Were the gentler sex always dealt with more gently? This story ponders the question.

By Joanna Jones

Many stories that one reads of English school punishments from the fifties right through to the eighties, whether real or imagined, indicate that there was a general apparent unfairness in dealing with the fairer sex.

That is, while a boy might receive ‘six of the best’ on his trousers (or worse), girls committing the same misdemeanour might get a couple with a short thin cane on their hands, or a slippering on their skirt if they were unlucky, to a detention, or some imposition if they were lucky in the school they attended.

The mixed grammar school, which had just over a thousand pupils, that I went to in the mid-fifties must have been the exception that proves the rule. Whether driven by the Head, or the Board of Governors I do not know, but in its presumed desire for fair and equal treatment, in my view we girls definitely got a raw deal.

The discipline policy was fairly simple; teachers and prefects could award detentions or send a pupil to the headmaster, or if they preferred the head of that teaching department. The heads of department, and the games teachers (both male and female) had the right to use a slipper. The headmaster, Mr Fletcher, could and did use the cane. He would invariably cane those sent to him either directly by a teacher, or for having too many detentions in a term.

If you were a boy then the story was that you grabbed your ankles, there and then, and kept your hands there until he had applied the requisite number of strokes to the seat of your trousers. After completion of the punishment book entry you were sent directly back to class.

To be fair boys were far more likely to get sent by a teacher than girls, and I suppose it averaged in the region of once a day across the entire school. For girls, I would think it was once every couple of weeks perhaps. Most girls, like myself, got through our school careers uncaned. However, when a girl did land up in trouble then the procedure was rather different to that for our male colleagues.

I always found the fact that there was a difference somewhat odd as certainly the male head of Modern Languages had no problem in slippering a skirt and similarly the female Head of English was well known to wield a mean slipper to a trousered rear. However, whatever the case, our Headmaster could (or would) not cane a girl. Instead he delegated the punishment to either of the games mistresses in those cases.

Thus, having had the dreaded lecture in his office, he would part complete the school punishment book and send the girl miserably down the corridor with both the book and the cane he selected to the games department located more or less at the other end of the school.

Having endured this walk of shame, you then found one of the two games mistresses either in their tiny office or the gymnasium, or if that failed a further walk to the playing fields would be required. They would send you to the changing room to get ready.

Unlike the boys on their trousers, getting ready involved taking one’s gymslip off and bending over in your regulation bottle green knickers.

Thus not only did we have the embarrassment of carrying punishment book and cane to our doom (and staggering back after), we also had to part undress. The standard knickers we wore did have a double back panel so no doubt some would say both boys and girls had two layers of fabric between the implement and our backside, but I do not think two fairly thin layers of cotton compare with the thick flannel trousers plus underpants the boys wore, to say nothing of the humiliation.

Then there was the caning itself. Mr Fletcher was a short man approaching retirement and by all accounts did not cane especially hard, although when he was out his deputy apparently made up for it. In contrast, both games mistresses were fairly tall women, much fitter, and certainly were reputed to cane ‘enthusiastically’.

Finally there was the privacy issue; whereas boys were ‘done’ in the privacy of the Head’s office, if you had the misfortune to be sent when other girls were changing in the room that was just too bad. You had to resign yourself to the caning and your reaction being public knowledge. Even if the room was empty the chances of keeping it secret were slim. During my school career I can remember maybe five or six occasions where girls, or pairs of girls, knocked on the door of the gymnasium looking nervously for the games teacher, punishment book and cane in hand.

In such cases she was (or they were) ordered to get ready while the lesson continued, then after a few minutes we’d be ordered to do laps round the gym while the poor girl(s) got punished. Nobody dared listen at the door in case it was opened but the ‘running’ was slow and quiet. We then heard the whacks sounding along with any screams or whatever.

However, I actually witnessed one caning in the changing room in my school career. It was of a sixth former called Marion, who happened to be a friend of my big sister. I later found out she’d been caught ‘snogging’ and indulging in mild petting with her boyfriend in an empty classroom. My sister got most of the story out of her, and that forms the background to what I saw and recount here.

It had been Mrs Corrie, a religious education teacher, who found them in an empty classroom during what was for James and Marion a free study period. She was a serious (dare I say frumpy) woman and inevitably escorted them to Mr Fletcher’s office where by Marion’s account she painted a somewhat more lurid picture of their antics than either she or James had felt they’d actually been up to.

