‘Girls Don’t Have Brains’: How I Combatted Inferiority and Inequality - Personal PieceDec 29, 2021 02:00PM ● By Umme Orthy
For five years in Bangladesh, I attended a private, coed primary school. Every day when I went to class, I sat at the back with all the other girls, while the boys sat in the front row. Girls were given the old textbooks, whereas boys were given new textbooks. Also, when girls raised their hands to answer a question, most teachers would not call on them to respond.
The unfairness of this two-tiered system was lost on me at the time. As a girl in Bangladesh, I understood this not as inequality, but as a convention. It is an accepted practice to discriminate against girls when it comes to education, health, and economic opportunities. I did not have the faintest idea then that girls were marginalized in many aspects of life in Bangladesh. We were made to believe that it is okay for girls to have fewer opportunities. I was taught that I can’t have the same freedoms, resources, and opportunities as boys. As a result, a kind of inferiority complex took hold of me.
However, as I got older, I became more aware of this unequal circumstance. One time, I asked to participate in a knowledge competition, and one of the female teachers said, “You had better not compete with the boys, you won’t be able to win.”
“Really? Why?” I asked.
“Girls don’t have brains,” she said with a mocking tone. “Only boys are fit for the competition.”
I did not reply after that. I realized she had also been made to believe that girls are inferior in every aspect of life.
A few years later, after arriving in the United States, I enrolled in school. When I walked into the classroom for the first time, I lowered my head, found a place in the back of the room, and sat on the floor. I shuffled timidly and looked toward Ms. James. She pursed her lips and frowned. I panicked and asked myself, “Did I do something wrong? Was I disrespectful? Did I obey the rule?” My mind was racing.
“Umme, what are you doing?” she asked calmly.
I didn’t respond.
“Come sit at the front, next to Jack, okay?” She smiled and reached out her hand, pulling me forward and leading me to the first row to sit next to a boy, something I would never dream of doing back home. There, sitting at the front of the classroom, I felt an excited tingle in my stomach. This is where I wanted to be, this is where I belonged. At the front of the classroom, besides the boys and, of course, the girls.
That front-row seat made me more confident and more motivated to face challenges and opportunities that, in my homeland, I was made to believe were meant for boys only.
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