My personal story
R: I don't know if it is so much about opportunities that I would have missed, I don't know if I have something like that. But I remember... just kind of, just in terms of norms and stuff. I moved back here when I was about 13 and I went to boarding school, so that was kind of a real 'slap in the face' kind of education with regards to the norms of another place. Because I just really, I don't know, I guess I just wasn't like gender norms, I didn't take them that seriously and then I moved into that boarding school where I was living in a dormitory with 5 other girls and I kept just tripping up over things. And I don't know, they agreed in not liking me and I wasn't even sure what I was doing wrong. But I think I was just. I don't know because that year I was quite mousy as well if I didn't howl like my friends around me. I used to be a lot bossier and kind of like more outgoing and kind of like more like that, but things like, when we hung out with the boys in sort of the parallel ways...
I: Was this your first year in secondary education or your second?
R: It was second year. So, yes, second here. I missed the first one and came back at that point (the respondent had been living in Africa with her parents for a number of years). So it is not like that kind of helped because they had been together already for a while. But I just remember things like when we hung out with the boys from sort of the schools like male boarding schools who were in our year, it was kind of like, being a little rough with the girls and doing something horrible, like kind of like 13, that is kind of like how boys show interest, or I don't know. Boys do the like. But the thing is that the girls would go like: 'Oh, no stop (with a weak voice)' and then they wouldn't. And the boys just keep bothering them. But when they did that to me, I kind of like went: 'STOP!' and I got really intense until they did and I just stuck by them until they stopped bothering me. And they're all like: 'oh, you're so aggressive!' And I always got like negative feedback and stuff like that. And things like, ‘Oh yes, the uniform!’ I'd never had had a uniform before, the girls always wore skirts and usually would try to get a heel on their like school shoe. You know, I kind of like felt that heels were uncomfortable, so I had weird school shoes and I also wore the trousers because there was a trousers option for girls but like NO ONE wore those. And I kind of was like the only girl in our year literally, so the guys used to call me: 'men-beast' when I walked down the garden and things like that.
R: I didn't do anything like it wasn't like I was particularly... it was just one of those things, you know, like girls just don't wear the trousers. You should wear the socks and the skirts and I didn't like them so I wore trousers and I got such a 'whiplash' for it you know. And I mean that it is interesting that one of the schools I went to later on had the same thing where like very few girls wore the trousers options but there was a trousers option for them. And me and one other girl in the class wore them but no one cared anymore. It was just so strange there was like intervening four years or three years or something like that, made such a difference. Maybe it was also that it was just a very different school or something like that, but it was just like. I just remember that being kind of...
(interrupted by mother who brings a cup of tea)
R: I don’t know, I thought it was weird that I find something simple like trousers that didn't make any difference really, kind made such a difference. I don't know and it was just like other kind of things that I just tripped on a lot and that they really kind of didn't, I guess, wasn't being a proper girl and they kind of just gave me a lot of flak for lots of things. I don't know, they'd gossip about me and it was kind of like really... unpleasant. Oh, and that was interesting. There was a girl there and she was only there for the year - I think she was a Dutch girl and she had just come for one year - on an exchange or something. But she was boarding at the school for a year and she was a fantastic and lovely girl, like really enthusiastic, really bubbly but she kind of also did lots of things that weren't kind of quite 'right' and they just gave her so much slack that in the beginning of the year everyone loved her and at the end of the year everyone was horrible to her and it was like.
(mother interrupts again about the tea)
R: Yeah, so it was kind of just... I don't know, for me it was weird as well because like I went from living at home and that kind of stuff, that kind of thing and it was just kind of... I don't know if it was just gender norms, just like all these little social sort of things I just kind of like messed up and the way they kind of tried to enforce it or whatever, was really horrible to me whenever I did anything. I remember just walking just on 'eggshells' I had no idea what would end up getting me in trouble. So, that was really quite an unpleasant year actually.
I: Yes, sounds like it! So, what I hear is that they judged you on the one hand on your looks because you didn't dress with the skirt, but than on the other hand also judged part of your attitude, because you say that you were very assertive and they didn't think girls should be assertive. That assertiveness was something for boys.
