Hey Alex, did you realize that it was exactly 5 years ago today that we started the exchange diary? It feels like it was only yesterday! I really love this idea, you know? Granny used to do it with her friends when she was in school in Japan. I know we can just text each other, but I feel like exchange diaries are better. I’m not sure why.
Anyways, congrats on making it to the Europe regionals for the Junior NBA World Championship! It’s really cool. I really want to go see the game in April!
I don’t have anything else to write today. School is fine. Did your grades improve? Boarding school sounds tough.
Vtttttz. Vtttttz. VTTTTTZ.
I woke up today with a seemingly endless ringing of my phone. I wonder who that was. I never picked up the phone.
I went to the sink to wash my face before heading to middle school. I looked at myself in the mirror, admiring my newly cut short hair. It explodes sometimes, but it’s fine. My watery blue eyes and almost unnaturally pale skin never show the quarter of me that’s Asian. It’s a mystery.
I went to my closet for my uniform. I have to wear a dress to school everyday since I go to a private school. It’s not like I hate dresses and skirts, but I feel more comfortable in pants. Plus, this is New York, and I feel like everyone should be allowed to wear anything I want. I thought about that as I went downstairs to the kitchen for a breakfast bar. At least the dress code isn’t as strict as Alex’s boarding school’s, I thought. My poor brother had to go to one of the strictest schools in Great Britain. That’s one of the only things that makes me think that it was the right choice to live with my mom instead of my dad. My mom basically abandoned her life 5 years ago. She became a crazy person after she was “done terrible things by men at her work”. That’s what my dad said. I’m not really sure what exactly happened, but I do know that it was terrible enough to make my mom unable to talk, meet, see, or hear any men. She can’t even see Alex, her own son, and that’s why my parents had to be divorced. My mom doesn’t really do anything now. She just sleeps at home all day, and she doesn’t really talk to me.
I dropped the exchange diary at the post office on my way to school. Alex and I aren’t really allowed to communicate with each other, so we do it as a secret. My dad found out a few years ago, but he let it pass. Alex and I can can just text each other since we both have phones, but we don’t. His school can expel him if his phone rings at the wrong time, and we don’t want to risk it.
School went by as usual. I like my school. I have nice friends, some boys and some girls, and I am president of the student council. I sometimes play out in the fields with the boys, while I have girl talks with my girly friends other times. They gossip too much, but they’re still nice. I have a boy best friend, Mike, and a girl best friend, Bella. I’ve known both of them since kindergarten, and I hang out with them all the time.
After school, I went to baseball practice with Mike. I’m the only girl, but it’s the only baseball team in Scarsdale and Coach lets me play in the team for small local competitions. We practice all year around, even in the winter, which is crazy. This year, we had a high chance of making it to the National Youth Baseball Championships. Today, Coach was going to choose the players to train for the competition. I knew girls weren’t allowed, so I was just going to wish Mike good luck.
Coach Jacobs called out the names, “I chose Mitchell, John, Dan, Mike, Brian…”
As expected, he didn’t call me.
As the boys who were called were high-fiving one another, Coach called out, “Mary Anne, can I talk to you for a second?”
I ran to coach. Nobody was looking at us.
“This is very difficult to tell you, but after having many discussions with the sponsors, parents, and many other adults, we have decided to put you off the team. You would be sitting in the bench the whole next season, and I think that it’s better for you to just quit the team. We had you in this team for 8 years now, and this is very unfortunate, but I can’t change this decision. I’m sorry. I hope you can find another team that lets girls play.”
Hey Mary, thanks. I’m going to ask Aunt Stephanie if she can bring you over to the UK for the summer. My grades aren’t getting any better, and dad’s not happy about it. All he cares about is academics. He doesn’t even care that my team is making it to the regionals. He’s always complaining how he wanted to take you instead of me since you get all A+s. How do you even do that?
Grandpa misses you. I visited him and Grandma over the weekend. My Japanese and French are getting awkward. I hadn’t spoken them in months. How about yours?
Did you watch all the episodes of Stranger Things already? I haven’t had the time to. There is way too much homework at school. We’re still in lower secondary school, and the professors are already preaching about all the work needed for university. It’s a mess. Are you going to stay in St.Haris for high school? You have to apply by now, right?
I put the diary in the postbox (I not only speak British English but am starting to think in it now) as I walked through the corridors to my classroom. Today, we had the arithmetic exam that the professors had been telling us was so important and would ruin our lives if we fail. I reckoned none of that was true.
