By Kabelo Mollo
I went to an all-boys prep school, and then proceeded to an all boys’ college – schools steeped in Anglo Saxon tradition and proud of the founding that essentially dispossessed the natives of their land for next to nothing. Schools that till today celebrate Founders’ Day without any irony because in truth there ought to be an element of shame to the founding of the elite campuses.
These are great schools, with truly amazing scholastic and sporting achievements over decades of operation. They have produced captains of industry, innovators, sports stars and everything in between. I absolutely loved the experience, warts-and there were many-and all!
At these schools, uniformity was the order of the day. It was a factory line churning out a specific type of product. It was for those reasons our haircuts were supposed to match, our uniforms were exactly that and our train of thought was channelled a certain way. History lessons were safe- even if we did have a field trip to the apartheid museum-and protests were only acceptable if sanctioned by the school it’s self.
Our teachers were referred to as “sir” or “madam” and being the skivvy of a senior was a privilege. War cries were old provincial anthems or Latin renditions that could be changed or shouted without rhythm. Traditions such as walking across the first team rugby field or the prefects grass were feats one could not wait to achieve. I remember being an under 16 and having a rugby practice on the hallowed grounds of “Baytopp” or the first team field to you mere mortals. I felt ten feet tall! I may as well have been a Springbok for that day!
In amongst all that wonderful traditional culture and etiquette were some toxic traits that sat insidiously in the standard operating procedure. A supremacy and superiority for all that was pale, male and straight laced. A yearning for days gone by where gentlemen played cricket in white trousers and shirts. Their kin sat idly by applauding politely on the sides while nibbling on crumpets and cucumber sandwiches. Pimm’s and rhubarb crumble enjoyed willingly.
On-field etiquette was a real thing, with boys often being reminded to win and lose with the requisite dignity. No savagery of high fives and football player celebration would be tolerated. A choreographed number after a wicket? Absolutely not. A salute made popular by a footballer after scoring a try? Preposterous! No, ours were to be handshakes and pat’s on the back for jobs well done.
The worst behaviour though was reserved for the female of the species. The quiet contempt, and gentle sexism omnipresent in all of our interactions with the school across the way. Our sister school which housed many of my friends was the sworn enemy. I had a strong opinion on the school that shared a campus with mine. I never deemed them worthy. I felt their school was riding on the coat tails of my very successful, very elite, very deserving school. It drove me crazy that the two schools shared a name. Furthermore, I detested the equality the girls demanded from us. Who did they think they were? All the while our inherently sexist, changing room chat worn on our sleeve as a badge of honour. Jokes at the expense of our female friends told with reckless abandon with ne’ery a cre in the world. Totally acceptable to all those with good humour.
I cringe when I look back at my many arguments with friends who went to the girls’ school. I can’t believe my male privilege genuinely couldn’t accept the existence of a girls’ school across the way. Worse yet, I can’t believe we were allowed to make the kinds of jokes we did. Locker room banter from the boys’ club. Bathed in superiority masking an insidious bigotry that was perfectly ingrained in our daily lives.
Now that I’m an adult male who lives in transforming world I’m having to unlearn many toxic traits that I hadn’t even realised weren’t okay. I’m having to second guess everything I thought I knew. It’s a lot of work, and while it’s worth it, it’s also slow progress. Not because I’m trying to hang on to the bigotry, but because it’s become part of who I am. The jokes. The banter. It’s all got to go, to be replaced by new more substantive engagement. Out with the toxic masculinity, in with some new age feminist positivity.
I’m even trying to really become a fan of women’s sports. The Manchester United ladies football team for instance is quite good, some of the WNBA I see is alright and of course Serena Williams is tennis royalty.
Having said all of that, with any luck I’ll have forgotten the funny, not funny jokes from those “good old days”.