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 Their fault being: for not conforming to outdated gender stereotypes, the repercussions for which can scar us for a lifetime.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 Deepika Bhardwaj
After having spent 14 years of my life in the same school, I rarely ever think back to those days. It has now been 7 years since I left school and have only recently understood why I unconsciously blocked those memories out. Or why I am never overcome with nostalgia like my friends while thinking about school days.
Ours was a Catholic co-ed school, with strict dress codes and gender norms that we were terrorized from ever transgressing. We were regularly disciplined and severely punished for doing so. Once in 5th grade after the winter holidays, I had forgotten to remove my nail paint and it was too late by the time I realised it. Scared of having my friends find out, I had lunch with my gloves on. So internalised was my fear of school authority.
It was the constant gender-based bullying that I suffered at the hands of seniors and some teachers in school that left a bad taste in my mouth. The inherent misogyny that us girls experienced in school was never as clear as it had become years later. I would regularly get into fights with boys, most of them physical, in retaliation for their misogynist mockery or the demeaning comments they would pass because I am a girl. Such bullying would always go unchecked.
In one such incident, a classmate mortified me in front of the entire class, asking me why I was hanging out with a guy the other day. I couldn’t contain my anger and hit him. He hit me back with much more force. We were taken to the principal who quickly turned on me and told me I should be ashamed of myself for having hit him. What really got to me was how no one said anything to him. Teachers came to me and said that I was like his sister and that he only made those comments because he was ‘concerned’ as to why I was out with a boy.
I usually kept to myself and hung out with a few girls in school I could relate to. There were no good mentors and girls rarely ever retaliated when treated unfairly. Because we didn’t smile much, we were called snobbish and if we tried to befriend boys, we were called sluts. A group of seniors weren’t pleased with my attitude and started to regularly ‘other’ me and make fun of how I looked and behaved.
It got out of hand one day when they cornered a friend and me on the school ground where we had skipped a class to sit and talk. They threw stones and hurled cuss words at us – all because we didn’t fit into their idea of what girls should behave like. It went on for about 15 minutes and left us both so traumatized. We had no idea what had provoked them. They then reported us to the principal for bunking a class and added, for god only knows what reason, that I was a flirt and I should be punished. All so strange and embarrassing for a teenager.
I would regularly get into fights with boys, most of them physical, in retaliation for their misogynist mockery.
Teachers were no different. One of them found a picture of me in a dress one day which I had accidentally left behind and showed it to all the teachers, causing embarrassment to me. I rarely attended school the last two years before graduating. I would find small reasons to skip it.
Being harassed for not being ‘girly’ enough or for being different was basically my experience in a nutshell in school. Because the bullying went unchecked, I grew up thinking there was something horribly wrong with me, which made it hard to make close friends later on. The violence we faced for not conforming to set gender norms was regular and so disturbing that it’s hard to grapple with even today.
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