The Smiling Girl and the Frowning Girl

DespairPicture, for a moment, two little girls in grade school. On report card day, they take home their cards, one with a smile and one with a frown.

The smiling girl’s card reads: “Demonstrates fantastic leadership skills in group situations.”

The frowning girl’s card reads: “Needs to learn to work cohesively in a group setting instead of always trying to take control.”

The grades on the card show that the frowning girl has better average grades than the smiling girl. They live in the same neighbourhood. They are the same race. Their families are in the same economic bracket. The only difference between the two girls is their social standing. The smiling girl is popular; the frowning girl is not.

I was that frowning girl for years and years. In fact, during one school year, a smiling girl from another group would eavesdrop on my group and use all the ideas I suggested that my group rejected. Inevitably, the smiling girl’s group would get the best marks in the class, far better than any of them would normally have gotten. Therefore, the smiling girl would lead her group to victory. Just as inevitably, the teacher would have to get involved with my group to get it working together, with all the group members pointing their fingers at me as the trouble-maker.

Grade after grade with “A” report cards with “needs improvement” for group involvement and I finally got sick of it. To prove that I could work well in a group, I took the members of the group aside and told them I’d do all the work and they could just sit around and do nothing, and the most popular girl could be the ‘leader’. I converted an entire novel into a play single-handedly. All my group had to do was perform it, which they did with gusto (because what group of girls in Grade Six honestly doesn’t want to be actors when they grow up?). The group got a perfect score. The ‘smiling girl’ got the normal kudos; I got a satisfactory for publicly keeping my mouth shut while privately doing all their homework for them.

What did that ever teach them or me? For me, it taught me how unfair the school system can be, and how short sighted. Perhaps it taught them that they can simply walk over the ‘little guy’. The Smiling Girl, and there were many versions of her over the years, was always encouraged by the teacher. The teacher always told her to take control, always taught her to lead. I was always told to be quiet and stop being bossy. I once tried to mimic what the teacher told the smiling girl to do, and I got into even more trouble for being disruptive to the group atmosphere. In fact, the teacher once threatened me with a detention for having overheard one of my group members calling me a horrible name.

It could be that that school was in a close-knit community and the teachers were often friends with the parents of their students, officially or unofficially. This is the same school, after all, that I went to the principal with the physical evidence of being bullied only to be told to stop making up stories (fresh bruises and scrapes, for note), and there another teacher told me I’d get in trouble if I reported the verbal abuse I was suffering at the hands of my fellow students.

I can only hope things have gotten better. I hope this for the future of my sons. However, I sincerely doubt anything has changed.

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