15 March 2010

The Lure of Harbour Cay

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Recently I have been having a series of compelling conversations with a somewhat-mature (okay, older) man about a daydream we both-- quite innocently-- discovered we share. I do not remember which of us brought it up first, but it's gone on some three nights or so now and finally I mentioned the gist of it to my parents.

Of course anyone knows I do not chat about anything inappropriate. It's not that kind of daydream! But I do often indulge people's imaginations, like to say, 'If you could live anywhere, where would you live?' --or 'If you could do any job, what would you do?' --and then, of course, ask why. And that evolves into a sensible, interesting discussion. (It's certainly more respectable than asking, 'If you could touch me anywhere, where would you touch me first?' --right? I mean I really don't need to know THAT kind of daydream from anyone!)

The daydream we discussed was about finding a private tropical island somewhere and then what one's life would be like if he or she had the opportunity to live there. I learned that a woman's fantasy about that is very different from a man's. For one thing, the man dreams of having some shack that requires no maintenance at all, a lazy man's retreat, if you will. Most men would probably like to avoid all forms of work, like home maintenance, personal hygiene, laundry, shaving, and so on. Also, a man would probably like to go fishing all day long, whenever he wants to. And, of course, he dreams of having some beautiful young (female) thing there to share it all with.

As a woman I dream of having some small but beautiful house for which I don't have to do all the work (that's the fantasy part). I don't like fishing and would rather eat fruit, or cultivate an orchard like we had at Lewes, and just pick whatever I want to eat whenever I want to eat it. I think that walking, swimming, and climbing trees along with a mostly-fruit diet would probably keep me strong and slender. I'm pretty sure I would shave at least as much as I do now, and I cannot abide my hair at all once it's been a day or two since a good shampooing. But as far as laundry is concerned I think I would be pretty happy with not having to worry about any of it (beyond what nature makes absolutely necessary for a week or so each month of course).

And just maybe, if he were the right choice, I would like to have a special someone to share it all with.

My friend online actually looked up 'Islands for sale' under Google and discovered a whole web site from some estate agents in Belize advertising about a dozen whole islands as well as parcels on slightly-larger islands. The islands are mostly small-- under 15 acres. Once I saw a few pictures of them I was infatuated and browsed them all till very late one night. I decided upon Harbour Cay. It's five acres and is for sale at $550,000. Honestly.

Harbour Cay has a natural lagoon, sheltered on almost four sides, about 6 or 7 feet deep. The whole island is to the north of the lagoon with only a narrow spit south of it, and the entrance to the west-southwest makes it perfect for sheltering a yacht in a hurricane. The interior is lovely, all soft green grass populated by small trees that have grown back since the last time some dreamer cleared it and left off the project. The advert says it might need filling to be high enough above the tide levels, but if one were to dredge the lagoon to about 8 or 9 feet, to accommodate a decent sailboat, there would be enough from that to fill a building site quite well.

I studied it (for at least an hour into the night) and decided where I would put my house. Now, my house would not be a low-maintenance shack. It would be an elegant little low-maintenance pirate's retreat, the kind of place an 18th-century sea captain would retire to when he gave up his ship to settle down, full of Oriental carpets, tile fireplaces, wooden panelling, mahogany furniture, and all (much like a small version of this house, and simpler). It would be of block, like this house is, with the local sand providing about half the concrete ingredients. It would have a three- or four-storey tower surrounded by lower wings, two bedrooms on the second floor, a ballroom, dining room and small parlour on the first, a semidetached kitchen and pantry, and then at the end of a long cloister bridge, a guest room. The first storey would be about 6 feet off the ground in case of flooding. Across the lagoon there is a knob of land jutting out where I would have another tower, only two storeys, with a guest room on the bottom floor, really just as a kind of landmark or lookout point as though to protect the harbour entrance.

That made me think of protection. Maybe, being a woman, I care more about this than some people might. But I can't imagine the southwestern Caribbean to be profoundly free of crime. I started thinking about black-powder guns mounted on the parapets of the towers, and then thought maybe just a good World War II machine gun. The problem would be in getting actual ammunition. I don't suppose World War II machine-gun bullets are very easy to come by even in Belize. This is why I fall back on my typically 18th-century idea of black powder. I just don't know how or where I would like to store it, since it's very volatile. (Daddy does not keep all of his in the house, only what will fit in the small safety niche he has in the kitchen fireplace stack. That's actually the traditional way of storing it at home.)

