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Fiction Friendship

My name is Jane and I belong to a secret society. I was inducted after a friend found out that my ex-boyfriend, Ben, was spreading disgusting rumours about me around school. My first inclination was to confront him – have it out in the middle of the quad where everyone could hear him confessing that it was all a lie. But life doesn't work that way. Even if a boy admits something publicly, in private they say that they just did it to keep the crazy bitch from going nuclear, and the rumours get even worse. Boys always win.

My name is Emily and I belong to a secret society. I'm really good at maths but physics isn't my strong suit. Sandra is tutoring me. She's really, really smart. There are two guys in our class who are super cocky. The professor fawns over them. He always calls on them first for everything. It wouldn't be so bad, except they are such knobs about it. I was trying to answer the professor's question once and got something wrong. Stuart, knob #1, laughed out loud and cut me off to tell the class what a basic mistake I had made. The professor didn't even scold him. Just asked him to tell everyone the right answer. Why do guys have to be such bell-ends? Just because they have one, doesn't mean they have to be one. Sandra chatted me up after that.

My name is Missy and I belong to a secret society. When I was in 6th form, I had a bad break-up. My boyfriend told everyone that I was a sex maniac and that I liked being peed on. I found out in the most awful way possible when I had a boy over and he pulled out his willy and tried to douse me. I screamed so loud his little willy shriveled up and most of it ended up running down his trouser leg. My dad heard me and came running in, saw the boy with his fly open and marched him straight out of the house in no gentle terms. I got into a big screaming match with my ex in the hallway between classes over it. He tried to play dumb, said he had no idea how anything like that could get around. But instead of clearing things up for me, it made things worse. People started calling me Pissy behind my back. So when I heard rumours circulating about Jane at Uni, I sought her out.

My name is Sandra and I belong to a secret society. My full name is Pachysandra, but I never, ever go by that. My parents always liked the little flowers and said that it was good luck to be named after a growing thing rather than a dead relative. In secondary school, the teacher called me by my full name in front of the whole class. I told her I went by Sandra, but the damage was done. Kids started calling me Paki, which didn't even make sense since my family's from Delhi. But I guess it didn't need to make sense. It just needed to hurt.

Jane: Missy emailed me out of the blue, said she needed to chat me up. It was urgent so I met her for tea. She had heard the rumours about me too and assumed, correctly, that they weren't true. She kept me from having it out with my ex. There's a better way, she said. She asked me about his home town and did he have a mum and dad growing up. Other things about him that most people wouldn't know. How he liked me to call him Big Ben when we were in bed, even though he is pretty average, really. It felt empowering to talk to her about it.

Sandra: In secondary school, if girls stand up from themselves they get labeled as being bitchy even if they're right. I thought uni would be different, that it would be like a professional environment and we'd all treat each other like adults, but some things don't really change, the words just get more oblique. I study physics and it can be cut-throat. People think of the sciences as being black and white, right or wrong but it's not that way, at least not at the higher levels. We're all working on theories that could take years, decades, to validate. In a lot of cases, particularly at the quantum level, we're still decades from even being able to build the equipment needed to begin to conduct the experiments on some of these things. We can't test everyone's theories. We can't even test most people's theories, no matter how promising. To even have a chance to be noticed, you need to be working with a top professor, but they can only work with one or two students a term, at most. If a guy is out-spoken, corrects other students in class, interrupts people, they are 'bold' and 'showing real promise'. If a woman is like that, they are 'smart but difficult' or 'tightly wound'.

Emily: My friend Jane's ex-boyfriend was going around telling people that she was into rough sex, like wanting to be whacked about in bed and that's why he broke up with her when in fact, she was the one who'd cut it off with him. I tried setting the record straight with people as much as I could, but I think folks really want to believe stories. Or maybe they find a story too lurid not to spread. I don't know what floats their boats, really, but it just kept spreading. I mentioned it to my friend Missy and she had some ideas to help.

Missy: People love a good story. And once a story's been told, the damage's been done. You can't unring a bell. So just getting people to stop spreading a rumour is hard enough, but getting rid of the impression that it left in their minds is even harder. But if you don't do both, what have you solved?

Sandra: After missing out on several plum internships, I decided to treat the issue like a physics problem and solve it logically. No point in lamenting the fact that the world isn't fair. Everyone knows that. It took me a bit, but I finally cracked the code. I knew there were flaws in Stuart's thesis but Professor Johnston absolutely adored him, so pointing them out might drag him down a wee, but wasn't going to raise me up. I was supposed to be tutoring Emily, but was really just showing her all of the issues with his project. Not being a very good tutor, I'm afraid really, but having to explain the nuances turned out to be good for both of us. I learned a lot myself, and we even found ways that might solve a couple of his mistakes. It was fun. And it was just brilliant watching Emily take him down a peg in class. Stuart tried to rationalize it all away as minor items, but it was too obvious to everyone. That's when I came to his defense with some of the solutions we'd worked on. Being coy and all. You know. 'Stuart's thesis has real merit. Just because he's missed a few things doesn't mean it can't be fixed. What if he did X and Y, etc.' Stuart looked at me like I was some kind of guardian angel. It was a win-win-win. The professor realized Emily was smarter than he had given her credit. And Stuart's thesis was strengthened before it was too late. And I was now the one everyone wanted to work with.

Missy: I'm not proud of it, but I started a rumour about Jane's ex. Okay, maybe I am just a little bit proud. The prat had it coming, though. I was at a party and I overheard someone telling a group about what he'd heard about Jane. So I sidled in and told them that I heard when Ben was in primary school, he pulled a girls pigtail and she beat him up right there in the playground and made him wet himself. His mum had to pick him up with a fresh set of knickers. Ever since, he's had real issues dealing with strong, confident women and how he needs to belittle them. I told them that stuff about Jane was probably just a sick fantasy of his and they were all nodding, like, yeah right, that makes perfect sense. And before you knew it, they were telling their friends.

Sandra: It's great and important that we stand together and support each other openly. But sometimes we can do things behind the scenes that are also effective. My name is Sandra and I belong to a secret society of women helping women.

September 16, 2021 22:31

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