Editor’s Note: This month, that is August 2020, FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth is Campus Experiences, where we invite various articles to highlight the diverse range of encounters we often confront when we are a part of any educational institution or space for learning be it schools, universities, colleges, tuitions and home. If you’d like to share your article, email us at email@example.com.
Posted by Debangana Brahma
“One is not born, but becomes a woman.” – Simone De Beauvoir
If I had to describe patriarchy, I’d describe it as that unpopular boy in class, who had the class divided. Whenever someone goes up to him to question his authority, he would sit silently with a smile and let his supporters do the screaming, intimidating, dismissing and ridiculing. This common reaction mostly left the others louder, stronger and angrier than before causing some of his illusioned supporters to eventually switch sides too.
Like any totalitarian ruler whose words are being defied, they then try to incite violence, to silence this minority. They say it is for their own good if they just accept them and be quiet. However, this does not seem to be a very effective move and patriarchy seems to be too egoistic to ‘learn’ from the past.
Confusion and Answers
My first question as a kid—not even a teen—back when I wasn’t exactly aware of the concepts of gender, patriarchy and misogyny, came when I saw adults reacting whenever they saw a female driver, even if it was in a good sense, “Oh look! There’s a woman in that car and she’s driving on her own, without any help! Must be such a strong person.”
Does that not, my childish brain thought, highlight that women in society are lower in status than men?
However, that question was ignored by most as another meaningless question by a child and I too failed to understand, due to my lack of experience of the world.
Fast forward to 9th standard, I had already had several encounters with them by now. You see, you’re introduced to bigotry early on in life, and several times. In every place or institution, you’re quietly introduced to them without informing you of their identity; hence, even those who tend to ask a lot of questions, even though it doesn’t make sense, accept this as just another unquestioned way of life. I still remember how it hit me suddenly while taking notes in class that whenever the teacher or anyone said, ‘man’, ‘he’, ‘him’, it almost always implied all of humankind, completely ignoring the existence and achievements of half an entire race—”Man invented the wheel”, “Man discovered fire” “Man possesses consciousness and he is a rational being”—(was I not or did no women exist before me, only now?).
Sitting in an all-girls school this felt surreal, there was not one ‘man’ in sight, even most of the teachers were women. Yet, each of us addressed our entire race only through its men. The women either did not matter or were assumed incapable of anything. This was visible even in textbooks of history or science. Misogyny, as I now realise, has percolated all the way down to human language; we were living in an Orwellian nightmare—language too was a tool to control you.
I kept quiet, I resolved to change how I wrote and spoke, I was afraid of the repercussions of thinking such stupid things, but I submitted that copy only after making the required changes—’Man’ to human and ‘he/him’ to they/them. At this point, I was unaware that some of my classmates too had awoken to this nightmare, either long before I did or will in the near future, on their own.
The System of Institutions
It took me a while (a few more years) to realise that my observation about the human language was actually, my own. Only a small minority of people had come to this realisation, apart from my classmates. Meanwhile, I had taken to reading books and studying Feminism, trying to wholly understand it, all its aspects and quietly unlearning (this was probably after 11th standard). I was surprised at how many things I had left unquestioned.
Teachers would laugh away any conversation regarding gender, patriarchy or misogyny, saying it was pointless or ask us kindly, to just bear with it quietly, like they did. People felt comfortable in the arms of patriarchy, who would lull them into a deep anaesthetic sleep, protecting them from the ‘bright light’ which would hurt their eyes if they opened it. They had accepted this as the only way to be. Anyone trying to awaken them from their slumber was essentially mad and will have to bear their wrath for daring to do so.
I had seen a few of my peers, especially in college, who prided themselves over their greater ‘scientific knowledge’ but lacked a basic understanding of the very society they lived in. Even our first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, resonated this in his book, ‘The Discovery of India’—”A lawyer may be a brilliant advocate and jurist and yet be singularly ignorant of other matters. Even a scientist, that typical representative of modern age, often forgets the method and outlook of science when he goes out of his study or laboratory“—i.e. the power of critical thinking. It took me a while but eventually I realised that schools, colleges, teachers, principals, textbooks, HoD’s and boards were the ones partly responsible for this. It is easy, as a teen, to question society and its ways. However, questioning textbook material and teachers, the very source of knowledge, is difficult.