And then came the fateful storm on Saturday, when the power went out for five and a half hours, and (by candlelight, appropriately) I looked into Daddy's now-dated catalogue from that place in Ohio where all the Amish shop that's full of appliances that don't use electricity. (We got our kitchen stove there.) And I got to thinking, that my version of the tropical-island house has too many bathrooms and toilets that wouldn't really work. I mean-- where do you get water pressure to flush if the whole island is flat? And why do you need private bathrooms if the whole island is private? Wouldn't just one composting toilet, maybe in the basement, be good enough?

Anyway I did make the mistake of mentioning this idea to my dad, who immediately poured over the whole website and concluded, as I did, that Harbour Cay is the very plum of the whole selection, and for the same reasons I said. We then started drawing plans on his computer using the home-design programme he has (he designed this house with it). We ironed out a lot of the issues I had and came up with more problems and then solved those too. And then, of course, Daddy had to mention it at dinner.

'Five hundred thousand dollars,' he said. 'Empty lots in South Jersey cost more than that.'

Mother only shook her head, smiling. 'They're improved, dear,' she said. 'Where do we get water? --or power?'

'We make it,' he said, 'or we do without.' Then he and I ranted on about our ideas so far. This got Jessy and Lisa and even JJ all enthused about it and we all went on and on and on till someone, I don't remember which of us, realised that this wasn't such a kooky plan but could actually work. I mean-- Daddy has offshore savings accounts, and, as he said, Belize is as good a place as any to invest. It's politically stable, it's actually enjoying a pretty good investment market, it's got a temperate climate, it's mostly improved with power, cable TV, and Internet, it's full of North American necessities like natural gas, gasoline, fresh water supplies and sewage systems, everyone speaks English and the US dollar is taken everywhere. And Harbour Cay is hardly remote, only about five miles offshore and therefore within sight of a mainland boatyard. Theoretically we lived farther offshore than that when we lived at Long Beach Island!

Daddy said it would be cool to fly down and have a look at it. After all, if they know who he is, it's sure that they'll consider him seriously as a potential customer. Lots of retired rock musicians buy properties in the Caribbean. He could probably even get a good deal on it.

Then Mother said, 'Well, you can't blame me if I think it's a little nuts to just pack up and leave for some tropical island on a second's notice like this.'

We all sighed and looked at her. Mother is as much a daydreamer as anyone, but she's also too intelligent to give over all sense, you know. Daddy sighed too. 'I suppose you're right,' he said quietly.

'I mean,' Mother said, not quite looking up yet, 'I've put away all my swimsuits. You'd have to give me about twenty minutes.'

When she looked up we were all staring back at her with our mouths hanging open. I still have shivers in my spine from it.


Older men and young women

Thursday, 11 March 2010

The regularly-scheduled meeting of our girls' social club convened in our basement, as the last few have done. We have been holding them-- believe it or not-- in the TV theatre room, because it works pretty well as a small auditorium. There are couches on the platform across the back to seat about seven girls (if they all truly like each other) and chairs and a couch in front to see five more. The club officers (that would be me, Jessy, Paulette and Rita) sit in chairs in front of the TV screen (which does NOT get turned on till the whole meeting's actual agenda gets accomplished, honest. And no, we don't use PowerPoint). The club numbers 14 now, plus Lisa when she thinks to wander in. No-one thinks she is a bother and she is rarely conspicuous-- unless someone grabs her to sit on a lap, as happened tonight.

We did not, however, quite get to finish the whole agenda because of someone else making an interruption. And though the interruption came from the far end of the house, it was more than anyone wanted to ignore for long.

Daddy has recently started jamming with a couple of guys from the neighbouring area, two brothers about his age who like a lot of the same '80s music. They set up the guitar amps and a PA system in the 'work room' that connects Mother's exercise room to the garages and meet there about once a week just to drink beer and run through their repertoire. They have no drummer and usually just use an electronic rhythm box, but often they are singing or telling jokes to each other through the PA and it's kind of hard to not hear them.

