have the same rights as everybody else. You learn to take a lot of this on your chin. But for these two girls it would be a lot more personal,” she said.
“How brave to ask another girl to a school formal in an environment like IGGS. But rather than that bravery be rewarded with acceptance, they were instead insulted by the brazen lie that it involves an age difference. Does the school not have a duty of care to their students? Is this not bullying in a fundamental way?”
To attend an institution with misguided ideals of social integration, whereby girls and boys who hardly know each other sit awkwardly in ill-fitting suits and dresses eating overcooked chicken in a reception centre in Preston, is bad enough. (Trust me, the formal was hellish for me and my pimply date). But for two girls — who are in a relationship accepted by their friends, family and the rest of the community — to be told that they cannot partake in this rite of passage is a disgrace.
Ivanhoe Girls’ Grammar deserves to lose these two intelligent students, and many others who will no doubt be tempted to leave or not even enrol at the school. Hannah Williams and Savannah Supski should be congratulated for their bravery — in a school environment such as the one at IGGS, I know that it can be extremely difficult to speak up on these matters.
I want Hannah and Savannah to know that many former students of the school are hanging their heads in shame.