On my first day at KEGS Sixth Form the girls were separated from the boys in the Darwin Centre for a gender specific welcome speech to the sixth form; that on its own is an odd thing to do. It was explained to us that “KEGS banter is what is known as bullying in other schools” by a very senior member of staff. At the time I was taken aback by the comment as it made clear that the most senior personnel were aware of bullying being present and that there was nothing they would be prepared to do about it. Boys will be boys and as girls we should be prepared for this. However, as a naïve external student who had come from a mixed secondary school, I thought it would just be like what I had previously experienced. It surely can’t be that bad? Over my two years at KEGS I would say that I experienced the full force of this specific “banter” and it really is a breed of its own. This included being physically set on fire, spat on by multiple boys at the same time and being called the name ugly every day.
One specific incident which comes to mind is being on the train home in my first few weeks at Sixth Form with a group of boys (who at the time I considered friends). I shut my eyes for a moment because I was tired after a long day and then all the boys started laughing. I asked what is going on and it was revealed to me that when I shut my eyes one of the boys whispered to the other “you should r*pe her”. And this is the thing that to this day really perplexes me about this “KEGS banter”. The blasé and twisted attitude to sexual assault and r*pe is so odd and present in every single day (intertwined with a general lack of respect and at times human decency for friends under the guise of “banter”). This would be to the point where the common expression would be “that homework was r*pe last night”, “I would r*pe a brownie” or just scream the word in the Darwin centre for no apparent reason. Thinking back, I can’t remember a single sex ed class, a mention of consent or a simple discussion on the impact of the word the boys were shouting each and every day.
At the time I thought it was my fault I would be treated this way because I could laugh off these strange incidents. I felt like I was enabling these odd actions each day to become acceptable. I should have stood up for myself and if I could go back I would like to think I would. But if I’m honest it’s what I felt like I had to do in order to make friends. As a teenager at a new school trying to fit in how are you really going to react? If you stand up for yourself and call out all this strange behaviour everyday you’ll be seen as the “boring one” who “can’t take a joke”. In that odd bubble you’re the outsider and you’re joining their culture that they’ve been brought up in for 5 years. As each day passed at KEGS the strangeness of the culture decreased as it all became a part of my normal. It’s not until now when a few years have passed that I am fully getting the picture of how disturbing the culture really is. When I left that school it made me feel like I deserved to be treated that way – no one does.
When you are explicitly told by one of the most senior members of staff in the school that “boys will be boys” on your first day, who are you to think otherwise? How could you understand what normal behaviour or “banter” is in a male dominated sixth form if you haven’t experienced it before? Why is this toxic culture allowed to ferment inside the school and left for the external students to join in sixth form and just deal with it? Especially in light of what has happened in the last month, I sincerely hope that KEGS reflect on these testimonies and think about the kind of values, ethics and behaviours their young adults are learning in their care and taking into a world beyond the school walls. #choosetochallenge