I really do not know why they did not observe the five or six extra cars in the front yard tonight. Maybe they did.

Anyway Lisa jumped off Sally's lap and went running in the moment she recognised one of Daddy's old songs, and, of course, being Lisa, she left the door open. Obviously she left the door to the exercise room open too, for next we were inundated with super-distortion guitar sounds and someone (one if his friends, not Daddy) wailing out lyrics. The girls all giggled, then one or two got up to look out the door, and by 8.30 the meeting was pretty much over. I got up, planted my hands on my hips, and stomped down through the house to scold you-know-who (I don't mean Lisa). I got down there and Daddy was just sitting down to the drums-- oh, right, now he has drums in there! --to play. The three men (and Lisa) all looked up and I stood my ground. I was still in the navy-blue tights and plaid club skirt and grey club sweatshirt and still with my hands on my hips. I must have looked like a very angry Sunday-school teacher.

'Oh, hello,' Daddy said, from behind the drums. Then-- drum crash, cymbals, cymbals, cymbals, cymbals....

'"Oh, hello"?' I said. 'Did you happen to know there's a meeting going on the other end of this house?'

The men laughed. Daddy looked a little sheepish. 'Oh, but I thought the doors were closed.'

Then I turned and scowled at Lisa. She immediately got a little red and scurried round behind the drums-- where, of course, Daddy put her on her lap. Before I could get out another word she was tapping cymbals.

Someone looked up and when I turned round there were five or six faces crowding in the door behind me. This was not a good omen.

And 'omen' is what I call it, for it did portend the next hour and a half, namely that first I, and then Jessy, and then a few other girls, all had to-- really were told to, but it amounts to the same thing-- sing along to whatever the men played. I personally sang lead on 'Favorite Waste of Time' and, ironically, 'Favorite Mistake'. Jessy sang with Daddy on 'Stop Dragging My Heart Around'. Lisa sang 'Stop In The Name of Love' (yes, she knows it-- we were all 'raised on the classics' as Daddy says. And she has the volume for it). Some other people sang some other songs. Mother came down with iced tea and, of course, little JJ, whose room is two storeys above the exercise room and so he couldn't get to sleep either. Mother would not be prevailed upon to sing-- not in front of Daddy's friends anyway. But when JJ had been taken back up stairs after falling asleep in the party room down the hall and Lisa was being tucked into bed, Mother descended to the big parlour and sat at the piano in the near-darkness. I heard her tender touch from the kitchen and for fear of disturbing her only lurked just the other side of the open doorway in the small parlour.

It was one of Daddy's songs (I shall not say which), the ballad he had given A Certain British Ingenue during his sojourn in London. It's Mother's half-sister's favourite work if his. But who knew Mother knew it so well?

I listened whilst she played it, with no hesitation or mistakes, and my eyes went wet. Only Daddy's footfalls as he came up to the kitchen, about to find her there himself, made me tiptoe out to the front hall and dash up stairs.


Go-go, GAGA

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Following last week's meeting with the school administration staff, a schedule has been set up for the GAGA 'executive board' to meet regularly with the principal, or assistant principal(s), to discuss current issues of harassment as perceived by students. First, of course, we had to name an 'executive board'. Most of the girls named me to it. I refused, of course, but then saw their point, that as one of the eldest students involved in this (my birthday being in December) I should have some sense of wisdom to impart here. Also, whether they like me or not (there is ample evidence on both sides), the assistant principals both know me and how to deal with me. So, I accepted.

The rest of the weekly delegation shall consist of Becky as recording secretary, one of Jessy's classmates acting sort of as 'vice president" (though I certainly throw off the suggestion that I am therefore the 'president' --I prefer 'paralegal' --ha!) and two floating delegates who are to be chosen by agenda at the preceding GAGA meeting (which is on Thursday afternoon) so that all members of GAGA have the opportunity to participate at least partly in the process. You'd be surprised how many of these girls don't really want to be 'on the front lines' in these administration meetings. Then you might be surprised about which girls actually do want to be.

