I actually started writing this post last week, but horrible recent events have made it all the more relevant, and have added a second layer of meaning to what I am about to say.
So my mum makes me do this thing every year when I have to talk to parents over the phone who might want to send their girls to my school. It’s normally really boring, and I always moan about having to do it, but one woman last year really stuck in my mind.
She had a wife, and wanted to send her daughter to my school. Her questions for me weren’t the bog-standard ‘what did you do to prepare for the 11+ examination?’, ‘can you tell me exactly what you wrote for the story part of the English exam?’ or ‘are you really clever?’ (< how am I supposed to answer that?!). Instead, she was asking me whether I thought her daughter might be bullied for having two mothers, if she herself would be judged by the other parents and how the teachers would treat their family.
And although I couldn’t speak for how other parents might react (as I’m sure this differs from year to year), I could honestly (and very proudly) say that my school is one of the most accepting and open places I have ever set foot in. This woman stuck in my mind because she made me realise that the nature of my school is not something I should take for granted. She had anxiously spoken to people from over 20 different schools, and I was the first person to give her the answers that she wanted.
Although we are an all-girls school, my school allows transgender males to continue on through sixth-form, which is something apparently quite rare. We have an LGBT society (unheard of in most schools), and most students feel really comfortable with being open about their sexuality. I thought all of this was completely normal, but talking to her made me realise it was something I should appreciate far more.
I am fully aware now that I have been lucky enough to have been sheltered away from the labelling and the discrimination so present in other schools. Something else which makes my school so special is that it is filled with people from all over London- all with different religious and cultural backgrounds. It is a grammar school (non fee-paying and selective), so girls all over the city can come regardless of where they’re from or how much their parents earn.
In a PSHE lesson, we were talking about diversity in the school, and my teacher started talking about an old student who had contacted her recently. She said that at an office Christmas party, the girl (as the only non-white and female in her team) had been the butt of a racist and sexist joke for the first time in her life. My teacher then, as a devil’s advocate to our discussion, posed the question of whether the school creating such a safe and accepting environment actually had its downfalls too- going in to the ‘real world’ was far more of a shock.
And although I see her point, I disagree. I would far rather be horribly shocked but know my principles, and be educated and passionate enough to stand my ground; than take it less to heart but not really be sure how to feel. In an ideal world, any racist, sexist or homophobic comment would be reacted to with universal shock. In an ideal world instead of teaching girls how to avoid rape, boys would be taught not to rape in the first place. In an ideal world my school wouldn’t be special, it would be the norm.
As someone who is straight and white, I probably wouldn’t be discriminated against in another school. Yes, I am a girl so chances are I’ll have to fight for my rights in the workplace in a few years, but compared to others I have it so damn easy. However, I think that discrimination is everyone’s fight, not just those suffering from it most severely. Homophobic and racist comments disgust and offend me although I am not at the intended receiving end of them. I feel it is my duty to contradict and fight against them, because they completely go against principles. Going to my school has benefited me not because I would’ve been discriminated against somewhere else, but because it has taught me to stand up for what I believe in.
I started secondary school aged 11, and I really do think that this is the age one starts to think for themselves. At age 11 I stopped believing everything my parents, teachers and friends were telling me and started to question things. It was the age I began to want to learn, and find out things for myself. And I do think that any school could have shaped me- it was when I was at my most mouldable. I feel so lucky that I chose the school I did, and that it has moulded me in the way that it has. Right now, I feel the happiest with myself than I have ever done. I am confident in my own decisions, and therefore willing to stand my ground. I am stronger, not just because I am older but because I know what I want.
Not in the sense that I know what I’d like to study at university, or what I’d like to do as a career (I have no idea!). This seems to be what adults think is what we should be worrying about right now. Instead I know what I’d like the world to look like in the future. And to me this is so much more important because I know what I care about and I know what I think matters, which means I am ready to fight for it all. My school has created in a way, my small, ideal world. It embodies the diversity and sheer respect I wish to see in the future for the real world.
The horrible acts of violence on Westminster Bridge in London which occurred earlier this week, illustrate the change which our world is so in need of. Everyday sexism and white privilege and islamophobia and homophobia and climate change and so many other things do too.
Everybody wants to see change, but so few are willing to change themselves. I’m not the first person to say this, but I beg you to be the change you wish to see in the world. Be motivated, effervescent and hopeful. Practice what you preach. It won’t be easy but it will eventually be worth it. Determination inspires more determination, change-seekers create other change-seekers. People have so much power when working together.
Call me a dreamer, but I think us- those who are inspired, determined and know what they want are the people who can change the real world.
And I’d rather go into adulthood and be beaten down and disappointed, but carry on fighting as the dreamer I am, than to avoid the confrontations and the criticism, but be weary and uninspired from the beginning.
I am and forever will be fearless.