Why the Pretoria Girls High issue is more than one of institutional racism

I, like many others, have been upset to hear of the Pretoria Girls High School imposition of rules relating to learners’ hair styles. It is undeniably unfair against these young women who attend the institution to learn. Worse than that, it is also an issue that once again demonstrates how South African institutions need to look long and hard at how intrinsic racism remains within their structures and regulations.

However, reading the full Code of Conduct of the school it became apparent that racism isn’t the only problem here. To say that the rules are conservative and old-fashioned would be the understatement of the century. The rules in this document aren’t there to encourage the girls to look smart, they’re there to crush them into subservient, indifferent clones. It’s honestly like reading a ‘rules and orders’ contract from a Victorian workhouse.

There are so many aspects of this document that make me think that progress never even began in these educational establishments. Firstly, girls aren’t allowed to wear pants/trousers at all. In 2016 this is sickeningly sexist. Secondly, how dare a school tell my child she can’t wear boxer shorts. It’s none of their damn business what she’s wearing under her ‘exact length skirt’. Children also aren’t allowed to wear headphones at all when in uniform — woe betide the child that wants to listen to music on her way home — perish the thought that she may gain creativity or be allowed to unwind!

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe that uniforms should be outlawed, I just think that comfortable, practical outlines should be given rather than blimpish, strict uniform policies that simply ascribe rules for the sake of it.

Uniforms are convenient and can certainly avoid children competing on the latest fashion trends but they do not magically instil values or make learners ‘more professional’. How parents and teachers interact with and educate children will do that.

When it comes down to it, do you really want your child to be told that in order to succeed they must fit in and fall in line? Because from where I’m standing South Africa needs young women who know how to respectfully challenge the status quo and question those in power. With young leaders doing that perhaps we’ll find ourselves in a less racist, less sexist country.