Memory – First time I clocked sexism

Early autumn and the first day of a new school term, also the first day in a new school for me. My father had recently passed away and my mother felt it was a good idea to change schools to avoid gossip. I was about seven, going on eight. A confident kid, feeling excited about meeting new friends and ditching my school uniform.

The start of the day was great, nothing embarrassing had happened, I wasn’t overwhelmed, kids were friendly and teachers pleasant. Lunchtime rolled round and I was eager to try a new menu. As I held my tray and looked around a boy, seeing I was new, offered me the seat next to him. We chatted and laughed, realised we had lots in common. ‘Girls don’t usually like football’ he said to me. ‘I do!’ I reply brightly, and we both grin as we carry on munching on our food.

Then some other boys approach, his friends it seems. They tease and mock him, because he’s talking to a girl. He looks to them and then looks back to me, his expression changed; cold, rigid, almost disgusted. He picked up his tray and left with them, making excuses for talking to me as their voices fade into the rabble of bustling pupils. I sit looking at my tray and the seat that is now empty, that had just a moment ago contained a kindred spirit.

After that, the boy never said a kind word to me ever again. He would taunt me, make fun of me, call me names. All that we had in common seemed lost and forgotten. I felt that I had made up that lunchtime connection. I felt unsure of myself, I wondered what I had done wrong. How could we get on so well and that count for nothing?

That’s the first time I realised that being a girl could make life feel crappy. Now as I’m older I realise that the difference in our genders might have made the boys life feel crappy too. Maybe he also felt upset that he had to lose a new friend because of strict gender roles imposed by society. Even though he wasn’t very nice to me afterwards, I don’t blame him, I knew even then that he had little choice but to fall in line, because of his young age. I don’t even blame his friends. I blame the world that tells school children that they should self-segregate to fit in.

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