Sexism begins in school and it’s time it stopped!
The other day, there was a heated twitter debate following the sickening mass molestation incident in Bangalore and a few of us digressed and got discussing how sexism and oppression begins early – in school.
I am not very aware of how things stand now but back when we were in school (which was in the 90s), we were unconsciously part of a system that oppressed and subdued girls just so that they wouldn’t be a “distraction” to boys. The boys, on the other hand, were never overtly or covertly taught to view a female body as an human entity. We were the ones who had to cover up. Be embarrassed of our femininity. Dress modestly. Not attract attention. And generally be ashamed of our anatomy and bodily functions.
We had teachers policing the length of our skirts and our socks. Girls who showed too much leg were quick to be lectured by teachers and always came under the radar of boys for being “fast” or whatever. Wearing a bra was compulsory but it was also compulsory to not let it show through our translucent white uniform shirts. Back in the day, there used to be these weird conical shaped cotton bras with no lycra that you could barely breathe in, and which left crude red marks on the skin in the peak of summer.
Some schools instructed girls to wear bloomers and cycling shorts under their skirts. I mean, if the sight of female legs is so intimidating, why couldn’t they just let them wear pants instead!
When we were a little grown up, closer to our teens, we learnt to walk more cautiously, with our hands holding down our skirts to keep them from billowing in the wind because god forbid…
We would climb stairs extra carefully, keeping away from the railings and holding our skirts closer to our skins because boys walking behind us never missed a chance to take a peek.
Having periods in school used to be a nightmare. A full day of stress wondering if there is a spot on your skirt, asking friends to walk behind you and check for soiling. A spot on a skirt would quickly become a butt of jokes and gossip among boys and girls alike, as if having a period was some kind of dangerous yet amusing disease. We would wash off stains in the bathroom and hold bags at awkward angles to hide the patch, or have friends walk in clusters to cover up for the unfortunate one. Throughout our childhood, we were strongly conditioned to be embarrassed and ashamed about a basic and universal bodily function, so much so that we could barely utter the word PERIOD out loud, even in front of women.
Sex education was practically non-existent, except for the sole chapter on Reproduction in Biology class which our teachers awkwardly sifted through, with boys in the back rows giggling away.
All these things seemed so normalized then but looking back, I realize how difficult it was to just BE A GIRL. Now that I have a daughter, I would certainly not want her to worry about managing her girlhood. That’s not what schools are for. And these are the supposed posh school and convents I am talking about. I dread to think what things are like in smaller cities and towns.
I wonder if these little factors have contributed to what our society has become today. Would things be any different if our schools inculcated a sense of responsibility and sensitivity in boys instead of placing the onus entirely on girls? Would we have bred better men if teachers and parents had been more open and vocal about gender issues? Would women be safer if young boys in school were taught against the sense of entitlement that is so deeply ingrained in our consciousness that it is only now that we are finally recognizing it as a problem?
Shuchi Singh Kalra is the author of two romantic comedies – ‘Done With Men’, and ‘I’m Big. So What!?’. She freelances as a writer, editor and blogger, and runs a writing firm called the Pixie Dust Writing Studio. When she’s not writing, Shuchi likes to travel, read and bake awesome cakes. Find out more at http://www.shuchikalra.com. You can also tweet to her @shuchikalra.