Becky has developed into an intimidating force for righteousness. Even though she only takes notes, she has had a lot to contribute at the preparatory meetings we've had over the last week. This afternoon on her way down the gallery to the meeting she was swinging her clipboard under her arm and whistling 'When Johnny Goes Off To War Again' --which in itself is kind of scary, but, of course, also funny. She is thrilled to be part of a process by which she can leave a legacy on people who might otherwise never have noticed her. And, of course, she is very responsible towards that legacy and I am sure it will only be positive.

My sister Jessy couldn't really care less. She sat in on last week's meeting and because she chose to not sit in on this week's she kind of initiated the floating-delegate concept. This is good, though, because it does give other girls a chance and because, in her softhearted, egalitarian way, she refuses to allow there to be any kind of hierarchy in the GAGA movement. All girls are equal-- they should not have to defer to others' voices all the time. And she is right about that, and that's really the whole point of GAGA in the first place.

Today's meeting was to establish certain terms, definitions of things like 'harassment' as opposed to 'bullying' (one is inadvertent and careless, and one is deliberate and nasty) and a process for registering complaints, especially anything that happens between meetings. We did all agree that nothing a student considers either 'bullying' or 'harassment' should be shelved till some arbitrary time like the next GAGA meeting. It has to be stopped at the very moment it happens. ('What's right to be done can never be done too soon' --Jane Austen.) The APs assured us they would handle such issues just like any other behaviour problem, with the same degree of timeliness and severity as they've always considered appropriate.

It's important to remember that our complaint is not that our APs act too slowly or too leniently. They don't. Our complaint is that they do not recognise that some of the age-old policies of this school are in themselves the problems we girls face. This is a quiet, rural, working-class area, and people just aren't attuned to racism or sexism the way Jessy and I are used to. And you might think it's not a problem, but being a girl I have seen how some girls feel absolutely belittled by what everyone else, even female teachers, thinks is just 'the way things are'. So we hope to do is show how people-- everyone, from the superintendent on down to the newest freshmen-- can demonstrate sincere respect for each other and therefore receive more respect for themselves as well. And, of course, part of that means treating a young lady like a young lady.

The really sad part of all this is that Jessy and I, and, by extension, our parents, have been accused of being 'liberal Northerners' and even by some people we might have thought had more respect and even admiration for our differences. So let me make this perfectly clear-- I may have been born about 11 miles north of the Mason-Dixon line, but I have spent all my life (but the two years in England) living south of it. And my father is about as liberal as Margaret Thatcher. In spite of being in the rock-and-roll music business, he did grow up under the 1980s concept of 'compassionate conservatism' and really does live the ideal of 'noblesse oblige' --the absolute requirement that the good people must do the right thing. If you knew him personally, you would quickly put aside the longish hair and the ripped jeans and the (sometimes shockingly) up-to-date vocabulary and especially the super-distortion guitar volume, and you would see a real, bona-fide, dyed-in-the-wool old-fashioned Christian gentleman, someone George Washington or Robert Walpole would definitely respect. And Mother, 23 years younger than he, is no less the traditional country lady with her homemade pies and gentle Old-World sweetness and her devout love for the divinity of Jesus-- and her impassioned ferocity whenever she sees anything even slightly unfair. So as compassionate conservatives, we donate liberally (of our own free will and to whom we choose), keep the neighbourhood roads and greenways clean, conserve energy as well as money, refrain from polluting from the lawn, pool, rubbish, or boats, and most especially practise respect towards everyone else, whether 'less fortunate' or not, regardless of race, heritage, native language, or gender identity. The good people do the right thing-- and no so-called liberal ought to disagree with that, whichever way we happen to vote.

In this way the GAGA movement reminds me of President Lincoln, who insisted that 'noblesse oblige' rule the day--

'Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'

If it takes another four years of GAGA girls standing up for respect and sitting down arguing with administrators till all girls in this county feel comfortable and safe and respected at school and in their community, as they always ought to have felt over all of the last 200 years, like ladies whose reputations are as important to them as a man's pride, then none of that time and effort is wasted. Lincoln would have agreed-- in fact, his Second Inaugural Address shows that he did.