I met Harry by the arithmetic classroom. We’ve been mates ever since I joined the basketball team a few years ago. Yes, there are basketball teams in England, not just football and cricket teams. When I got inside my classroom with Harry, the tests were already being handed out. The test was 3 hours long.
I knew that if I failed this test, my dad could actually disown me. I had been getting bad scores on assignments and exams lately. The pressure was too much. I tried to clear my mind, but I constantly got distracted by the wind that kept blowing the velvet curtains.
After the exam was over, I went outside to the grounds with Harry, William, and Charlie to eat lunch. We sat by the lake and watched the other students. A girl was curled up by a tree under the shade. I didn’t pay too much attention to her. I was too nervous about the result of the exam.
As we went back inside, the arithmetic professor, Professor Jones, found us and handed the exams back. I went to a corner by myself to check my grade. In Professor Jones’s neat handwriting was a big fat F.
My French and Japanese are all right, I guess. I read a lot of books in those languages… I haven’t seen any TV recently since I’ve been busy. And yes, I’m staying in St.Haris for high school.
Can I ask you for some advice? Coach kicked me out of my baseball team because I’m a girl and can’t participate in the competition that Coach wants us to be in so much this year. Baseball is my life, and I don’t know what to do anymore. Should I just give up?
I’m just really tired because of that and because the students of St.Haris have to lead all the students in Scarsdale marching for International Women’s Day this Sunday. The student council presidents and vice presidents for elementary, middle, and high school have to make speeches, so I have to come up with mine by Friday. Wish me luck.
I woke up feeling depressed. I cried all day yesterday and didn’t go to school. Aunt Helen was coming over from yesterday, and she helped me feel better.
Today at school, I tried to act normally, and I personally think that my acting skills were pretty well. But it wasn’t good enough for Bella.
“What’s wrong? I know that something is wrong, so don’t try to lie,” she said after school. We were walking home after a student council meeting for the International Women’s Day march. Bella was the vice president. I came up with a speech draft while I was at home yesterday. I wasn’t satisfied since I just paraphrased a couple of articles, but it was fine. I could revise it a little later.
“I got kicked out of the baseball team.” I replied after a few awkward moments.
“Oh… I’m so sorry.”
“How’s your mom? I haven’t seen her in a while now,” Bella changed the subject.
“She’s fine, I think. I’m not sure. We haven’t really talked in a while.”
“You can ask her for help for your speech. She can talk to you about women in STEM fields. My mom did for me. She used to work at a really big IT company, right?”
“Why did she quit?”
“I’m actually not really sure.”
When I got home, Aunt Helen was sitting by the fireplace. It was a really cold evening, and the crackling fire was so inviting. I sat next to Helen on the sofa facing the fireplace. My mom was in her bedroom.
“Hey Mary, how was school?”
“It was fine,” I said.
Aunt Helen’s silver blonde hair was reflecting the vivid fire. She had striking blue eyes, which was somehow cold and warm at the same time.
“You know, I have to give this speech at the International Women’s March. And as I was thinking about what to say, I got more and more curious about what happened to mom 5 years ago. Whatever it was, I think that I’m old enough now to know now. Can you tell me what happened?” I asked.
Aunt Helen’s face lost the warmness all of a sudden.
“It’s a really dark story, Mary… But yes, I guess that you have the right to know. Don’t tell your mother that I told you this. Natalie would not like it.”
“Twenty years ago, your mother started working at a very big technology company. At that time, there weren’t many women in the field, and Natalie was the only woman in her company. She only got half the wages as her colleagues earned, but she liked her job and was satisfied. 18 years ago, she married your father, and a few years later, they had Alex. And a year later, they had you. Things were going perfectly well…” Helen paused for a moment.
“But one day, her boss retired, and a new boss took over the company. And he was very harsh. When Natalie took maternity leave, he got annoyed. After she returned, he began sexually harassing her.Her boss threatened her to not tell on him to anyone. Natalie didn’t want any trouble, so she did not ask for help. And the harassment kept escalating and it turned into violence. She never let any worries show in front of you kids, but she couldn’t handle the abuse anymore at one point and told the police. She never told me or your father or any family member about it so that we won’t be worried. When she told the police, the officers did not do anything for her because there was no real evidence of the abuse. And when her boss found out, things got worse. He raped her.” She paused again as she looked outside through the window. The sun had set completely and a half moon was already casting light on the front yard.
