When I was younger, people used to compliment me saying I was intelligent. They also used to tell me that I was a beautiful girl. But, because of my background, I saw all they said as flattery. You see, my father happened to be a man with strong traditional views on gender. He strictly believed that women and girls didn’t have the right to be heard and are worthless.
In the house, he always makes decisions for my mother, my sister and I. Only my brothers were allowed to contribute when decisions needed to be made. Sometimes, those decisions are to our detriment, but we dare not speak out because papa would say, we have grown wings and now think we are wiser than the men in the house. I thus grew up with low self-esteem and serious lack of confidence.
To my credit I was a brilliant and intelligent people in school but, whenever I didn’t understand what we were being taught, I never asked questions because the mere thought of people looking at me or considering my questions as stupid was enough to keep the question stuck in my throat. There was this man who used to teach us history and I always wondered where he graduated from. All the man always taught was rubbish as he was fond of mixing things up. I used to read ahead of the class, so I knew the real facts, but I was never so courageous as to confront the man and his teachings.
When I got to my final class, I was surprisingly made the head girl of my school. Many teachers and students thought I deserved it because of my academic record, while some wee of the opinion that I lacked the charisma that came with the post. On my part, I was terrified and didn’t know what to do. I never punished any student and the junior students began taking me for a ride. As head girl, I was supposed to have a weekly discussion class with the school girls, but I pleaded with other female students to help me out because I couldn’t imagine myself standing and talking to about 300 girls.
The school counsellor noticed how shy and reserved I was, and how these affected my performance as senior prefect. She called me one day and bombarded me with questions. Judging by my response, she concluded that I had a lot to offer the school, but I lacked the confidence to do so. Mrs. Irogherior then told me that I was selected as head girl in order to positively impact on other students and learn a lesson myself. She also schooled me on how to act in different situations and gave me a book on public speaking and leadership.
When I left her office, I had a burning desire to change my ways, be more outgoing and lead students aright. That weekend, I cut my hair because I knew that would attract the attention of teachers and students alike. I digested the ideas and suggestions I had gotten from the book and got myself prepared for a whole new life. All through the weekend, I practiced speaking to an audience using mama’s mirror to perfect my non-verbal language.
The next Monday I walked into the school with my shoulders held high and cool air around me. I greeted everyone with a cool smile and new-found confidence. People were so surprised to see shy little Maureen looking so beautiful and confident. While assembly was on, I climbed the podium and gave a two-minute speech on gender inequality. The thundering applause I got after the speech boosted my self-esteem the more. In the class, Mr. Oni taught us Pre-colonial administration and I asked two questions to clarify what I had in mind. During break, I didn’t sit back in my corner but mingled with my classmates who didn’t hide their surprise at the new me.
On Wednesday, at the school hall, I gave a lecture on how to cope with peer pressure. I like the response I got and decided the stage had an attraction for me after all. I rushed to my counsellor’s office hugged her and thanked her for helping me get out of my shell.
The next Saturday, father announced that only the boys in the house will proceed to the university and that I was to get a job after my final exams. To everyone’s shock, I stood up and told him that I had as much right as my brothers to further my education and become an attorney. He asked me to shut up but I insisted that I had every right to be heard. Fortunately, he didn’t flog me but said I would have to look for means to sponsor my education.
Four years down the line, I am in the third year In the University holding the post of Vice-President of Students’ Union Government. I pay my way through school with the money I get from being a motivational speaker. Public speaking not only helps in my office as V.P. of the S.U.G. but also prepares me for the journey ahead as a lawyer. I have also matured an intelligent, confident, beautiful and talented young woman who is never scared of making mistakes and of what people will think of my speeches. I have learnt that if I prepare well, I would deliver well. I also discovered that people take you just the way you take yourself. Now, the attention I once detested is what I now crave.