Letter 12
from Ms B. Carter

Dear Susan,

I am a mathematics teacher at a private coeducational school, and I mention that only because we are not governed by many of the liberalized rules that public school teachers are now bound by. More importantly we are far more demanding of our courses, our grading and, just as important, our punishments.

I mention that last because long ago, when it was still fashionable (and effective), boys were often put into dresses as a means of punishment, and that tradition is still in effect here. We make that very clear, and right at our acceptance review just prior to a new student's enrolment. We also make it clear to their parents as well.

We even go so far as to have them sign an agreement to that effect, outlining very specifically what behaviour would warrant such treatment. As you can imagine it has a very chilling effect on that young man as he reads over that agreement and, of course, signs that waver. A refusal to do either, I should note, means that we will refuse the pupil's enrolment.

Ironically it is the threat itself that has, in these past years, been most effective. The reason for this, and one of the most unique changes to this rule, is we insist that they actually do wear a very pretty froufrou dress. We've made this a requirement for our new students and that requirement must be satisfied, without exception, during their first ten days at the beginning of their school year. BUT - and this is the part that we have discovered - it is done privately.

Again, a refusal, is automatic grounds for dismissal and again, there are no exceptions. I should also note that to date, no boy has refused and, more importantly, none of those boys have had to repeat that process since it was established. As I have said, this initial process is somewhat private, very discreet, and carried out covertly at the headmistress's residence.

We call it "tea time", and we make the purpose of this day very clear, noting that this is their first and only warning regarding school discipline for boys. In the past, we would just announce at the first assembly each year what misdemeanours would mean for the pupil. What was missing, as time went on, was that "taste" of that punishment once so effective. This was noted by Helen (last name withheld) as our newest headmistress, when she took over. Frankly she worried over that lack of emphasis. On the other hand she also worried about the effects of actually doing that sort of thing to a boy among his peers. Could we retain the effectiveness of petticoat punishment without any extreme penalties for the child?

Basically we have now begun a very special kind of introduction for our boys. We hold it on the first weekend (including the Friday) after the start of the new school year, and we dress the boys as girls for one day. They have to remain very docile and well-mannered, and this "dressing up" when it's applied to all of the boys in attendance, and within a "safe" context, has proven it's value immeasurably.

We also insist that the mothers attend, acting as their sons' attendants which also softens the impact of doing such a thing. More importantly it imprints, on both, the risk they face should a boy want to risk setting aside those rules we insist on. Actually we've fashioned it somewhat as one might a debutante ball. Of course this is without the young men present for those young ladies' presentations since the young ladies are, in fact, those young men (try to work that out with a Venn diagram!).

Ms. Hadly, our drama coach, producer and costumer, does the honors of outfitting our young men in their finery. She does this while supporting, as well, their mothers' efforts during the dressing up process. Each boy brings with him his own "suitable" intimates, and our school nurse verify this as she collects their normal day wear from them. This is done just prior to their gown assignments.

The outfits are, for the most part, frilly and chosen for that reason. Party dresses along with appropriate slips are given to each according to size. This includes lace socks, shoes, gloves, a purse or clutch and other pretty additions, such as bunny rabbit brooches, also appropriate for that particular outfit. We have a fairly well stocked theatrical department that can trace some of those dresses and gowns back almost to the beginning of our school.

Once the young men are dressed and fitted with their wigs (which follows their make overs) they are assembled with their mothers and bussed across the campus to the headmistress's home. Formal introductions to the school's staff are made, as each boy is presented to that reception line, before reassembling them on the spacious patio for a formal "tea" with silver service, neatly quartered sandwiches, the lot. In inclement weather this is done indoors and in the same way.

We usually have the mothers take their places at the patio tables while the boys are seated formally in front of the headmistress for her welcome speech and introduction. They must sit primly, with their legs neatly together, and are forbidden to adopt any boyish positions such as crossing their legs.Those rules, and our expectations, follows and our tea and social covers the remainder of that agenda. There is also a school photographer who takes a formal picture of each young man during that period.

Besides this initial process, that photo is his reminder, should a young man need one, of what he will look like should he break one of those rules that would cause him to be dressed like that. Needless to say we've rarely had to even bring out that album that is held in the headmistress's office.

Ironically, while the first part of this is obviously stressful for the young lads (and I'm sure that started when their mothers had to provide them those "suitable" intimates), it doesn't really last. The truth is that shock or dismay has never gone past that first cup of tea, and by early afternoon, when brunch is served, you would swear that it was simply a group of girls having that brunch.

By three in the afternoon, when this ends there are few still intimidated by what they are wearing and quite a number of them are playfully experiencing the day and their girlish finery. I have personally been witness to a number of disappointed faces at each tea time's end. More than enough to say, with some authority, that it wasn't nearly as unpleasant for those boys as they've imagined. I can safely say the same for many of the mothers as well.

All in all it is a worthwhile exercise, and an experience I'm sure the boys look back on fondly, and yet fear greatly that they be required to do so again, and alone that second time. That, as you have pointed out many times, is what I choose to call the "petticoat paradox" - boys really love their petticoats and pink panties, because the pretty clothes feel so nice, and because they get so much loving attention, and because it allows them to relax from having to 'be boys' and lets them be submissive sissies instead - and yet at the same time they are disciplined by them, because having to wear them in public would be so embarrassing and they would get teased so much, especially by the girls, of whom they are secretly a bit frightened, although they would never admit to it. As I've noted that's never been the case, and rarely have I had to go beyond that warning. So while we no longer "practice" petticoat discipline in that truest since of the definition, it is still very much as effective as it once was.

I wish also to thank you and your staff this most excellent and highly regarded venue to express both my opinion and our schools approach to petticoat discipline.
Thank you,

Ms. B. Carter

I must say that this school seems to have hit upon the right balance...in fact I was so impressed that I showed this letter to Mary Beth Sanford. She was entranced too, and her imagination was stimulated by the thought of the boys' formal tea introduction, within a safe environment, to what petticoat punishment could mean. She has prepared a picture for us, which I think is very sweet.

I have sometimes thought of introducing an occasional mathematics column to PDQ, but have never gotten around to it.

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Letter 13