Gender neutral graduation attire: A necessary change


Photo courtesy of Mary Ann McGann

WHS Graduation 2019 (boys wearing blue and girls wearing white)

Every year WHS seniors pick up their graduation caps and gowns as the first step in a ritual marking the end of the year and also their entrance into a world beyond high school. However, there is a clear divide between genders as the boys bring home royal blue gowns to wear and the girls bring home white. 

The current law does not allow for discrimination on the basis of sex, so why do we continue to separate our graduates by having males and females wear different colors?

Gender-neutral caps and gowns are a necessary change to the graduation ritual at WHS and in 2021 one has to wonder why this change hasn’t already been made. Gender has nothing to do with the accomplishments that are being celebrated in a graduation ceremony, so it seems unnecessary to highlight it in such a bold way. 

One also has to wonder why male students wear blue while female students wear white. Blue often symbolizes intelligence and responsibility while white is the universal color for purity and innocence. Having girls wear white reinforces a stereotype that young women are meant to appear pure and innocent, while their male counterparts are not held to that same standard. 

In addition to reinforcing stereotypes and creating a divide between boys and girls, gendered caps and gowns also serve to isolate those who don’t identify as male or female. Non-binary or gender-fluid graduates are forced to make a tough decision when clicking “male” or “female” on the Josten’s website as those are the only two choices. These boxes, which seem insignificant to some people, completely ignore the identity of a whole subsection of the population.

WHS students also want to abandon this divisive tradition. Senior Emily Mautone wrote a letter to Principal Mary Asfendis this year in support of gender-neutral attire. Apparently, administrators are discussing the possibility of a gender-neutral graduation ceremony for the class of 2022. The COVID-19 pandemic made changing the graduation garments difficult this year, so hopefully next year this idea will become a reality.

“One of the things I mentioned in my email to Ms. Asfendis was the district’s mission statement, which states that their goal is to ‘educate all students to reach their highest potential as…citizens who respect individual differences and diversity in an ever-changing world,’” Mautone said, and “with this in mind, changing the binary cap and gown policy seems like a no-brainer.”