Editor’s Note: #ChalkfullBullying is a campaign that resolves to tell stories about gender-based bullying that happens in school, where students, especially non-binary and girl students, are subject to harassment, moral policing, severe disciplining and punishment, and routine bullying. Their fault being: for not conforming to outdated gender stereotypes, the repercussions for which can scar us for a lifetime.
Posted by Parmita Gautam
Every time the question of gender equality pops up in a conversation, there is always this one highly enlightened human being (mostly an entitled Savarna man) who never fails to point out how women now have access to schools and equal education, which was previously denied to them. Well, it’s time that we as feminists and as people with brains that haven’t yet been white (read orange) – washed try and debunk this myth of “equal education” and schools being centres of imparting impartial learning.
Coming from a privileged background, I had the opportunity to attend a prestigious all-girls Christian school in Lucknow. Now you would wonder how could I know anything about sexism in schools when there were no boys in the picture? To begin with, aren’t sex-segregated schools a result of patriarchy itself? Isn’t the fear of young men and women mingling together at the very core of their existence?
There is no denying the fact that schools play a major role in shaping, honing, moulding and constructing our thoughts, ideologies and beliefs. The schools exploit this powerful role by becoming the reflection and extension of the patriarchal society we live in by subtly and carefully upholding gender, caste and class inequalities, which are consumed and imbibed by the students, generation after generation.
My school made me believe that essential life skills for a girl included sewing and stitching. In order to be ‘respected’, I had to have my hair tied tightly in a ponytail, always sit with my legs crossed, speak softly, wear clothes which were neither “too modern” nor “too conservative” and most importantly internalize what was being taught to me in school as the gospel truth.
My entire school life revolved around how not to attract the members of the male persuasion. Our moral science lectures policed us about being “good girls” who would stay away from men before marriage and never question the wisdom of their elders. We were encouraged to take up humanities rather than science because humanities suited women better in terms of career.
Girls with boyfriends were openly discussed, criticized and ridiculed both inside and outside the staff rooms. Our personal lives were available for scrutiny by our teachers. There was a common consensus between the school, parents and teachers that young girls need to be constantly controlled, policed and kept in check so that they do not cross any of the neat boundaries that society has drawn for them. I did not need the physical presence of a boy on campus to be aware of my subordination and the role I am expected to play in society as a woman.
I was not being taught to be the next CEO or the next big inventor. I was being carefully trained to be a mother who could raise and educate her kids, to be a trophy wife who could take care of her home and also assist her husband if the need arises and to be the daughter that parents could easily find a groom for.
My school made me believe that essential life skills for a girl included sewing and stitching.
I was being instructed to continue the caste, class and gender hierarchies, to maintain the status quo of the society as it is, to ask less and follow more. Our schools are like factories that transform impressionable young minds into fully groomed ambassadors of patriarchy. Well, of course, there are a few spoiled products like me in each batch. (Thank god for small mercies!)
It is time that women stop accepting their oppression and starts questioning the patriarchal structures and hierarchies that are built on curbing women’s growth and freedom. The gender politics need to be recognized and exposed and more importantly, our schools and learning spaces need to be saved from being engulfed in Brahmanical patriarchy. There is a need to reclaim these spaces and make them the breeding grounds of young, independent and fierce women, who refuse to be schooled, discriminated against and reduced to their bodies and prescribed gender roles.
Parmita is a budding social activist, an ardent feminist and an amateur writer.
Featured Image Source: Salon