“She was completely destroyed after that. She was traumatized. I reported to the police for her, and they investigated the case. But she got charged of lying since she was mentally unstable and ‘acted like a criminal’. She couldn’t look at the officers straight in their eyes. She was scared of men. And when the police finally found out that the report was true 2 years later, it was already too late. She couldn’t even stand to see her own husband and son. That’s why she got divorced with Florence five years ago.”
There was a long silence after she finished the story. I was shocked. How come I had never known about this?
Aunt Helen gave me a big hug, and she left the living room.
That’s really messed up, Mary. You should never give up. You’re really talented. I7ve seen you play since kindergarten, so I must know. Become a national champion one day and kick Coach in his face.
You know, I found out last night that my artwork that I secretly submitted was chosen for an international student art exhibit in New York next week. Dad is fine with it since it will look good on my university application. It’s going to be at the MoMA. I’ve never told you this, but I’ve been practicing art alone in my dormitory for a few months now. Don’t tell this to dad, but I think that I want to be an artist. I know I’m supposed to become a doctor or something like that since my dad wants me to be a “man”, but I really like art.
Anyways, I’ll be in New York from Saturday night for the opening of the exhibit, so I’ll go see your speech on Sunday. I’m not going to tell dad. I’ll hang out with Mike until the march starts.
I woke up still feeling happy after finding out last night that my artwork was going to be on display at the MoMA. My dad yelled at me for 3 hours on Tuesday after school when I showed him the F that I got for the arithmetic exam, but the happy news changed my mood completely. I always hate how dad either calls or visits me everyday to check on my grades, but I wasn’t so bothered yesterday.
At school, everything felt exciting. During recess, I just ran around with Harry, William, and Charlie. After a while, we got tired and sat down by the tallest oak tree. I told them about the art exhibit, but they just laughed.
“Stop being so girly,” Charlie snickered.
“Is that supposed to be a joke? That’s the most boring one ever!”
The boys just kept laughing and didn’t take me seriously. It got really annoying at one point, and I walked away for a second, saying that I needed to go to the bathroom.
As I was walking, I saw the girl that I saw on Tuesday who was curled up in the corner again. This time, I actually saw her face. It was Alicia Smith. I had heard rumors that she was kicked out of the football team since she was too good. Lee was Coach Dursley’s son, and he didn’t like that Alicia was better than him. Lee was a snob and I didn’t like him. I walked over to her.
“You’re Alicia Smith, right?”
“Are you all right?” I asked.
She answered, “Yes, I’m fine. Thanks for asking. You’re Alex Louis?”
“Yes. Uh…Is it true that Lee made his father kick you out of the football team since he didn’t like you?”
“Oh… Well, I think that they’re just being rubbish. Just ignore them. You’re the best football player in England. You were amazing during the last match.”
“Thanks, I’ll try.”
I never knew that you were a good artist! I’m totally going to visit the exhibit! I can’t wait to see you on Sunday! I haven’t seen you in years! I guess you’re really tall now!
I’m rewriting my speech right now. Aunt Helen came over on Tuesday and Wednesday, and she told me what happened to mom 5 years ago. Did dad tell you about it? It sounds unreal. I feel kind of awkward now.
I was exhausted all day at school because I stayed up late last night trying to finish my speech. I kept rewriting my draft over and over again, but I still wasn’t satisfied. After I heard about mom’s story, I began to feel really responsible to send a message about women’s rights. Her story was really heavy and it made me feel weird for a while. I wasn’t really sure why. Maybe it was too shocking.
As I walked through the school gates, Bella came running toward me with a huge grin on her face.
“What’s up?” I asked, smiling.
“My mom told me that her friend, Eleanor, is the head of a girls baseball organization in NYC and that she wants you to join! That organization is forming teams for the Baseball for All Nationals in Illinois this summer and when my mom showed her the videos of you playing baseball in your last game, Eleanor said that you’re really talented and that you should join!”
Bella talked so fast that it took me a couple of seconds to understand what she was saying.
“Oh my god! Thank you! You’re the best!” I screamed.
“The practices will be in the City but my mom can take you there since she has to go to Manhattan every afternoon anyway. I’m so happy for you!”
We shrieked and hugged each other.
I’m at the London City Airport right now. After I send this diary, I’ll get on the plane to New York. I’m really excited! I’ll arrive at the JFK Airport by 6PM. I’ll be staying at Mike’s dad’s house in Manhattan for 5 days. The art exhibit people got flight tickets for me for free! It’s the first time getting on an airplane by myself and I’m really enjoying this!