I: I don't even know if it was something like assertiveness, it was just like the... I think it was, or maybe it was assertiveness, it was just about standing my ground and kind of like: I had the right to stand my ground. But the girls kind of like, I don't know if this is how they thought about it at all, this is just about looking back how I found it. There was just like, you know, they would just kind of just let people walk over a little bit and stuff like that would just happen and they were kind of horrible to each other and [not understandable phrase] and you could even be a little bit kind of cheeky to boys when they were kind of bothering you, you just kind of went: 'stop' and if that didn't work you just kept saying: 'stop' effectively and that you didn't like them actually doing this and I was kind of... I just didn't appreciate that kind of thing.
I: Sounds very powerful, the power of gossip and...
R: Yeah, it is one of those things like I would never, never felt the need to be particularly 'girly' but I've never had any, like... because I feel like a lot of girls are kind of like, maybe are kind of like 'Tomboys’ where they feel they would like to be boys or they enjoy boys and other girls not. I found a lot of girls in a way, but I never in my life had any desire to be guy. Like I don’t feel any time; I'm not a Tomboy, but I was kind of the little kid who would, you know: I wore crazy pink shorts and climb trees in them. And like bejewelled sandals, and then climb the trees in those and then got the mud. You know, it was just, I was, I was really girly in some ways and then just like just not. And I think it was just that like when I was little, I was just never all that concerned with proving my femininity, I always felt: 'But I am a girl, so it need not to be proven'. My parents kind of set us up to be like that. Things like when I was little, I collected snails and kept them in my jewellery boxes because that made sense to me. So, that's like, you know, I guess when you think of little boys collecting bugs and things but, you, I was a girl so I put them in my pink and purple heart shaped jewellery box, because that is what I had and I don't know, I just think that was a real mix.
I: Looking back at your boarding school. You felt that you weren't really liked by those other girls - to say the least - and do you think there is a different way between conflict resolution among girls that age and among boys that age?
R: I think maybe the way that you showed the disapproval is different, because it is kind of like: the boys are kind of rough and tumble and kind of beat each other up a little bit or something like that and they would bounce around the place, knock into each other or do something physically annoying to each other, kind of thing. Whereas like, you know, for me it was much more things like, like wherever. We were there all week and I used to go home for the weekend - which possibly didn't help the bonding - I mean don't think anything would have helped honestly, and I'd come home each weekend and after each weekend with some food like nutrient bars or whatever, but like when you're in boarding school you just get this cafeteria food and you can't go to the shop quite as often and food is one of those little courtesy’s of the place, and I also had like a mobile phone had the bills paid with credit, because my parents always wanted to be able to get in touch with me and like I'd never had a mobile phone before and we didn't really know the difference between the two, so they just got me that on the basis that: 'you then can always get in touch with me or whatever'. So, these were two things that like the girls just when they kind of found out about it, they wanted like, they really didn't like me that much but they wanted to use them anyway. They become like: 'oh, caring is sharing, you know!', 'You should let us use your phone!'. Like call whoever they wanted to call. 'You should share your food' and things like that, you know. When it is kind of like... it is kind of like, you know, little bits, where I think the boys would have just taken them. You know what I mean. With a lot of things, it was kind of.... and, you know, towards the end of the year, things like, like 'after lights out' they'd sort of clamber into their beds and they sort of gossip about each other kind of like. Not that they wanted to talk and didn't want anyone else to hear. We would talk after lights out, the whole dorm sometimes, and that can be kind of fun. And then other times like I remember, two of the girls kind of gossiping and I knew they were talking about me because I could hear them. Like not everything, but they were whispering. So I was like: 'I can hear you guys talking!', you know, it's like, just doing it and they talk to each other a bit more and then there was a bit of silence and the: '[respondent's name]' and I: 'Yeah, what?', 'I hate you!'. And I'm like: 'thanks for that! Yeah, that's great', like you have nowhere to go either. Like you're just sitting there and what are you supposed to do? You're just kind of all lying there in silence and - I know - or thanks - or something like that and you just kind of... you know what I mean? I don't remember being all that upset. I just remember being really annoyed, you know, like really angry. That like, there wasn't really anything that I could do and I suppose I could have said something like: 'I hate you too', but I wasn't, I'm not. I remember once when I kind of hit puberty I got less confrontational. As a kid I would have probably done that but like, you know, you're sitting there with 12 and then by this stage it was like I didn't have any back up or support, you know, so I was kind of not willing to take them on or whatever. I just remember kind of sitting there and being really annoyed. And a couple of days later, she came after me - and this I think is a really interesting thing - it is like you can make a big thing about that, but a couple of days later she goes: 'I'm really sorry about that!' and I was like: 'oh no, you know, that's fine, I'm really just more annoyed about it with myself.' And she goes: 'why?' and I go: 'I shouldn't care what you think' or whatever. I can't remember what logic I gave her, but so I was more annoyed at myself and it was about caring what they thought. You know, it is this interesting thing like, you know, I never understood why she came back at me because she didn't like me. Sometimes you get on, okay, but this girl, she didn't like me and I don't really understand why she kind of apologised about it and try to smooth it over because it wasn't really like, I mean it was kind of it happened that night and everyone just went on with their lives. It was just like.... do you know what I mean, like it didn't make such a big difference and…
I: And how did it affect your view on femininity because you say they considered you a Tomboy, but you didn't feel as if you were a Tomboy?