And, for what it's worth, Lincoln was not a liberal! [wink]


01 March 2010

Time will tell

Wednesday 24 February 2010

I walked through the corridor at school this morning feeling really refreshed. My cold is not gone, of course, but staying home yesterday helped (even if all I did was type on the computer all day) and my voice is still raspy and sore but least I can talk today. I had on my black sweater and black tights and a really cute bronze-coloured wool skirt and my black booties and I felt really good about myself, like nothing was going to let me down. This is what an imbecile I am.

At homeroom is when the notes get passed round. You get passes to the nurse, to guidance, for early dismissal... and from your friendly neighbourhood school administrators. Mine was in an envelope--

'Sorry about your illness-- hope you are feeling better today. We have considered the girls' letter and are eager to meet with your panel this afternoon in the main office conference room. Please check in with the office this morning if you are able to make it.'

This cordial little note was signed with the principal's initials.

I sat and stared at it till the bell rang. Jessy met me in the corridor and saw me with the note in my hand. 'You got yours?'

I nodded. 'How many are there?'

'Just the exec board got them,' she said-- meaning the four of us who act as officers of the girls' club. The school administration are apparently mistaking the girls' social club for the GAGA movement. The GAGA movement doesn't exactly have officers, so maybe that's why.

I suggested we invite two of the other girls who are not in the club but who have been vocal about the bigger (GAGA) issues. Jessy agreed. We reconvened the nucleus of this meeting over lunch and agreed on the six people who would make up the board. From then on I began to feel nervous. Before eighth period I went into the lavatories and rang Mother. 'They're calling us in this afternoon,' I said.

She knew what that was about. She asked who was on the panel and I told her and then she said, 'Do you need me for anything?'

I thought about it. I really did feel like I needed guidance, you know. But I would be brave. 'No, Mother. It'll be all right. We have a legitimate cause, you know. We'll just say that we expect something good out of it.'

'Something good will come out of it, Janine. Because you are right.'

'Thanks, Mother.'

'God bless you, good girl. Call if you need me.'

That made me feel better. And I was not late to history class.

Rather than to all wander in to the meeting at different times, we all met in the front hall, just lingering as though we were waiting for a bus, and then at 2.20 we turned and marched en masse in to the conference room. The APs were already there, the child-study team guy was there, and my guidance counsellor, as on the other day. The principal came in a moment later. We had not even sat down yet. 'Ah,' he said, 'so this is it, then? The delegation?'

None of us responded to that. It sounded insincere. We were waved to sit down and there were not enough chairs, so someone got two more and we were able to sit in a semicircle at the end of the table. The AP (not Mr H--, but the female one) began by reading over the letter, of which we all had copies. I just nodded a lot.

Mr H-- said, 'We know that you girls have some issues with what you perceive the administration does regarding sexual-harassment cases in this school.'

The girls all looked at me, but I just nodded. Becky sat next to me, taking notes-- she was writing down their exact words (from which I have got most of this). The principal, who was sort of near her, leaned his head over to read what she wrote. It didn't matter-- truth is truth.

Mr H-- said, 'We want to assure you that none of this is personal, that no-one on this administration has anything against any of you personally, no matter what might have happened in the past.'

We all just nodded again.

'And we want to assure you-- to reassure you-- that we will continue to do all we can to ensure that you girls-- that all students in this school-- have the safest, healthiest learning environment that we can possibly provide.'

And we all just nodded again. Say nothing, that was what we had decided. Let them make the first move.

'Your letter addresses some specific concerns,' the other AP said. 'Such as... rude comments-- what you called "sexual innuendo" coming from teachers as well as students. Can you give some specific examples?'

I looked round and they were all looking at me. I pointed at Sherry first. Sherry nodded and gave an account of how she an administrator called her a 'player' because some boy she did not like was able to corner her in the cafeteria and kiss her against her will. Becky mentioned that her PE teacher (the male one) had told her to move her 'fat butt' during class. I mentioned Mr H--'s comments to me in the office about Sherry's detention. Jessy spoke up and contributed her experience about one of her teachers laughing when one of the boys in her class called her a 'foxy piece of ***'. (She actually said the word too. Sometimes Jessy can shock you.)

