We Are America

Voices of the Nation's Future

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Photo ofKeely O'Beirne

I grew up going to a Catholic school. I started there in preschool when I was just three years old, and I stayed there till 8th grade. The school was a huge chunk of my childhood.  It was an extremely strict school, but it did teach me a lot of good qualities. They taught me to have a great work ethic and advanced academic skills, such as writing ten-page research papers as early as 4th grade. But I have since realized that they taught me something else – something I had to un- learn.  I remember in preschool, around Thanksgiving, we were having Grandparents’ Day. Our grandparents came in, and we did crafts and performed for them. All the boys in the class made pilgrim hats while all the girls made skirts. When we performed our songs, all the boys sang about going out and hunting and doing manly things to get ready for Thanksgiving, and we girls sang about cooking and getting ready to feed our families.  I realize now that at a young age, I was being taught that men did hard work and girls do all the household chores.  These gender roles were taught to us again and again. They were constantly present. In 6th grade, near the end of the school year, our principal took all the boys out of the class so they could carry all the desks out of the class- room while the girls stayed behind to wash the floor and dust the room.  In 8th grade, since we were such a small school, all the students were as- signed jobs to help out. The boys were given jobs like delivering heavy water jugs or milk crates to classes, while girls were given jobs such as lunch monitors, where we helped the younger students get ready for lunch and we watched them to make sure they didn’t make a mess.  It never even crossed my mind that any of this was weird, or that we girls could be doing all the “manly” jobs, too. I had grown up in this environment, where the guys did the hard work and the girls cleaned up after them. Since I was three, it had just always been this way, so nothing ever seemed strange. And I don’t think it was anyone’s intentions for things to be this way––it was just how it had always been, and my principal and teachers seemed to see nothing wrong with how things were going.  Everything changed when I started in high school. I went from a very tiny private school to a huge public high school with thousands of kids. Every- thing was different and I was introduced to so much amazing diversity.  My freshman year I met so many amazing people who opened my mind up to so many new things. My freshman English teacher was a very strong feminist, and I never really understood feminism until talking to her. With her constant support and belief in women, she made me realize how a woman can do absolutely anything a man can do, and that all genders should be given equal opportunity.  I remember having heated debates with another student in her class be- cause he believed feminism was women thinking they are superior to men, but I felt he couldn’t be more wrong. All women are asking for is equality.  Since coming to high school, I’ve grown so much. I’ve come to the realization that we need to work on breaking the gender stereotypes that are perpetuated in schools, because gender and identity should not limit anyone’s opportunity. 

© Keely O'Beirne. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person’s teacher.