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Lights

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I walked into the classroom and took my seat between a tall, cranky jock and a short, chubby boy with thickly-rimmed glasses and a pile of AP books stacked neatly on one corner of his desk. The classroom began to fill quickly with students as the clock ticked to one minute before the bell. Desks and chairs were in straight rows, and pictures of all the American presidents neatly lined the wall above the whiteboard. John F. Kennedy glared at me from the wall with sharp eyes and an awkward fake smile that would intimidate even his closest friends. I waited patiently in my seat until the teacher finally walked in the room and turned on the lights, making Kennedy’s face a little lighter and a little less intimidating.

After taking attendance and attempting to pronounce everyone’s name correctly, the teacher asked each person to identify three interesting things about themselves or what they did over the summer. Everyone seemed to say the same thing over and over; words like “summer”, “cruise”, “new car”, and “work” floated around the room. Someone finally got bored enough to ask the teacher what she did. “I went to Ireland, took a two-week summer history course in Ohio, and lead a local women’s rights convention down in Springfield.” She smiled and looked at the class, “I really love the idea of traveling coupled with learning and making a difference along the way.”

I looked across the room at the window, wishing I could jump out. The blinds were shut tightly, but I was able to make out a tiny streak of sunlight through the small gap between the edge of the blinds and the hard, brick wall. Liberal. Nerd. Boring. Feminist. A million thoughts raced through my mind all at once, making my head ache on one side more than the other for psychological reasons we had learned last year, but that I never really understood. Everyone knows that teachers are boring and have no life. The vast majority of them are nerdy and boring, and many of them are liberals. But I had never met anyone, especially a teacher, who was a feminist. I picked up my blue BIC pen and gripped it tightly in my right hand, my thumb wrapped around my index and middle finger, a way most people thought was odd to hold a pen. A dumb, stupid feminist who hated the world and wished she could be a man and hated men because they could naturally do things she couldn’t like fight in the army, run a marathon, work as an architect, and be the breadwinner of the family. A feminist who was always angry and unsatisfied. I took out my notebook and touched the tip of my pen to the first page. A feminist who can’t accept who she is and make the best of her life. My teacher was a feminist. I wrote the letters of my name in giant, bold, brick letters. My teacher – someone who was supposedly educated, and now is supposed to educate me. I scribbled a line through my name. HELL NO. I wasn’t about to learn anything from anyone like that.

After two days we had our first test over the reading we had completed in our heavy, 1000 page paperback history book, otherwise known as Tindall. The room was stuffy and crowded, everyone eager but nervous to get their scantrons back for fear of the pink marks. The same kid who had asked the teacher about her summer the first day got up and opened the window; at least he had somewhat of a brain. I sat impatiently in my chair, wishing I was anywhere but here. I knew I was a terrible test taker; taking a US history test would only make my conditions worse.

The feminist walked into the classroom and turned on the lights. She carefully took her things out of her bag, placing piles of perfectly stapled packets in neat stacks on her desk. She held a small pile of scantrons in her hand, and began to walk swiftly around the room, looking for each person as she read their names on each paper. Finally she strolled over to my desk, placed the scantrons face-down on the flat surface (a bad sign), and said “See me in my office during your lunch please.” I nodded then rolled my eyes at her and made a face when she turned away. Slowly, painfully, and reluctantly, I placed my hand on the narrow piece of paper in front of me, slid it to the edge of my desk, and flipped it over, placing it back on the desk. All I saw was pink. It could have had the word “Fail” written all over it. I didn’t even bother to look at my score. There were literally more numbers with a pink dash next to them than there were without. I looked down at the brown carpet and let out of a sigh of frustration.

Since my day was already starting out crappy, I decided I might as well make it crappier by spending my lunch period with the feminist. It couldn’t get much worse than that, could it? Fifth period rolled around too soon, and instead of quickly making my way towards my lunch table, I forced one foot in front of the other and eventually made it around three corners, down the long hallway, and at the huge double-doors of the social studies office, purposely taking the longest route I could in a square-shaped building. I stood there for a second, thinking about how I would be able to keep my big mouth shut about the whole feminism thing that bothered me about my so-called teacher/man-hater/queen of dissatisfaction. The more I thought about it, the blanker my conclusions seem to be.

Eventually I got myself to open the door. There seemed to be a hundred people in the office, mostly teachers with a few students here and there. The teachers’ huge desks were organized in groups of four, like they were in my math class, and the groups made a line down the center of the room. Bookshelves stood tall and filled behind every desk. Between all the people, desks, and bookshelves, I spotted my feminist teacher waving at me, smiling amiably. I force a fake smile like Kennedy’s, grunted under my breath, and slowly walked towards her, my hands stuffed into my pockets, my nails digging into my skin beneath the thin layer of fabric.

After what seemed like eternity, I finally got to her desk and plotted down in the seat across from her, dreading the long lunch period ahead of me. After we got through all the annoying small talk, she finally started going through each question and explaining to me why my answer was wrong, and what the right answer should have been. The 1950’s were all about conformity, Roosevelt came up with the New Deal, and Truman’s thing was the Truman Doctrine. Listening to only half of what she was saying, I couldn’t resist asking her the one real question I had. The crowded social studies office was packed with teachers working at their desks, making copies, talking to students, and planning meetings. A group of teachers sat at a table, happily conversing while eating they lunch. “Hey, Ms. G? Why are you a feminist?” She stopped talking then, and looked at me, surprised at first. Only then did she realize I was benefitting very little from this meeting, so she considered my question for a moment and then responded thoughtfully, “Because I believe in equal rights for men and women.” Bull. She didn’t want equal rights, she wanted superiority over men. “Don’t you already have that?” She smiled and shook her head thoughtfully. She explained to me how that was what most people thought but it wasn’t actually true. Lots of women, even today, are getting paid less than their male counterparts without even knowing. I looked at my teacher, my feminist teacher, sitting across from me, hands crossed lightly on her lap, back perfectly straight, her voice soft, gentle, and kind. I wondered if she had ever experienced this firsthand. She tilted her head sideways ever so slightly, and, as if she had read my thoughts, she started talking about how women were often treated unequally – and she had been one of them at the last school she worked at. She told me how her boss had put her down so often, how he had put rude and insulting letters and pictures in her mailbox. She told me how she had talked to him about it, been ignored, and eventually quit her job.

I sat back in my plastic chair and looked at my teacher’s face. I saw the dark circles under her eyes that told me she worked too hard. I saw how no matter how hard she worked, her green eyes were always bright. I couldn’t help but smile when she told me how she had quit her job. I glanced at the window next to me and saw that even though the blinds were shut, the sun was shining behind them. I reached over and gently pulled the blinds up.





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