Have you ever wondered why only girls at schools are asked to attend a meeting related to dress code before saraswati puja or why only the girl students are asked to dress “decently” while going to an event at school? The toxic school culture that several of us continue to experience and many others resonate with, implies that girls always need to toe the line because they are the ones who need to be protected.
On one hand while the school uniform of the students is known to be a great equalizer, on the other, the toxic school culture manages to create a hierarchy and show explicit bias against girl students on the basis of the administration and the staff’s gender bias. The school is meant to be a safe place for us, where we should have been allowed to be our true self and where our uniqueness and individuality is appreciated but on the other hand, it becomes a breeding ground for patriarchal practices. What an irony!
Almost at the cusp of passing out from school and stepping into college campuses, I see the tangibly different and discriminatory ways in which I and the other girls in my class are treated by the administration as compared to the boys. Needless to say, the patriarchal thinking percolates into their everyday behaviour: especially evident in the ways the scrutinise, surveil and attempt to tame our bodies, thus creating a toxic school culture.
During November-December when our annual school magazine is released and ready to be distributed amongst everyone, the teachers naturally expect the boys to carry the magazines because of their presumption that boys are stronger than girls and hence, only they can carry those bulky magazines.
If a boy is good at sports, nobody congratulates him or bats an eyelid because boys are always good at sports, right? But, on the other hand, if a girl is good at sports, everyone will either be astounded or will not motivate her just as much as they will a boy doing well in sports. The benevolent sexism in this toxic school culture is plain and out in the open, when they appreciating her for doing well in sports, “despite being a girl”. Now my question is, “Why does it always come down to one’s gender?” The year is 2020 but why are we still working along our pre-conceived notions of how a girl can’t be good at sports or that they are too weak to carry heavy things?
I’ll be honest, there are many girls in my class who are stronger than most of the boys in the same class. Isn’t that amazing? Actually, it is not, because it okay for a girl to be stronger than a boy or for a boy to be a little weaker than the other boys. But holding them against our preconceived notions as to how a boy or a girl should behave will only affect them adversely in the longer run. If a boy is seen to be not strong as the other boys in his class, he will be ridiculed using words that consider him effeminate. Hence, why should a toxic school culture create these categorisations based on gender at all?
A week prior to saraswati puja, there will always be a meeting by the disciplinary committee consisting of women teachers who reads out a long list of do’s and don’ts. Mind you, these are only for the girl students. The girls have to wear decent traditional clothes or else they won’t be given entry whereas there are no such restrictions for boys.
During school annual functions or other ECA days, the boy volunteers are the one who would fix the mics whereas the girl volunteers would be responsible for welcoming the chief guests and other dignitaries. They would also be assigned the duty of monitoring the junior students.
Cricket and football are very popular games and are loved by almost everyone. So, like every other schools, our school too has a school football team and a school cricket team. But, the toxic school culture is such that all the players are boys. What I wonder is, what exactly will happen if they include girl players?
It is not just the administration that discriminates. The stereotypes around our genders are so deeply-entrenched, even school students whose horizons have only begun to widen would gawk or look at in amusement if a girl and a boy are seen talking. Such is the toxic school culture, that instead of encouraging us to develop healthy interpersonal relationships, the teachers too scrutinise the students in a way that is fundamentally moral policing in nature. One would feel like they committed a crime daring to talk to a person of another gender. When I say that there are teachers “placed” at certain points within the campus to “spy” on students and “alleged romances” especially during the recess breaks, I am sure many of our readers will relate.
School is responsible for moulding our personality. But, if this is the kind of toxic school culture and mindset that persists, then, thinking of a society that accepts gender as a spectrum and free from all pre-conceived notions is quite far-fetched. The change should start right at the grassroots i.e schools. Gender studies should be taught and promoted at schools. This is the need of the hour.
Trandali Kashyap is an avid teenager who is currently preparing for her boards. She believes that a good novel and a bowl of maggi can always uplift one’s mood. She can be found on Twitter.