I didn’t know about mum’s story, so I asked dad yesterday. It made me feel awkward too. That was really messed up. I’m going to beat up the boss if I ever find him. Or maybe not. Maybe just one punch? Who knows. I’m not going to let him get away with it.
I wish I could see mum when I’m in New York. But don’t worry, I’m not going to go running into your (our?) house. See you at the march.
p.s. I have a surprise for you tomorrow.
I was finally free from the pressure of dad and school. Everyone around me thinks that a bloke shouldn’t draw since it’s a girl’s thing and that art is just lame. I know that guys should just play sports and get a good job and all that, so maybe I’m weird. But who cares.
While I was on the airplane, I finished a drawing that I had been working on for a few weeks. It was a self portrait. On the picture, I was in the center, and behind me were mum, dad, and Mary. Everyone was smiling and holding onto my shoulders. Dad and mum were drawn in pencil. Mary and I were drawn in color pencils.
A Cabin Crew came over to pour some water for me and she looked at my drawing.
“This is excellent. Is this your family?”
“Your parents must be very proud of you. You have great talent.”
I wish they were, I thought. But I just smiled and said,“Thanks, Ma’am.”
I drew my parents in black and white because… well, because they just had no color to me. The world killed them both. My mum had literally lost herself after he incident, and my dad also changed. He wasn’t the man that I loved so much as a kid. He got all stressed out and shut himself from me and the rest of the world. Sure, he talked to me, but he was never paying any real attention. Society let a man like my mum’s dumb boss do whatever he wanted and get away with it. And society destroyed my parents. I wanted to scream as I thought about that. I took a few deep breaths and started the finishing touch on the drawing. I made the colors of me and Mary Anne vivid. I thought, at least the world hadn’t destroyed us yet. Mary got kicked out of her baseball team since she was a girl and I get laughed at for drawing since I’m a guy. But we don’t care.
Alex, I’ll talk to you later. Come see me after the march. You know my phone number.
This morning, I felt anxious for the march. I did not feel ready.
I went over to Bella’s first and walked together to St.Haris. The playground was filled with all sorts of people. There were a lot of students from St.Haris, and many others from public schools in the district. It was mostly teenagers, but there were some elementary school kids, grownups, and elderly people. I spotted the baker and her children, my family doctor, the lady who lives across the street from our house, and some village officials. The majority were women, but there were some men. I couldn’t spot Alex there.
The high school student council president, Francis, a tall girl with very long red hair, held up her megaphone as Bella and I headed toward the school’s backyard entrance, which was where the march was going to start.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are going to start the march now. Once we go around the village, we will come back here and the speeches will begin. Please line up along the schoolyard edge toward the backyard entrance gate. Let’s get our voices heard!”
Everyone whooped and whistled. It got really loud.
Bella and I got to the gate. All the female students wore the boy’s uniform instead of the girl’s. We wore long pants, short-sleeved shirts, jackets, and ties.
“Let’s begin!” called out Francis.
We started moving slowly. We walked along the main streets, holding up signs and chanting. Many neighbors stood on their doorsteps to watch. This was the first year that there was a women’s march in this neighborhood, and it was led by school students. The grownups were all very curious if we could organize such a big event properly.
“We need a leader, not a creepy tweeter!”
“My body, my choice!”
“We are the majority, we are the popular vote!”
“Whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes and no means no!”
“We’re the daughters of the witches you weren’t able to burn!”
“Women’s rights are human rights!”
“Show me what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!”
Francis led the chants and the whole crowd followed. When I looked back, I was surprised by how long the line was. I couldn’t even see the back of the line! More and more people joined along the way.
By the time we got back to the schoolground, there was a strong feeling of unity and power. It felt as though we were all part of a big family.
The student organizers went up to the stage that we had set up. There were 10 chairs on each side. There was a microphone stand in the center and large speakers in the back of the stage.
A few teachers and the student council presidents and vice presidents sat on the chairs on the left side of the stage, and volunteers from the neighborhood to give speeches sat on the right side. There were 2 village officials, some familiar grownups, a little girl and her mother, and a young boy who looked a little older than me. His bright green eyes seemed really familiar, and it felt as though he was someone who was really important to me but was forgotten. I tried to figure out who he was, but I couldn’t.
