The Deportment Girdle
I mentioned this in my blog post on the Ibooknet blog; but I think a full explanation of its glories is probably better off here.
I never did win a Deportment Girdle in my entire school career - and yes, it really was called a Deportment Girdle. It was a crimson sash, worn tied around the waist. To a scruffy, scrawny, eleven year old, drowned in an enormous gym tunic, it seemed that all the more glamorous members of the school wore them, sashaying around the corridors, distant goddesses.
Deportment girdles were just one of a range of school prizes. Northamptonshire, where I went to school in the 1970s, was late to embrace the comprehensive movement, and so having passed the eleven plus, I went to Kettering High School, a grammar school with a prize giving structure probably unchanged for decades. We did have other prizes besides the deportment girdle: there were form prizes, and subject prizes for the upper school, as well as colours for sporting achievement. That is, until we went comprehensive. Every year, I had just missed out on the form prize. The year I actually came top, we went comprehensive; a no discipline experiment was imposed (you can imagine the results of that one, once we were combined with the Secondary Modern down the road) and form prizes were abolished. They were elitist.
I wouldn't have minded the lack of academic prizes were it not for the fact that sporting colours were still awarded: which seemed to me spectacularly illogical. It's just as discriminatory to reward sporting achievement as it is academic. If you argue that it encourages girls who aren't academic, surely you are saying that sporting achievement is not as valid as academic: if you view the two as equal, then you cannot possibly justify awarding prizes for one and not for the other.
I may say here that the chances of my getting a sporting colour were unbelievably remote. I did though, always hanker after a deportment girdle - I was never going to win sports colours for anything unless it was the deep science of PE avoidance, but I did think I stood a remote chance with the deportment girdle. I walked then pretty much as I walk now, I suppose. I like to think of it as a leonine lope, but I think it's probably more accurate to think of it as slightly knock-kneed shambling, but anyway, in my fifth year, I made a determined effort to walk beautifully: if there had been piles of Latin text books on my head, they would not have shifted an inch. I did not run in the corridors. I kept to the prescribed side on the stairs. I did not practise skidding round corners. End of term assembly approached, and I was quietly confident. It went, and still, I had no deportment girdle.
"Well, darn me," I thought. "I have really tried for this - what has gone wrong?" I got on well with the Head of PE so trotted up and asked her. She looked me up and down. "Well, Jane," she said. "Deportment girdles are not just about how you walk. It's about how you behave," - oooh -, "and how you look. How tidy and presentable you are."
I knew then there was no hope.