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Now, I am Free

February, 2015
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The sun is scorching

Here in Nigeria, the heat is almost unbearable. I stand where the shadows can greet me, watching as my brother walks off into the distance.

I turned to my mother, curious: “Mamma, when can I go to school too?”

Mamma said nothing. She took one last look at the horizon, and scanned our village. Then she turned her back and went back into the house.

My sister’s hand reached out to touch my head gently.

Behind us, my sister’s baby started crying, wanting the soft caress of his mother. Silent, my sister went back in to comfort him, to lure him back to sleep.

I already knew why it was only my brother who went to school every morning. Why did I even have to ask? I knew that I would be married off as soon as I came of age. I also knew that the rest of my life would revolve around my home and my family. I knew that my life would be no different than the generations of girls that came before me.

Still, I couldn’t help but hope my future would be different. Maybe one day, I could set off early in the mornings with my brother, and bring back home scrap pieces of paper with writing on them.

My mamma called for me from inside. I shook myself out of my daydream.

Duty calls.

 

–oOo–

 

I hate school.

Ever since I was a young boy, I have hated going to school.

I used to be a very good student, always getting straight A’s for all the subjects. English, French, Drama…I loved everything.

But no matter how hard I tried to succeed, there would always be a group of people surpassing me by far. They are known as the female gender.

I have the slight misfortune to have a tendency to turn into a very lazy person from time to time. Losing my worksheets, forgetting my notebook – trivial things. Every time I sullenly tell my teacher that I’ve forgotten or lost something for that class, there will always be girls who have remembered theirs. Every time I think I have done well on a test, there will always be girls who have done better.

“Girls study harder than boys.”

“Girls’ brains are more academically advanced than boys.”

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate girls. It would just be nice to not have gender stereotypes forced upon me from a young age – the stereotype that boys don’t want to do well in school, and the stereotype that girls are better learners than boys.

I tried to bring the issue up when my teacher once compared my test grade to another girl’s test grade. Try harder, they said.

“Try harder.”

“Try harder.”

No one ever knows how hard I tried. But everyone tells me to try harder anyway.

So I don’t try anymore. Whatever I do, they’re still going to think that girls are automatically academically better than boys.

 

–oOo–

 

The sun is scorching.

But it’s perfectly manageable in the school building.

Yes! I’m at school! A month ago, all the girls in my village were granted an opportunity to go to school. My mother and sister would have one less set of hands to help at home, but these nice people from the UN have convinced them to give me this chance.

Everyday, I set out for school with my brother. His school is closer, so I walk with my friends for the rest of the way. There are only three teachers there, and at least four hundred girls to teach. We all have to make adjustments so everyone can learn something. After a few hours of learning, we’re let out so we can help our mothers cook and clean. While my classmates rush home, I wait for my brother to finish class so we can walk back together.

But everyday, as I pass by my brother’s school, I can’t help but notice how my brother’s school looks better from the outside. Sometimes, when I wait by the classroom door to wait for my brother, I can’t help but count how many more books his classroom has. And when we get back home, I realize his textbooks are newer than mine. While my textbook has pages missing and words smeared, his textbook has glossy white pages and beautiful pictures. And even though my brother is only a year older than me, he can do complicated sums, while I’m stuck learning the alphabet with some five-year-olds.

My family told me I should be happy I’m in school. They told me I shouldn’t complain so much; that I shouldn’t ask for more. 

So everyday I sit there, still learning the same thing. A…B…C…

 

–oOo–

 

I hate school.
I used to think Middle School was terrible. But let me correct myself, I hate High School.

I don’t get why American public High Schools always have to put so much emphasis on sports.

I can’t throw a ball to save my life. I once heard the basketball team jeering at me when I managed to screw up an open shot in PE class. But I let it slide.

I tried to focus on my strong suits and tried to enhance my transcripts by auditioning for school plays.

I should’ve seen it coming. Nothing ever surpasses the superiority of the sports team. It started out as innocent teasing in between classes, but I gave it no second thought. Until, one day, they shoved me against the lockers and smeared a tube of lipstick on me. They called me a girl and banned me from their boy tables.

I’ve resorted to eating in the bathroom and playing dumb in all my classes. My teachers have tried to place the root of the problem when my grades took a drastic turn.

I tried to tell them about the bullying. I really did.

“The football team’s bullying you? Really?”

“You need to man up.”

“Boys will be boys.”

I never said another word again.

I thought tuning down my intelligence would stop the football team from bullying me, and therefore put an end to my unhappiness. I’m no longer the sandbag for their rage, but I’m not happier. I see everyone getting sport scholarships, albeit with records of misbehaviour and terrible grades. Me? I get nothing.

 

Dear Applicant, we regret to inform you…

 

Regret. What do they know about regret?

 

–oOo–

 

The sun is scorching.

But I can’t really feel it.

I switched schools. Everyone did. I’m no longer learning in a broken-down mud house, cramped up with girls of all ages. I’m in a mixed gender school now. I’m no longer repeating the alphabet for months on end now. I can read words. I can read books. I can read whole worlds and universes.

I am a young girl from Nigeria.

Nothing can stop me now.

 

–oOo–

 

I hated school.

Not anymore, though. The community college offered an exchange programme to students, and I signed up. I was shipped off to Australia, where I’m currently spending the best years of my life.

I have people who actually understand my past experiences, and have not tried to push them aside with a general stereotype. It’s the stereotypes, the ones that make the general public assume that girls will perform better than boys, the stereotype that boys are academically inferior to girls, the stereotype that boys need to follow a certain society norm of being ‘masculine’…

Stereotypes have boxed me up and limited me for years. They have stopped me from being the best I could be. I used to blame myself, but now I can only blame the education system for forcing their beliefs on me and everyone else.
Now, I am free.

 

 

 By Abbie Leung,

Shanghai American School

 

 

References:

http://www.genderandeducation.com/resources/contexts/the-boys-underachievement-debate/

http://www.news-medical.net/news/20130214/Research-determines-causes-of-boys-underachievement-at-school.aspx

http://dailyorange.com/2013/08/cohen-both-males-females-deserve-equal-rights-to-education-worldwide/

http://www.mlive.com/opinion/kalamazoo/index.ssf/2011/02/our_turn_is_there_too_much_emp.html

http://www.pbs.org/parents/raisingboys/school02.html 

 

 

 

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