Everyone gave great speeches. Bella’s was excellent.
She finished her speech by saying, “To quote Madonna, ‘I’m tough, I’m ambitious, and I know exactly what I want. If that makes me a bitch, okay.”
The audience clapped and cheered as though they had gone mad.
Then it was my turn. I high-fived Bella as I walked up to the microphone.
I looked around at the audience. There were hundreds of people. I saw my cousins, my friends, and…mom! She was standing there in her nice dress, with Aunt Helen by her side. I thought Aunt Helen went back to New Jersey! And mom… I hadn’t seen her at all this week…And it was the first time that I’d seen her outside of our house in years!
Dumbfounded, I stood there frozen for a while, totally forgetting about the speech. Mom’s eyes met mine and she actually smiled slightly! I hadn’t seen her smile at all ever since I was 9!
Bella cleared her throat, and I remembered that I had a speech to give. I took a deep breath and started.
“Hi. My name is Mary Anne Louis and I am 14 years old.” Everyone cheered.
“I am the president of the St.Haris Middle School student council. As you might know, this is the first time that an event like this is happening in our neighborhood. Today, we are representing all the girls and women around the world, whose voices might not be heard.
I’m going to tell you a real story that happened 5 years ago. There was a girl who grew up in this very village, and she was a beautiful, sweet girl. She always made everyone around her smile. But one man took her smile away. After years of sexual harassment, the man raped the girl. And do you know what the police did? They tried to charge her for false reporting, punishable for up to one year in jail. They locked her up for a while, a victim, until the court decided to order her to pay 500 dollars, get mental health counseling for a year for lying, and go on supervised probation for a year.
Now, you might think that this is unbelievable, but this is something that actually happened in New York in 2013. This is what happened to a real, wonderful woman, the woman who raised me.
And this is not something that is uncommon.This is happening all over the place.
We have to acknowledge Marie from the state of Washington, who at the age of 18 was raped by a man. That was in 2015. She was convicted of lying. The police realized that they were wrong more than two years later.
That same year, a pregnant 16-year-old reported being raped in New York City.
In 2004, a 19-year-old was sexually assaulted at gunpoint in Pennsylvania.
In 2001, a 13-year-old reported being abducted and molested.
The list is endless. In all of those cases, the girls were accused of lying. But all of their reports later turned out to be true. Because they were traumatized, they could not look at the police and make eye contact, or their affect seemed off, or there was something else that made the women look like ‘suspects’. This is reality, and it has to change.
Some people try to deny gender inequality and sexual abuse, just like how some people deny climate change. But look around, and you’ll see those issues in every corner. Take a look at the gender pay gap. Some experts say that at this pace, women will not reach pay equality until 2119. 2119, people! A good amount of folks here right now would be long dead by then.
Challenges for being female exists in our community, too. I’m sure that most people have noticed stereotypes that affect both boys and girls in negative ways.
To talk a little bit about myself, I have always loved playing baseball. But I had to quit the team this week because I’m a girl and the competition that he was aiming for never had any girls play in it. There is no official rule saying that girls cannot play, but Coach decided to follow the norm that was formed by past competitors.
I am not saying that I gave up, though. I am going to join a wonderful girls baseball team in the City. If we give up, it’s game over. And because girls have been fighting for equality without giving up, change is happening. The changes might be happening very slowly, but there is change. We have to make sure that horrible things, things like what happened to my own mother and countless girls all over the world, never happen again. We can’t just wait for our sexist President and his friends to make change. We have to act. One voice might be too small, but if millions of those voices gather together, it can be heard. I know that I’m still young, and maybe I do not understand those gender issues fully. But because I’m young, I have a lot of time to make change. And so do my fellow peers all around the globe. If young boys and girls become aware of those issues and start acting today, a perfectly equal society tomorrow is not a wild dream. Let’s make a world full of love, not hate. I love my friends, I love my teachers, I love my neighbors, and I love you, mom.” I paused, and I grinned at mom.
“If we all love each other, love all of our differences, then the world would become a completely different place. And as Emma Watson had said, if you stand for equality, then you’re a feminist. Sorry to tell you, you’re a feminist.”
The crowd cheered louder than I thought would be possible. Bella ran all the way up to me and gave me a big hug. I hugged her back tightly. And I saw the young boy over Bella’s shoulders again, this time more closely. He was grinning at me and he waved his hand. His smile was just like dad’s…How come I hadn’t noticed? It was Alex!
