✊? ♀️Thinking about National Women’s Day

NATIONAL WOMENS DAY

This day, 61 years ago 20,000 women staged a march on the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against the proposed amendments to the Urban Areas Act. For us it is a day that represents courage, strength, solidarity and the voice of South African women that refused to be silent. Today we are reminded of of the impact that women have made and continue to make in South Africa

Yesterday, four of our girls, along with four girls from the Junior School, were approached by the Constantiaberg Bulletin to share their thoughts about Women’s Day and being women in 2017. The four girls from Wynberg Girls’ High were Parina Naidoo, Chloe Johnson, Kayla Garcia and Robyn Johannson – all of whom are in Grade 12. Ms Wills, one of our History teachers, was asked to submit her thoughts about being a woman, and a teacher in an all girls’ school, and had this to say:

There’s been a lot of hype around Christopher Nolan’s latest film, “Dunkirk”, which tells the story of
the heroic evacuation of 400, 000 British soldiers from the treacherous French shore during World
War Two. At least, it tells one version of the story. There has also been pushback against the film,
and its breathless reviews: a pushback which points out that the film appears to have at best
minimised, or worse, erased the role of women in the evacuation and has thoroughly whitewashed
the British and French armies. When I have floated this objection to the film in conversations, the
response has inevitably used the logic of something like, ‘But women weren’t there’, or ‘But soldiers
from French, German and British colonies were in the minority’, as if to argue that the more
important story – the ‘real’ history – belongs to those who were in the so-called majority. As it turns
out, women and Indian soldiers fighting for the British, and Algerian, Moroccan and Tunisian
soldiers fighting for the French were actually there in their substantial numbers. My own response
has been, in turn, that whether or not these so-called ‘minorities’ were the actual ‘minority’, so long
as we decide that the most important story to be told is that of white, male soldiers (and gush about
how it should win Best Oscar next year) few other stories will manage to push through the fray, let
alone be considered legitimate history.

I think this might be a good analogy to use when thinking about why all-girls’ schools are not
only valuable, but remain necessary and relevant. My argument in favour of all-girls’ schools is that
all-girls’ schools allow for women’s varied perspectives and experiences to be foregrounded,
prioritised and legitimised in a world which clearly isn’t nearly enough concerned about them. I
don’t buy a lot of the arguments which invariably say that this comes at the expense of/ to the
detriment of boys, or that this can still be achieved at a co-ed school. This is because I look out on a
world where people presenting as women, gender non-conforming individuals and feminine bodies
experience a disproportionate amount of marginalisation and violence. At all-girls’ schools, women
occupy symbolic and physical space: the classrooms, the conversations in class, the leadership roles,
the Honours boards and the corridors are by necessity filled with girls. I recently directed our school
production of “The Crucible”, and being short of boys from our brother school, it felt brilliant to have
our girls filling many ‘male’ character roles and, best of all, to have it not actually be anything to
write home about. As a teacher at an all-girls’ school, I see young women thriving and overcoming
enormous obstacles. I don’t just see students, their gender matters to me. I see female excellence.

There are, of course, the necessary and important debates to be had about some of the
legitimate quandaries of single sex schooling. For example, it inevitably entrenches the oppressive
construct of a gender binary, potentially furthering harm to young people who identify as trans- or
gender-fluid. Is addressing this not perhaps rather the responsibility of society which needs to
evaluate its otherwise rigid conceptualisation of gender? I think my broader point might still stand:
there ought to exist safe spaces where those left out of the mainstream narrative (especially those
without the social or cultural capital to demand some space) are legitimised and prioritised.

Lindsay Wills
(WGHS)