Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Diary of Zita Cecilia McNamara: A Case of Sexual Discrimination

Editor's Note: Click HERE to read Dr. C's previous post on the origin of Zita's diary. This entry begins with 13-year-old Zita writing to her guardian angel, "Bishop."

Dear Bishop (Age 18, Recap of Senior Year) Yes, it is time for me to move this digital letter writing along. You have a clear sense of how I have developed since those early teen years. Now, let me give a brief summary of my Senior Year in high school. First, let me share that attended a Catholic High School. It was a very unique school; it was like a little United Nations. Students from different ethnic and economic classes attended. And I must say I experienced four years of happiness during my high school years. The nuns, Sisters of Charity, were great teachers in so many ways. I actually considered becoming a nun because of them. However, obviously, from my earlier writings, that idea was dashed when I realized that I would have to make a choice between being a nun and having a boyfriend. The boyfriend won out. Still, I treasured so much the nuns who taught me. That is probably why I was so hurt when one seemed to “turn” on me.

When my senior year began, everyone and I knew who would be the valedictorian of my senior class. He was a very nice guy who was smart+. And I knew and shared with Mummy that Charlie and I would be in the running for salutatorian. Now, his strength was in the sciences. And I told Mummy during the beginning of the school year that would be the only way he would “beat” me. Of course, she encouraged me to do my best, which was not even a question that I would not try hard. I wanted to make my Mummy and Daddy proud.

Well, as I shared every year at my high school was a pleasant one. Since I went to small high school, my senior class advisor was the only one who took care of letters of recommendation for the whole class, all 44 of us, for college applications. And I must say she was very supportive of all of us, making sure we got our applications in early to various colleges we wanted to attend. And I can say all of the nuns worked hard to make certain everyone of us was well-prepared, going to college or not. 

I recall writing full five (yes, five!) research papers during that school year. And these were not short papers; each had to be at least ten (10) pages, not included including the reference pages. I recall complaining to Mummy about writing so many research papers. Oh boy, she shut me down real fast: “And what degree do you have Ms. Zita Cecilia Reyes?” Of course, I had to reply none. And she continued by saying, “The day you have one college degree, while the nuns have several, you can complain. Until then I do not want to hear another word of complaint from you. Besides, so you think the sisters need to know how to write research papers? This is to help YOU! So, I do not want to hear another word of complaint.” Well, no more complaining by me—not even privately—I was certain that Mummy had “x-ray” ears; I did not want to take any chances!

The school year progressed with the joy of looking forward to prom and all of the fun and hard work that a senior year offers. I as well as all of my college-bound classmates had been accepted to the colleges we wished to attend. We attended classes anticipating the end of the school year with joy and regrets. We knew we were prepared for the colleges we would be attending, but we regretted knowing that we would be going our separate ways, probably not seeing one another any time soon, if ever. 

Then, about a few days before the senior final exams, an unexpected experience occurred. I was in my Typing class doing my assignment along with my other classmates. Sister M, my Typing Instructor and English Instructor, had gotten us started with our typing lesson and walked out of the classroom. This was no big deal. She knew we were a good group who would do our typing lessons responsibly. 

My Senior Advisor, Sister M., the same nun who had been so very supportive of me throughout my whole senior year, returned and stood in the doorway and said loudly: “Zita, you always think you know it all. Well, you don’t.” I must say I was really taken off guard. I had no idea what motivated this statement. And she sounded so harsh. She continued: “Let me tell you that you need to gain some humility and straighten up!” 

My response? (Oh, if this had occurred when I was younger, my temper or what my favorite grade school nun would refer to as “your lack of self-control, "Zita, you must learn to exercise self-control and not always say what is on your mind. Hear me. One day you will be grateful for my working on this negative personality trait of yours,” I would have been kicked out of school. I could hear Sister Mary Michael’s words echo in my mind.) 

So, as cool as you please, I responded: “Sister, I do not know what you mean. I do not think that.” She continued yelling at me, so much so that other nuns came out of their classes to see what was the commotion. And as she continued to berate me, I remained as cool as you please and reiterated, “Sister, I am so sorry you are in such distress. I can assure you I do not feel as you state. I shall do whatever you want to reassure you that I have tried to remain humble as you and all my teachers have strived for me to be.” Then, in a huff, she turned around and walked out of the doorway and went somewhere. I did know or care where. My classmates knew I was upset and asked me, “What is wrong with her? Don’t let it bother you. She’ll be ok.”

