The school I went to had been an all boys institution for a very long time. I don't know exactly the year in which they started letting girls in but by the time I went there, it was a full-fledged co-ed institution with an approximate girl to boy ratio of 1:5. I'm not even kidding here. We had 8 girls in a class of 40 students #truestory
So here are a few things I should have said/done differently while I was in highschool:
Seating arrangements: The 8 girls in a classroom were always quarantined to one single row of desks and benches in the class. We always had to sit in that one row, come rain or shine. Whether we could adequately catch a glimpse of the blackboard or not, we sat there in that one single row. Because God forbid, if students were allowed to choose where they wanted to sit and if the girls and the boys were to sit on the same benches and desks, then many hypothetical sperms would enter the girls and render them impure. I truly wish I had told the authorities that those sperms were going to remain hypothetical and that no one was going to get pregnant by simply sitting (cross-legged if you should demand) next to a member of the opposite sex.
Punishments: A girl and a boy would make the same mistake but the girl would be asked to write an imposition while the boy would be made to leave the classroom and stand outside, awaiting further punishment. Because the "weaker sex" is always exempt from punishment. I don't know if it was a kind of favouritism towards the girls or if everyone just rendered them incapable of being able to withstand regular punishments. I don't know and I don't care. All I know is that it was unfair. Plain and simple. Two individuals were treated differently for doing the exact same thing based on the existence or non-existence of a Y chromosome. I wish I had called out this bullshit while I was still a part of the system, demanding a fair and equal treatment of boys and girls.
Threats: The biggest threat most kids faced from the time of puberty (and sometimes from an even younger age) was that of being made to sit with the opposite sex. "If you don't behave, I will make you sit with the boys (or the girls)" was always said in such a way that most kids were hard-wired into believing that it was the worst thing that could happen to them. It was a kind of unconscious indoctrination of the idea that any physical proximity with the opposite sex would make you blow up to pieces. I wish I had said, "go ahead an make me sit with the boys because I'm educated enough to understand that nothing is going to happen to me by sitting with a fellow human being."
Roll call: I'm sure the authorities sat down and thought about how they could bring about more disparity between the two sexes and came up with the brilliant plan of incorporating it even in the basic roll call and attendance order. Believe it or not, the names of the girls were listed after the names of the boys in the alphabetical order. So since my name starts with an A, instead of being one of the first kids in the class to be listed in the roll call, my name was just the first name among the girls and my roll number became 32 (in a class of 40 students), which came after that of the last boy in class. I wish I had demanded to be just one of the first kids listed instead of being the first girl.
Addressing the class: I had the good fortune of getting acquainted with one of the most charming members of the faculty who would always come into the class and say, "Good morning boys". I perfectly understand this sentiment. I perfectly understand how it's possible to completely ignore the ghettoed minority sitting in a single row of benches and desks. I understand how it's possible to forget that the girls exist because they probably are invisible from where they're seated. But when this person said, "The boys in the previous batch found this lesson to be difficult.", I wish I had asked, "Why? Is it because the girls in the previous batch were smarter than the boys or because they too were invisible to you?".
Gossiping: If I could make a penny for every time I heard someone associating the term "gossiping" with women, I would be able to pay for a workshop on gender constructs for all the blind and ignorant people I have had the misfortune of interacting with. But I digress. It was probably due to the lesser number of female classmates I had that I happened to notice this, but I can swear that I have seen groups of boys standing in circles and gossiping about their mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, girlfriends, crushes, boyfriends of their crushes, the fat boy in class, the straight A student, the kid whose parents are poor, the girl with "low morals", and the boy who wants to get laid. I swear I have seen it happening. I wish I had screamed out to those ignorant people that gossiping is not something that only girls or women indulge in. Almost everyone does it. Every idiot with a cellphone and a fellow idiot on the other side to lend him/her a ear does it. It's NOT a gender specific thing.
Leadership roles: I distinctly remember telling a member of the faculty that I wanted to be the Captain of my House (if you're not familiar with the House system in schools, read this). I was met with an astonished look and all hell broke loose while people discussed the issue. How can a girl become the House Captain? It's always been a boy. That's why we have a separate role for the girls. You can become the Girls' Representative of the House. That's how it works, darling. The man becomes the captain while the woman becomes the sidekick Girls' Rep. I wish I had asked them to show me where it was written that a girl couldn't become the captain. I wish I had fought for that role.