They constantly demonise a free thinking woman in moral stories; portray only the physically violent aspect of misogyny in books in a way that it doesn’t seem like too much; hush up any talk in class about the problems or violence that women face; promoting toxic gender norms and shaming those who differ from it; assumptions that a laborious task is definitely carried out by men; making girls and boys stand in separate lines; shaming the girls for being sluts over nothing; teaching students ‘morals’ or ‘sanskaar’ which really is asking girls to be obedient, soft, flexible and boys to be ambitious, driven, uncaring and finally, the last nail in the coffin shouting or laughing at students for asking ‘too many questions’, learn only what’s there in the textbook without thinking too much, to not use that brain of theirs.
They make patriarchy and misogyny seem like unquestioned truths. Not once does the entire system promote independent, critical thinking. It only promotes a hatred for institutions and learning, while instilling in people the importance of such a derogatory system so that the future generation is promptly disciplined too. It completely tears apart the very fabric that makes us humane. Even when we outgrow these institutions, we tend to continue with this culture reacting strongly to anyone who defers from the taught way, the right way—root cause for much of the hatred, violence and ‘trolls’ those questioning misogyny and patriarchy, that Feminists receive.
We must have seen how most of our teachers or peers will not call themselves misogynists and if asked will probably say that they are staunchly against it; they will be offended at being called one and rightly so. This is probably because of how they perceive their actions as harmless and how normalised misogyny and patriarchy is to them. We see it almost everywhere, since the day we’re born, so much so that we often fail to identify it for what it truly is. It is difficult to question the very reality that our world is based on; more so if you’re having to confront it all of a sudden.
It is a rebirth; it’s not pleasant and the light hurts their eyes. It is probably natural for most to stop the process and lash out instead due to the discomfort—much like Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. These people are not pure evil. However, their actions speak otherwise and we must either endeavour to educate them despite resistance or outnumber them in the system so that their opinion becomes insignificant. One needs to understand the ‘Banality of Evil’ in this case. The culture of obedience and authority is at the root of almost every evil that we’ve come across and this is promoted in almost all institutions, to very young children, constantly, by people who themselves were victims of this culture.
Also read: Bingo! Your Privilege Has Been Revealed
The Possible Path Ahead
One can take away everything from you, but one cannot take away the very aspects that make you human. If you’re human, you are still capable of thinking and reasoning, no matter how used to you may be of not doing them.
As mentioned above, teachers who teach us about the unquestionable dominance of patriarchy, were also people who were subjected to the same process since childhood. They failed to break the cycle, they failed to question the institutions or just chose not to thereby internalising their misogyny and normalising it. A generation which was quiet in the face of injustice, teaches us to do the same. However, if I and so many of my other classmates, students of other institutions, can educate themselves and speak up despite this system- which promotes oppression and functions through it, each and every one of us can.
Demanding an immediate change will be difficult. What we can do instead is change ourselves, educate ourselves and act. Call out those who refuse to leave the side of misogyny for who they are, teach our boys how to express themselves and their emotions, teach our girls that almost everything that they were taught by institutions especially those about themselves are lies, promote gender studies and an active civil society, if not through textbooks then through casual conversations in class.
In George Orwell’s 1984, I came across a line which said, “Being in a minority of one, did not make you mad. There is a truth and there is an untruth, and if you cling to the truth even against the whole world, you are not mad.” We do receive a lot of hatred and resistance from those who benefit from the system and those who are afraid that their bubble of illusion will burst, but they’re not the entire world. Humans have always reacted this way to change and I think we should make that work to our advantage.
It begins by dismissing or laughing at you, then they go on to try to intimidate you, when they realise it won’t work they’ll try to turn violent and/or gaslight you—”What you’re saying is not logical”, “You’re being delusional”, “You probably have a complex”, “Men are at the receiving end too”, “You’re only lazy and don’t want to work”, “But that case turned out to be fake!”, “Women are already equal, *cites example of one woman in an administrative post*”, etc. We’ve all heard them before, from when the first schools were being made for girls to when women fought for their legal rights and even today, when women demand a radical change, a complete erasure of patriarchal laws, system, society and way of life because we have had enough.
One must always remember, to not let anyone call them mad. Demanding fair and just treatment, does not make one mad. Things will begin to look hopeful. We have to try to change the system from within, together, while we continue to support each other. We may be fewer in number but we are still a significant number. Hence, I guess it is upon us now, to further educate ourselves, so we cannot be refused. This, I believe, is the only way we can cure our schools and colleges and stop misogyny from being the same old bully that it is, end its transmission and turn it into something of the past.
Debangana is a 19 year old student at Amity University Kolkata, studying B. Tech Biotechnology, who is also interested in gender studies and politics. You can find her on Instagram.
Featured Image Source: Feminism In India