by PALOMA UH;
“tweaked” by Lexie Walters*
THE BOYS TOILET in my first school had ‘wild west’-style swing doors which allowed us to check on the inhabitants as they sat there.
Yes, when you’re 5 in Spain and you attend the “little” school I did, you briefly think you’ve made it to Heaven.
Within days, however, you realise that you’re actually in Hell – for a whole year.
Let me explain:
We were told, on our second day, that we were to be in charge of the boys.
My best friend (A.J.) and I had younger brothers, so we were used to helping our mothers wash them, dress them , and shake their pee-pees.
But this was a new adventure! A whole class of boys to wash, dress, and shake!
Well, not really, Yes we had to make sure they used the bathroom correctly (does a boy ever use the bathroom “correctly”?), and yes we got to see them using it. (Well, we saw them sitting behind the half doors with screwed-up faces.)
Thank God our own bathroom was carefully out of their reach. Twelve stalls with full-length doors, wash basins, paper towels and a small sofa we could sit on and chat about the boys.
NO – Hell!
We realised that being ‘in charge’ of the boys meant being responsible for them being where they were supposed to be, doing what they were supposed to be doing, and knowing everything they were supposed to know!
This went on for a year. I think our studies suffered considerably because we were checking on the boys.
If Juan wasn’t in class, one of us was told off and, as likely as not, we had to go and find him (unless we could persuade a teacher to do it). If he turned out to be riding his scooter around the playground, we had to then go find a teacher to grab it and remove him.
Apparently the background to this sexism was an attempt to teach “senoras poco” (little ladies) how to become “senoras grandes” (big ladies) and raise “caballeros poco” (little gentlemen). Maybe in the 19th Century when that was the way of the world it made some sort of sense?
But at the turn of the 21st, it was mad – and it had been discontinued almost everywhere but at our school. (And apparently under Spanish Law I can’t name it “for fear of identifying it”!!)
But it wasn’t just bodily functions we helped the little b*st*rds with. The school had a swimming pool and we had to ensure that the boys didn’t drown. WELL, NO, I exaggerate – that really WAS the teacher’s responsibility, but we had to help the boys if they were struggling or just trying to swim.
(OK, at age 5 or 6, we were amused on the odd occasion that a boy had forgotten his swim trunks and was still made/allowed to enter the pool – but that was “small” compensation for everything else!)
Then there was sports day. We had to ensure everything was positioned for all the boys’ races (as well as our own) while the boys tended to their parents.
I won’t go on. But you get the picture – and please don’t forget we were 5 or 6 year old girls!
Some of the female teachers (even some of the girls) thought this prepared us for life. But no – in the future we wouldn’t be “taking charge” of men, we would be helping them and ensuring they were slotted into top positions without having to worry about their underlings (us) who were making the coffee. Meanwhile, our life had consisted of us being more concerned about boys’ welfare than our own.
And our own education was suffering. It was a Catch 22 situation – we were losing out through helping THEM, so we were then losing out on top jobs because we didn’t have the experience BECAUSE we’d been helping them to get it!
Having visited the school in 2013, I can report that most things have relaxed. The girls CAN still check on them but they’re not compelled to anymore. The sofa’s been replaced by small comfy chairs, and writing paper and crayons have been provided. (I wouldn’t have thought that providing crayons in a bathroom was a good idea!)
The boys are supposed to report to the teachers themselves now and more emphasis has been placed on the girls being 5 or 6 year old students with their own brains and lives rather than slave nurses there to ensure the boys have a good time.
But could it be that my interest in cars (I drive, service, sell and talk about them) – could that have come from being a ‘tomboy’ surrounded by boys talking about cars when I was younger?
(And does my annoyance at boyfriends locking me out of the bathroom for what seems like hours in the morning come from my schooldays?)
* Note from Lexie – Like me you may be skeptical about some of this (Paloma knows I was) but I have spoken to a 10 year old Spanish girl who is currently at an equivalent school in Spain and she agreed that the situation was still similar. “We see boys and sometime help on toilet but teachers do usually now” she told me in her broken, but very good, English.