Marion described the subsequent lecture as nerve wracking as they waited for the inevitable punishment. The only question was, how many? The answer to that was six.

Marion was sent outside and had to listen as her boyfriend was bent over and whacked. She said she heard each stroke and gasp or grunt clearly though the door as she waited, feeling nothing short of awful. Finally a pained boyfriend exited the room, followed by the Head.

James was ordered to stand in the corridor, hands on head, for the remainder of the period (having no class to be sent to) while the Head passed the punishment book and the same thick, three foot, crook handled cane that had just chastised James to Marion with the inevitable order to attend the games department.

She said it was dreadful creeping down the corridor to her doom. A fellow sixth form boy saw her and she said she could have died of embarrassment as he walked past, giving her a wry look.

All too soon she was outside the gymnasium, where as luck would have it Miss Gallagher had just told us to get changed.

Hence, just after we entered the changing room from the gym Marion entered from the main door, looking white and still carrying the book and ‘her’ cane.

There was a space at one end of the room which everyone always shunned as it was nicknamed the caning corner. Marion put the book on a bench and left the cane on a hook.

We all surreptitiously watched as she took off her blazer, and bent over to wait. Fifth and sixth formers had a different uniform, consisting of a tailored skirt rather than the gym slips the rest of us wore. They also were permitted to wear plain white knickers and stockings rather than the regulation ones and knee socks we had to wear.

Miss Gallagher was not amused as she came in carrying a slipper, and ordered her to get the skirt off immediately. An indication that the slipper could be used to encourage her meant that her argument was soon forestalled. Given that the skirt was well fitted and the boys kept their trousers on this seemed to me particularly unfair, but…

Meanwhile, Miss Gallagher warned the rest of us to get dressed and not to stare at Marion. Anyone getting distracted could have a sore bottom of her own as a reward. Most of us rapidly attended to getting dressed, albeit as slowly as we dared.

Poor Marion had only a thin layer of white cotton for protection as she bent over again. Her suspender belt holding up her stockings was hidden under the blouse, which was also covering the very top of her knickers. Miss Gallagher made no effort to lift it further out of the way. The lower half of her pants was clear and that was the bit she was going to aim at!

I remember watching out of the corner of my eye as I picked my tie off the peg and slowly started to knot it around the neck of my blouse. Suddenly the cane was raised high and cracked down violently on poor Marion’s behind. As she gave a yelp Miss Gallagher turned round to look at us and I quickly resumed attending to the knot.

One of my friends, a very quiet, well-behaved girl called Olive, was staring in shock at what she had witnessed. Miss Gallagher was not amused and angrily ordered her to bend over at the other end of the room. The poor girl who’d probably safely assumed she’d never have a detention let alone a slippering during her school career was crying as she eventually did as she was told.

The mistress then fired in a second stroke on Marion’s rear. Having done so literally the moment she’d stopped talking to Olive, Marion was totally unprepared, screamed and almost let go of the bench. I could see my classmates trying, like me to watch as discreetly as possible.

Just after pulling my gym slip over my head the third blow cut into her backside leading to another wail amongst the tears that had started with that surprise second stroke.

The other three strokes landed to progressively more passionate cries as I put on my socks and shoes. The vicious ‘humm’ of the cane as she whipped it down on her bum was frightening to witness. I am sure others felt the same deterrent effect that I did.

Whether by accident or design, the sixth stroke landed slightly low and I surreptitiously watched the skin whiten and begin to turn red as Marion gave a final anguished cry. Once given permission, she stood with her hands immediately going to her rear.

Her face was a mess.

Like my friends, I was pretty much dressed and therefore had to leave as Marion painfully tried to get her skirt back on.

As we started to make our way down the corridor and began to chat about what we had witnessed, I heard the loud slap of a slipper and a wail from Olive as she got the first of what she tearfully told us later was four hard whacks.

A few minutes later we saw, through front doors from the playground, Marion staggering back to the Head’s office with the cane and punishment book. She told my sister she was mortified as she passed seemingly half the sixth form (who could stay inside the school at break) as well as a good fraction of the teaching staff as she returned while still struggling to control her tears.

Sex equality? I think not.

The End