I’m leaving New York on Wednesday. I’ll be working on art projects at the MoMa the whole week, so visit me whenever you can.
I woke up in Mike’s dad’s guest room that morning with a jerk. Mike’s older sister, Riley, was really into feminism, and she was going to take me and Mike to the march. I was going to see Mary Anne for the first time in 5 years, and I was anxious all night. What if she hates me now? Or worse, what if I meet mum by accident? She would probably freak out. The last time see saw me was after the incident at her work, and that day, she screamed at me for just being there.
I had planned to give a speech at the march as a surprise for Mary. The event was going to have volunteers sign up to give speeches or do performances. I finished it last minute last night, so I was really tired. I hadn’t had the chance to enjoy the City yet.
Mike’s dad drove me to Mike’s mum’s house and dropped me off there. Mike and Riley were standing in front of their front door.
“Oh my goodness, Alex! You’re taller than me now! How have you been?” asked Riley excitedly. The last time that I had met her, I was barely at her shoulder height. Now, I was a few inches taller than her. Time flies so fast.
“I’ve been doing great, thanks.” I turned to Mike, and we did our old handshake that we used to do when we were little.
“Bro, you’re actually good-looking now!” he laughed. “You used to look like a baby!”
We laughed. It felt great to be back.
After a few minutes, we started walking to St.Haris. I used to go there until I was in 4th grade. I missed the school.
When we got there, it was already filled with hundreds of people. As I joined the crowd, a lot of familiar faces turned towards me and said things like, “Oh my god, that’s Alex!”
In a few minutes, I was surrounded by dozens of people greeting and hugging me. The reuniting kept going on, until at last an announcement was made that the march was going to be starting. I couldn’t spot Mary Anne or Bella.
As the crowd moved forward and the chants started, Mike and I tried to join in. It was the first march for both of us, and we weren’t sure what we were supposed to do. We were awkward at first, but eventually got the hang of it and became confident. We were the only males in our section, but it did not seem to matter. I actually enjoyed it pretty well. We got to scream like crazy and not get yelled at. Plus, I did really care about gender issues since my family broke apart because of them.
When we got back to the school, the speeches began. I sat across the stage from Mary and Bella. They both didn’t seem to notice me. Did I look that different? I had the same light green eyes, the chocolate colored hair, and the arm muscles that I used to show off when I was little. Mary looked exactly the same way that she used to do, except that she got taller and that her hair was a bit shorter.
The students wearing the St.Haris uniform all gave really good speeches. A lot of them noticed me before starting their speeches and smiled. I knew most of them. Bella also noticed when she got up, so we waved at each other.
When Mary got up, she still did not notice me. Before giving her speech, she stared at something for a moment. I looked towards the direction that she was staring at, and my heart almost stopped; mum was standing there with Aunt Helen! My mouse gaped open as I sat there motionless. I noticed that Mary was doing the same exact thing. We both came to ourselves when Bella cleared her throat. I couldn’t pay attention to Mary’s speech for a while since I was completely stunned. But I began to really listen when she started talking about mum. Her speech tugged at my heartstrings. I remembered the good days when we were all happy, and I remembered how it was all gone in one day. If I was alone in my room, I might have shed a tear or two.
When her speech was over, everyone cheered so much that I thought that I might go deaf. Mary and Bella hugged each other. I waved at Mary for a second, who still didn’t notice, and when I looked at mom again, and she was smiling! So much unbelievable things were going on that I got lost. Then, somebody hugged me from the back. I turned around. It was Mary! How did she get there?
“Alex! I can’t believe that it’s you!”
We hugged at each other for a while. Tears rolled off Mary’s cheeks.
“I missed you so much…” she whispered.
The next speaker was about to get up, so after I handed her our diary, she went back to her seat.
After all the St.Haris students finished their speeches, it was the volunteers’ turn. Some read poems, others performed raps, and a few gave speeches. The performance that stood out to me was by a little girl about the age of 6 and her mother. They sang “Reflection” from Disney’s Mulan;
Look at me,
I may never pass for a perfect bride, or a perfect daughter.
Can it be,
I’m not meant to play this part?
Now I see, that if I were truly to be myself,
I would break my family’s heart.
Who is that girl I see, staring straight back at me?
Why is my reflection someone I don’t know?
Somehow I cannot hide?
Who I am, though I’ve tried.
When will my reflection show, who I am, inside?
