Nine Indian Schools. That’s what it took to know that casual sexism in Indian education is more casual and guaranteed than action on Tinder.We got lucky, never dipping a toe into the uphill battle for equal rights to girls’ education. Yet, little girls are susceptible to the institutionalized misogyny that remained. It is easier to shove irrelevant day-to-day incidents at school under the carpet, especially when the big picture is in place. But what we can’t fully address, catches up and then catches on. And so the cycle continues.It is with a tinge of good humour that I look back and grasp what could have gone better.
Waking up to your gender in the Middle East
My last school was proudly ultra conservative. Strictly monitored by the ‘ministry of education’ in the Middle East, the only goal was to keep the girls and the boys apart, so far as to stagger the exam timings.
In high school, we started two hours earlier than the boys and took the same bus as the juniors in the morning. After, we waited two hours till the boys finished their exams and took the same bus back. We just hung around, exhausted, because the school didn’t care for arranging extra buses.
The boys, they never had to wait, it was an efficient experience.
And things escalated in the three years, as no amount of segregation appeased this obsession. One day, a window somewhere in the block shattered and soon enough there was a fence along the footprint of the girls’ block. Stringent guards raised their voices if any girl was found even looking through it.
Meanwhile, the boys couldn’t be bothered with inconveniences like fences. Who dared question teenage boys, hyper-vigilant about losing their privilege?Boys will be boys.We had no permission to step out of the block or go to the canteen because the boys had recess.
We obliged, because we had to be compliant to be ‘nice’. We agreed to limited mobility because it was time for the boys to go out and play
Middle School PE lessons
Speaking of playing, back in middle school, we had the weirdest practice that took place each trimester.
Alongside the boys, the girls had to line up to the medical room to record our height and weight on our report cards. So us girls, with bodies attuned to hormonal will, unsure if our crush will ever look back at us, lined up for the ultimate embarrassment. One by one, the nurse called out our height and weight, for the nurse across the room of teenagers, to record it. Year after year, this preceded our regular PE lessons, where commenting and body-shaming followed, all in good fun of course.
The funny thing is, it was uncomfortable but not enough to complain. There was endurance, but it was fleeting. We looked at the mirror, feeling a little less sure than yesterday, but we let it go. We began wilting instead of blossoming. And years later, it was impossible to pinpoint why girls just don’t speak up. Why it’s obvious that for equal work, girls will accept a paycheck not as bling as their male counterpart.
The dress code phenomenon
Back in India, ‘dress code’ was an important part of the curriculum of engineering colleges.
So disastrous was the impact of calf-length jeans on a girl, that she had to be pulled out of class into a barrage of humiliation for distracting the fragile attention of the boys.
Would you question the boys who later believe that everything should be tailored to their whim? Or would you blame the girls who tire themselves out and just give in?
Good news is, our Dean had a solution- he decided to tour every department to scrutinize what the girls are wearing.I remember the day he walked into our class, with three male sidekicks. A sixty year old self appointed moral messiah scanning women in their early twenties with an authoritative perversion that was beyond sick. I looked straight back at him, only to feel how demeaning the gaze of reinforced male entitlement could be.