There’s this webcomic called ‘Girls with Slingshots’, which is something I discovered recently and promptly devoured; all 1788 strips. It begins with fairly ordinary, straight characters, but quickly diverts into all sorts of interesting places; the lj obsessed, the terrifyingly shy, the dom, the asexual, the gay and lesbian, sex shops, talking plants, masturbation…! You name it, it’s there and each and every character lives in bright colours, beyond the label or box. Not just gay, asexual or shy, but a real human being who we, the reader, quickly learn to love. The artist, Danielle Corseto, has a real knack for creating a character in a few strokes and a few words and making them at once likable and dislikable, just like real people.
The labels and characters made me think about the label of student. I’m a part time student at the moment, although I have been a full time student; I was a school and then a sixth form student.
There are a lot of stereotypes that accompany the label ‘student’, but I’ve never fit many, if any of them. It’s made me feel awkward and out of place in situations where the label belongs; freshers week, libraries, lectures, classes, student bars. I don’t know if this is a universal thing, this itch that I get whenever the label is there, hovering.
That itch has made me question what it means to be a student. It made me horribly jealous of my peers who did fit it, who fit in and found a place for themselves, and it’s given me a chip on my shoulder. Students irritate me beyond anything else, which my tutor is aware of; she takes great delight in gleefully reminding me of the fact that I’m now one of them, one of us, again.
This chip made Oxford a really difficult place to live. Oxford showcases the ultimate goal of academia everywhere, a sort of fantasy student life, and I never got to be part of anything of that sort, albeit of my own volition, but it still felt bad. ‘I hate students’ became a mantra.
The mantra was helped along by the fact that Oxford students can occasionally drive residents crazy with their lack of respect for the city and people and by their sense of entitlement. Which leads me along the way to my next point; the label of ‘student’, that stereotype, very rarely fits anyone. Over twenty percent of the population here are students, so obviously I’ve met lots of them and made friends with them. So few harbour a sense of entitlement or are disrespectful that I’ve come to the conclusion that most of that is absent mindedness, rather than a harmful feeling. I’ve only met one student who walks into the Radcliffe Camera and thinks of people unable to follow ‘ha, look at me, this is my place not yours’.
I’ve been a student since September, now, so five months. I’m settling into the label a little. I sit in libraries a lot and drink a lot of tea and think about essays and talk about deadlines and think of the Bodleian library as the Bod. I go to lectures and have notebooks and spend all my spare cash on books. I meet random, fascinating people and I get discounts on everything.
Being a student is one of the most generous things you can be, and the chip on the shoulder is slowly but surely shrinking. I can now walk through Oxford without resenting the students and their free reign over the city’s most beautiful buildings, without feeling a sharp twist of pain when I think bitterly about what I’ve missed out on.
Coming back to what I opened on, ‘Girls with Slingshots’ is full of graduates. The characters mostly have degrees and are doing jobs they love, which gives me hope for when I eventually graduate in six or seven years. I’m not an academic, or an intellectual, I like to take my time with things, but a graduate is something to aim for. In the mean time, I’ll read web comics and geek-out about Tolkein and the Brontës, and googling things like ‘how to type an umlaut’ (you have to use the number pad and num lock, who knew?), and I will erode the chip on my shoulder until it’s non-existent.
Featured image from Spiva Arts