Exposed skin: I once bought a new pair of socks and since the elastic around my calf muscles was too tight, I ended up with a horrible rash. So I had been forced to roll my socks down to my ankles. How offensive! What a misfortune! Because a faculty member asked me in front of an audience if I had done it just to "show off your legs in front of the boys". I wish I had replying by saying, "No I had to do something this offensive because of this rash on my leg that you can clearly see. However let me assure you that none of the boys are going to get a kick out of seeing the exposed skin from two inches below my knees to two inches above my ankles. Unless of course, they have strange fetishes because I'm quite sure that the rash on my exposed skin isn't that attractive or sexy either.".
Facial skin: Turns out that having one day of clear skin during adolescence is also a crime. I was asked by a faculty member if I had gotten myself a facial. It was not asked in a manner of exchanging pleasantries and compliments but more like I had stolen money from this person to give myself a treat. "Did you or did you not get a facial. Tell me the truth.", was the question. I wish I had said, "It's none of your business because what I do in my spare time after school hours with my parent's permission and with their money is NONE OF YOUR FUCKING BUSINESS. But since you seem so eager to know, let me tell you that I didn't get a facial. Good skin is a trait that runs in my family. Have you seen my mother and her sisters?".
Taming the mane: I remember being forbidden from cutting my hair in layers because even having short, well behaved hair that could be tied in a pony tail but not in plaits was a crime. "You can get your fashionable hairstyles after you grow up and go to college. For the time being, you need to get a blunt cut and plait your hair on both sides with these bright red ribbons. No, not the thin satin ribbons because they don't make you look ridiculous enough. You need to get the wide ribbons that girls from the 80's wore in their hair.". Because the more unattractive you look, the longer you will remain a virgin. I wish that at that point, I had just changed schools because even for me, this was getting waaayyyyy too ridiculous.
So when people get super nostalgic about highschool, I just go like this:
Because the worst thing of all was that I seemed to be the only person getting affected by all this. So affected that even 7 years after passing out from there, I'm still sitting here, writing about it. It's pathetic how I didn't react when I should have. I wonder what I was so afraid of. I wonder if anyone else felt the same way about these things and just kept quiet. God knows I didn't keep quiet in front of my peers. I used to complain about this all the time. But I was stupid for just complaining and not doing anything about it.
I wish I had realised what a vicious circle this was, with society contributing to the school and the school giving back to society. How so many factors have been ingraining gender disparity in the minds of the future generations. How gender roles permeated young minds unconsciously from a very tender age. I remember one teacher telling my mother that probably owing to the fact that I didn't have any siblings, I failed to see the difference between boys and girls. I wish everyone saw the innocence behind that behaviour and encouraged the same with all children. Because in essence, what is this difference that they wanted us to see? Why did they want us to be different. Imagine how well everyone would have gotten along, had it not been for the threats of being made to sit with the opposite sex or with people addressing an entire classroom of students as "boys". Even with the roll call system, the act of making the names of the girls appear after those of the boys although the girls were so few in number! What was the point behind all this? I can't answer that question. All I can do is feel foolish for repeating the same words that have been repeated by people all over the world for countless number of years, knowing fully well that nothing is bound to change any time soon. Those words are, "I can only hope for things to be different for at least the future generations.". How is it going to be different when there are teachers like these out there and parents who set different curfews for their sons and daughters? How is it going to be any different as long as parents worry that their sons will turn gay if they express a desire to play with dolls? Or when the same parents feel ashamed of their daughters who like to dress like men? It all started at a very tender age for these parents as well, yes I know, but what hope is there for the kids? It's a circle and there seems to be no end to this. It's a chain and there's no getting out. Because people are more or less blind to the understanding that gender, like religion, is a man made social construct. People should have the right to choose what they want and where they belong. Nothing can be assigned to anyone by virtue of birth. But unfortunately, people have been blinded by years and years of indoctrination. And I for one, cannot see how they are going to finally break free. Education is definitely the solution but WHO is educating you? WHAT are you reading? And WHAT lessons do you CHOOSE to take home from everything you have read?
Comic by Sarah Anderson.