The administrators before us all stared with their eyes wide open or else looked down at the table. That guy from the child-study team was writing everything down at full speed.

So was Becky.

'The letter,' I said, 'requests you as the administration only to enforce what is already your job to enforce. We know the code-- we've seen it. We are wondering why the teachers and administrators don't seem to care about it.'

The (female) AP said, 'This thing about your teacher--' she wagged her finger-- 'Jessy, is it? When did that happen?'

'About a month ago,' said Jessy.

'And you didn't report it? Why not?'

'I said something to the teacher about it,' Jessy said. 'I don't think anything got done.' She looked at me then. Deliberately I would not look at her.

'Well, we can't do anything if we don't hear about it,' the (female) AP said.

'Are we supposed to be put in the position of having to report teachers to their superiors?' I asked.

They all looked at me. The principal-- not looking at me then-- said, 'If that's what it takes, yes.'

The other administrators all agreed with that. Then the AP said, 'You say that students have harassed you too.'

'They have,' I said. The principal asked us to give details. We had (written down in our presentation notes) four cases which were enough for examples. None of the cases was minor-- like, in this blog I mentioned my sister being gawked at. That's going to happen, but really it's just rude and stupid. The cases we mentioned were more like guys making rude comments on a girl's appearance when teachers did nothing about it, guys asking girls for sexual favours (not just dates) during school time, and administrators not taking seriously any girls' complaints about anything like this.

The female AP fixed her eyes on me and asked, 'Why do you wear a skirt to school every day, or nearly every day?'

I fixed my eyes on her. 'Why do you?'

'I don't, not always,' she said. She hadn't today.

'Neither do I,' I said.

'I have noticed you've been wearing skirts nearly every day since the winter break.' ('Winter break' is what American public schools call 'Christmas'. It's okay to declare it a public holiday, but not okay to say the name of the occasion for it.)

I said, 'I don't think it matters what I wear. I'm a lady, and I wear skirts. I'm still entitled to respect, which I am not getting.'

'Do you ever think that your choice of wardrobe invites a certain kind of attention?' she asked me.

'That's a sexist comment,' Becky said immediately.

'Yes it is,' Jessy said immediately after that.

'It's not a girl's fault that she has the body she has,' Sherry said. 'Or even that she's a girl to begin with. The whole point of discrimination is that you can't hold us to a different standard because we're girls.'

'And happen to dress like girls,' Jessy said. She had worn a nice skirt today too.

'I never thought I dressed inappropriately,' I said to the other girls, as though I were sincerely disappointed, you know. Then I turned round and looked at the AP. 'I thought I was dressing to look serious, and to show respect for the school, the teachers and what I have to do here.'

'That hardly matters to a bunch of teenaged boys,' Mr H-- said then.

'"Boys will be boys",' I said cynically then. 'Is that really what you want to say at this point?'

'Now, then--'

'So,' Jessy said, 'we should change how we dress and act because some idiot teenaged boys don't know how to act properly?'

'Maybe you need to,' the (female) AP said then.

'It's our school too,' said Bonnie, one of our other girls.

Mr H-- scoffed at us. 'Do you really expect to change that much of how all teenaged boys act? Unfair or not, wouldn't it be more sensible to play it a little safe?'

We all sat there with our mouths open for a moment. Then I pushed back the chair. 'Are we done, then? Is that what you're saying?'

'Tomorrow I'm wearing a swimsuit,' Jessy smirked then.

'No you're not,' the AP said. --and we all started to push back the chairs.

'Hold on,' the principal said.

We all stopped, pushed back from the table. 'Sir,' I said to him, 'if this is an educational institution, and it's supposed to be preparing people for the real world, is it too much to ask that you as an educator actually try to educate these miscreants?' He smiled when I said that. 'I mean-- I have been to places in the world most of these students haven't. And I know for sure that the way they behave, at times, would never pass anywhere but here-- maybe here. And, Sir, you know it too.'

He was nodding.

'And I was raised that if I have something good to offer people, I should try to share it with them. If what I have to offer is a good example, I'm going to try to set that good example. And I'm not wrong, Sir-- I'm not incorrect, and I think you know I'm not doing it out of ego.'

He was nodding.

