Writing by

Tania Melnyczuk

Kingswood College in the 1980s: A glimpse into our dissonant past

Kingswood College in the 1980s: A glimpse into our dissonant past

The picture above depicts the kind of boots worn by drum majorettes at Kingswood College in the 1980s. Inside these boots are the type of legs which drum majorettes typically had.

The picture below was one of two recently posted on Facebook with fond memories by one of the popular girls in my matric year, 1983. It depicts boys from that period dressed in skirts, with fake breasts. The boys are doing an ungainly dance on stage, and some of them are showing their (thankfully not naked!) bottoms to the audience. Others are lifting their skirts, facing front. (I added the red bars to hide their faces.)

I am so glad I am not in school anymore.

An article in the Washington Post on Sunday reminded me of the humiliating team selection tradition in PT classes at school, where I was often the second last child to be picked by the two boys appointed as team captains.

But that’s a story for another day.

On Facebook, I responded to the picture of the boys follows:

I just realised yesterday how traumatic the systemic sexism really was at Kingswood.

One incident (of many):

Trials for drum majorettes were compulsory. I didn’t want to be in drummies. I am not anti-drummies, I thought drummies was cool. Kim was lovely there, so was Carol, so were all the drummies. But it wasn’t for me.

But it was compulsory to be assessed.

I have to have the attractiveness of my legs inspected by the first team rugby players. I have lipolymphoedema, a medical condition that makes — hey presto — ugly legs. It’s embarrassing. I had to wear a short dress, even though I was embarrassed, every single day of the summer anyway, year after year. [This was our school uniform.] As if that wasn’t bad enough, I now had to draw attention to my legs, just to be discarded for my ugliness, by the boys. [Even back then, a few other girls called the whole sordid process a cattle parade. Quite apt, considering so many of the children at the school were the progeny of farmers.]

This kind of disgusting ridiculing of women, of girls, presented in these black-and-white photographs just serves to trigger memories of so many of these disparaging traditions, internalised by women, accepted and endorsed and perpetuated by women themselves. Jeepers, we’re a messed up society.

The other women in the Facebook group, former classmates, ignored my comment. They continued to wax lyrical, embellishing their responses by multiple emoticons, about the fond memories evoked by the picture. And I can guess what they’d say if I were to push the issue further, spoiling that reminiscence: “Chill. It was all in good humour. Boys will be boys.” (Although actually the truth is more like, “Boys will be whatever we encourage them to be.”)

I have much to be thankful for, for the education I received at that school. But this, these things, these people, these traditions, this persistent, harmful spirit — it’s not just the men who keep it in our society. It’s not just the silly boys. It’s the grown-up women who ignore what it does to other little girls.