R: I don't know if they considered me quite a Tomboy, but I can assume they considered me kind of a 'manly girl' anyway or not all that 'girly'. I don't know, I think because having seen them all and having lived with them, they're really kind of girly in some ways like the way they behave around boys and like the makeup and the hair, tight up and ages in the mirror, whatever.... and like I didn't really care because you're in a uniform. There's really not all that much that you can do with that, unless you're really going go: 'what necklace are you going to wear today, what is this nail polish?’... All these things. They seem to take a lot of care about it, in other ways, in themselves I didn’t think they were all that girly in some ways. Like they're kind of a little sporty and like, I mean it's weird because like the one who told me that she really hated me, she was also kind of quite aggressive. When she was around boys, she was still very much aware that they're boys and kind of very much like, even if we were 13 or 14 at a time - I think, yeah, I turned 14 that year - and she was still already very much into like boys and a certain image of them and stuff like that. So even though she was quite of an aggressive girl and kind of like... I mean, I'm sure that when she went home for the weekend she got into fights and stuff like that and already at that age she was kind of like - not quite what the British call a 'ladette' (a women who goes out and drinks and fights just like men), but, you know, that kind of thing, sort of the Irish equivalent of that I guess. But it was weird, even around boys she was still kind of like, you know, she got pissed off with them and she was also pandering around them in a way. In a way that I kind of just.... and I didn't like any of the boys, so they were just irrelevant to me so I just didn't, there was no pandering to them, there was just kind of like: 'you're annoying to me'. Do you know what I mean? Whereas like... the boys weren't attractive but like there were a couple of on-going things with various boys that they had liked for ages and the boy knew and there were various little dramas and things like that. Still they're all kind of pandering a little bit to them. I don't know, just kind of 'hyper-aware' that there were boys there, being particularly girly at them and kind of like making an effort to get in touch with them or whatever. I mean, that is fine if you like the guy or whatever, but I just didn't enjoy these boys, they were all kind of horrible really. I don't know, at the age of 14 I think that teenage boys are just about the worst kind of people I've met. Even if they grow up to be nice people later on, it's just like when you're around 14 they're a mess, like they're just not pleasant at that stage. So, that kind of thing that was really girly. But when they were sitting around the dorm, they just didn't seem all that girly to me. It was kind of a weird thing, where it is in some ways it was like kind of a performance that was put on for certain audiences and then in other ways, it was kind of... I mean they DID put on lip gloss and there were girly magazines around the place, but in other ways, they did things that they wouldn't have done in front of the boys, that kind of thing. Things like climbing up on the window still. I remember one of the girls in my dorm, she was tiny and she got stuck in like our bin one time. She had been climbing on to the window still to look out at the window and then fell into it and it was just like... and then we all kind of set of laughing but it was kind of ridiculous that kind of thing, these things happen, but I don't think it would have been funny if there would have been boys around, do you know what I mean? So: 'get me out of here, this isn't funny' and we were all laughing and she: 'this isn't funny!' This time she's like: ‘this isn't funny' and we're saying; 'we're sorry!' but then she starts laughing with us, that kind of thing.
Gender did matter