'Because, Sir, you know as well as I do that if these... miscreants go out into the real world and see a young woman in a skirt, if they're standing there with tongues hanging out tossing sexist comments at her it's not going to fly. What if it's an employer or a bank lender-- or a police officer?'

'Police officers don't wear short skirts,' the AP said then.

I looked at her. 'Is it that you don't see my point, or do you just like mocking me?'

'I'm not mocking you--'

'I see your point,' said the principal, and then he looked round at the others then. 'I'm only uncomfortable because a student has to teach it to me.' Then he looked at me and smiled. 'But that's not something I mind, if it's a point well taken. So, Janine. What do you propose that we do? Be specific.'

I smiled a little back at him. 'Thank you, Sir,' I said. I couldn't resist glaring at the (female) AP then. Oh, and I glared at Mr H-- too. 'Well-- we're not asking to be treated like goddesses. Some girls at this school are completely inappropriate, and some boys are very gentlemanlike. But I do think that you, Sir, could speak to some teachers, maybe at a faculty meeting, let them know students have complained, let them know you take it seriously, and most importantly let them know that you believe it's a point well taken. That it's part of the... mission of a school to teach proper behaviour, for the real world.'

He nodded. 'I can do that,' he said.

'And please take it seriously when a girl comes in sincerely concerned about being treated impolitely. Some people won't say anything, some people will make a little thing into a big thing, but some of us will actually have a point to be well taken, Sir. And it only hurts when you're a girl and you realise no-one really takes you seriously, or like as long as you show enough leg it's not important. And it might be hard for some people-- I was taught not to use foul language and it's difficult if you ask me to repeat what someone might have said... but if that's what it takes maybe I could-- I don't know-- write it down or something.'

They all smiled then. Becky's hand was flying over the paper-- she was getting most of my words exactly. (The rest I have tried to remember.)

'But if it's serious, Sir-- and forgive me for saying this-- then you have to take it seriously. Look, we try to take you seriously, when you say we are under all these expectations. We do our work, we attend dances and club meetings, we are not inappropriate or disrespectful-- if I may say so, we're the students who hold up this school. We help make it look good. We're not your enemies.'

He was nodding. He tends to be quiet and to listen more than he talks, which is good. Jessy said, 'All we ask is that you respect us, Sir. And show us you do, by how you act, by how the school acts.'

He looked at her. 'I can do that,' he said. Then-- the moment of truth-- he looked round the rest of the administration at the table. 'Can we all do that?'

They all nodded. --the [female] AP last of all.

He asked if anyone had anything else, and no-one did. Then he said, 'What I would like to do, Janine, is to ask this group to meet back with us next week, so we can iron out some details. I think that if we're codifying a finer point about behaviour and expectations, we should have your input. Can we say... Wednesday next week? Can we all be here?'

This was agreed. The principal thanked us all, we girls thanked the administrators, and everyone got up to go. Then he asked me to wait a moment behind. The other girls lingered in the corridor-- Jessy leaned in the open doorway. Likewise the [female] AP stayed behind with the principal in the conference room. I got the feeling it was always going to be like this now, no one-on-one meetings without seconds present-- not because of the fear of inappropriate conduct (no, not at all!) but because of jurisprudence-- it's become all like a courtroom now, somewhat cold and formal even though there is grudging respect. We don't trust the school and the school doesn't trust us. Then the principal put out his hand.

'I'd like to thank you, Janine, for giving us a lesson we probably do deserve to hear, especially from a student.'

I took his hand and we shook on it. 'Thank you, Sir.'

'I'm not going to be blind, or proud, and say we haven't made mistakes. I only hope that working through these issues we can work as a team. Your eyes and ears in the hallways are as good as anyone's-- you, and your club, and all the girls you few here are representing. And you're right-- in some ways you very much uphold the good name of the school. I won't want to see that get tarnished.'

'I hope we can work through it too,' I said. 'All we want is to help.'

He nodded, and then followed me out to the corridor with Jessy. 'Majoring in English, hm?' he said, and then stopped and smiled at Jessy. 'See if you can convince your sister to take up law.'

Jessy laughed. 'Oh, she won't hear of it!' And we all laughed.