Well, she might be, but I was not. Immediately, I went downstairs to the principal’s office. Sister J knew something was wrong when she saw my face with tears developing in my eyes. She welcomed me into her office; I shared with her the incident.

At the end of the day, I gained comfort from my boyfriend and other classmates. Then, I went home.

When I walked in the door, my Mummy instinctively knew something was wrong. I told her what happened. And Daddy, who was in the bedroom lying down for a little rest before dinner and his going to his second job, responded. He yelled out from the bedroom, “What did you say? Were you disrespectful to the nun?” “No, Daddy, I knew I should never talk back to any adult.” And for the first time in my life, the man who believed that no teacher could do any wrong, said to Mummy: “Go and call that school and see what is the deal. I won’t have my baby yelled at for no reason. Now, you had better take care of this because you do not want me to get involved. I will whip her clothes off!” 

I was shocked at Daddy’s response. Needless to say, Mummy called the principal, Sister J. Sister J let Mummy know that she had checked into the situation and could verify that what I had shared with Mummy was true and she had talked to Sister M indicating that an apology was in order from her to me. Yes, I did get that apology.

Still, I wondered what had precipitated that outburst. I found out.

Do you recall I noted that when the school year began I shared with Mummy that I knew it would come down to Charlie and my being salutatorian? Well, I was right. And as you recall I shared that Charlie was very strong in the sciences. He and I were in the same Chemistry class as well as other strong courses, English and Government. 

So, about a week or two after the incident with Sister M, she called my home to tell me: “Zita, this is Sister M (of course, I knew her voice and wondered ‘what now?’) I am calling to tell you that you will be the salutatorian of your class. There was a tie between you and Charlie. I chose to break the tie with whoever earned the highest grade on the final Chemistry exam. You earned the highest grade. So, you need to prepare your speech for the graduation ceremony.” Courteously, I thanked her.

And when I got off the phone, I shared the news with Mummy. However, I did not feel the joy as I should have. That incident in the Typing class had taken away some of my joy although I was happy to present such a gift to my parents. 

Ah! The proverbial light bulb came on! That was why Sister M came at me in that Typing course. She KNEW that Charlie and I were tied. She knew that the one way that she would be able to get me disqualified would be if she could “rattle my cage” and I lose self-control. I did not (Thank you, Sister Mary Michael!). Then, she KNEW the one course that challenged me that senior year was Chemistry. It was one of those courses that was “kicking my butt and taking no names!” And I scored higher than Charlie. This was my first overt experience of sexual discrimination! She wanted that guy to be the salutatorian, not me, the female.

Yes, Bishop, this senior year has been quite a year!

Reflections: Yes, that was quite a year.  I have focused on that particular experience of my first challenge of sexual discrimination because it taught me that discrimination can be caused by anyone, a nun, a boss—anyone. And when it occurs, it is so very important that one has had in his/her life people who have given guidance when one did not even know how valuable it would be for future times.

Yes, Sister Mary Michael told me that I would thank her one day for her continued effort to get me to control my mouth and emotions under pressure. She was so right! I had no idea, but she did. She saw in me the potential to do good things; also, she saw how that negative character trait of mine could be my nemesis. She cared so much for me that she took the time to work on my controlling that negative. And boy oh boy, from that experience with Sister M and others that I have had in my adult life, I treasure her taking the time to teach me such a valuable lesson.

Also, I learned how important it is that a parent shows control. Obviously, if Daddy had gone to the convent and attacked Sister M, that would have been disastrous in so many ways. And he knew it; that is why he let Mummy take care of the situation. Um, that is what parents must do. They cannot, even if the child has been unfairly treated, go to the school “acting a fool.” Nothing good is accomplished. 

Since the teachers knew my Mummy, she was very comfortable to contact the principal. And Sister J was very comfortable to talk with her and demonstrate that she had checked into the situation. It is so very important that parents establish a rapport with the school employees so, if ever something negative occurs, already a sense of trust and respect have been established so that a conversation can begin with a foundation of trust and respect.

OK, enough from me, I am sure this diary entry has been a full one.

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