How I pray, that a time will come,
I can free myself, from their expectations
On that day, I’ll discover someway to be myself,
and to make my family proud.
They want a docile lamb,
No-one knows who I am.
Must there be a secret me,
I’m forced to hide?
Must I pretend that I am someone else for all time?
When will my reflection show, who I am inside?
When will my reflection show, who I am inside?
They were really good and some people were getting teary. I could relate to the song since I used to hide my passion for art. Everyone was in a warm mood.
After a few other performances, it was my turn. I stood in front of the microphone to start, but I could not look at mum. To be honest, I was scared.
“Hello. I am Alex Louis, I’m 15 years old. I live in England with my father, and I am here in New York this week for an art program. Mary Anne is my younger sister, and as she had said, our mother was a victim of sexual abuse. Therefore, I have always felt the responsibility to make sure that things like that never happened again. In England, I attend a boarding school with a student body that is 70% male. I have been repeatedly disappointed by how ignorant some of the other boys in my school were about gender equality and gender roles in modern society. Although I would never be able to fully understand the struggles of being a woman, I want to share my views about gender stereotypes and gender equality.
I am going to share a letter about feminism written by a boy when he was 15 years old. Some of you might have seen it, but it was very inspiring for me and I’m sure that it was for many boys and girls our age. I’m going to read the part that was the most striking for me.
He writes, ‘…if we really want equality, we need to stop caring. Stop caring about gender, stop caring about another person’s sexual preference, stop caring about how far someone fits in with the stereotype and stop caring, most of all, about how much we fit this stereotype, we must not let gender define us.’
Before I read this letter last night, I used to just think about closing the pay gap, creating equal opportunities, getting rid of gender stereotypes, and ending sexual abuse. But this letter helped me realize that the root problem was caring too much about gender and gender roles. I realized that I myself was part of the problem. I had been caring too much about meeting my father’s and friends’ expectations on me as a male that I had been unable to truly be myself. I always had a passion for art, but I was never able to say that because people around me had expected me to be a good athlete and a good scholar. I finally let it go and decided to follow my instincts.
Gender roles have negative effects on both genders. At my school, a girl was kicked out of her football team since the coach did not like the fact that a girl was a better player than his son. We have been caring too much about what it means to be ‘feminine’ and what it means to be ‘masculine’. Negative stereotypes do not benefit anyone. Even for those who are sexist, there will be negative effects since half of the world would become their enemies. What’s the point of gender discrimination if nobody wins?
Today, I am proud to say that I am a feminist. Some people say that feminism is man-hating by angry women. But it actually simply means that you believe in social, economic, and political equality between the sexes. There aren’t too many male feminist friends in the world yet, but if we just stop caring so much about other people’s gender and gender stereotypes, the world will be filled with feminists. And if everyone was a feminist, the world would be truly equal. How nice would that be?”
It might not have been the best speech on Earth, but I was satisfied with it. I saw that the whole crowd was cheering. I slowly and subtly looked at mum. She was…she was crying, whle also slightly smiling. We looked at each other in the eye. She smiled even more. I couldn’t believe it. I smiled back and noticed that a tear was on the verge of falling. I held it back and went back to my seat.
After the event was over and everyone started to leave, Mary came running towards me. We sat underneath a chestnut tree without saying anything. We didn’t have to talk to understand each other.
“Alex and Mary,” a soft voice called out from behind us. It was mum.
She smiled at Mary. Then, after a little hesitation, she faced me nervously.
“Mum, if you don’t want me here, just tell me and I’ll g…”
“I’m so sorry honey,” she whispered into my ears as she hugged me tightly. I felt her wet tears on my cheeks. I started crying, too. Her warm hug made me feel like a little boy again.
After she let me go, I asked, “Mom, aren’t you afraid of me? Don’t be hard on yourself if this is stressing you out. I missed you, but I don’t want you to feel guilty or anything. None of this was your fault.”
“No, this isn’t stressing me out at all. The counseling is working. I just realized how ridiculous it was to abandon my own son. I also technically half-abandoned you too, Mary. I’m really sorry.”
Mary hugged mum.
“I’ll make sure that nothing bad ever happens to you, mum,” I said.
Mary exclaimed, “We’ll get rid of all the bad thing in the world within 10 years, if we can.”
We all laughed. It was such a great time. If the whole world was like this, everything would be so peaceful. The world would be full of love instead of hate.
“I love you mom.”
“I love you even more, mum.”
“I love both of you so much.”
All was well.