Sexism in Indian Schools and How to Tackle It

Effects of the School Environment

Internalized misogyny and sexism signifies a prejudiced behavior towards a
particular gender, females and the entire spectrum of LGBTQ+ community in
particular. Such a deep rooted mentality is not built overnight; it takes years of
learning and unconscious assimilation of a stereotypical mindset.

School, a place that is often attached with the epithet of being a second home to a child, plays a vital role in nurturing and enduring major outcomes in the process of one’s personality development. 

If a child witnesses the normalization of a certain kind of behavior, he or she would tend to overlook it even at later stages of life.

Subtle Display of Sexism in Indian Schools

A common trend in Indian schools as soon as the stage of elementary education commences has been that of a differential behavior between boys and girls. 

Girls, even before they hit puberty, are constantly told to walk or sit in a certain manner by virtue of their gender, also categorized as being more ‘feminine’.

Boys on the other hand are trained to be more tough and sporty or one may call it sowing seeds of ‘manliness’. 

There are an astonishing number of schools where an all women’s football or cricket teams have not yet come into existence due to the belief that girls are more tilted towards softer sports rather than the aggressive ones.

Such instances are capable of explaining the struggle for recognition that women’s sports teams still have to go through while the men’s teams associated with the same kind of sports, gain instant popularity and audience. 

Cricket and football are just few examples of areas where women have faced substantial ignorance.

Not So Subtle or Outright Display of Sexism

Sliding into middle school, we are instructed that as soon as we step into our uniforms we should care about nothing but studies. Shouldn’t be concerned about the way we look or the way our hair stands because we go to school to open a book and nothing else.

However, the teenage years are the times when we just want to make sure that we fit in, twirling that one strand of hair just right to impress our crush or maybe we just want to do it because it makes us feel good. 

Such natural urges and needs are treated like an underwhelming human characteristic by teachers.

Girls are incessantly shamed for the length of their skirt, their character is judged by the number of piercings they choose to get or the fact that they dyed their own hair was so outrageous that it constituted an act of indiscipline. 

On the other hand, such a rampant uniform policing has no consequences on boys.

Such acts portray sheer ignorance towards gender equality because by telling a girl that the length of her skirt isn’t acceptable as it is a distracting element for boys, the message that is being put forth is that the boy’s education is more important than hers and therefore she has to cover up her legs.

The sexism doesn’t end here. Boys are also called out for piercing their ears or doing anything that does not conform to the conventional gender norms set by a society that is overwhelmingly obsessed with the gender binary and refuses to accept identities that exist outside of it. 

Teachers also go to the extent of using homophobic slurs in the name of enforcing discipline.

How Schools Reinforce Stigmas

One can cite several examples of how their school dealt with something as natural as menstruation. Several schools conduct separate workshops which actively exclude boys to teach the girls alone how to deal with this biological occurrence. Girls are also asked to conceal their sanitary pads from the males.

This inculcates a lack of gender sensitivity and gives rise to the notion that women have to remain hush hush about something that affects them and their bodies at periodic intervals. Menstruation is everyone’s business and schools must work towards normalizing talking about it.

Schools also pay no heed to sex education and reproductive health concerns. Safe sex, consent and protective measures regarding the sexual health of teenagers should be taught without any stigmatizations or taboo. This is the need of the hour and should be treated at par with academic education.

How to Fix This Situation

Some of urgent steps that educational institutions should take in order to tackle these pressing issues are-

1. Since most of the above mentioned problems are a clear reflection of the
patriarchal society that still persists, the teachers should be educated on such
matters in order to facilitate a change in their approach towards students and not be flag bearers or upholders of patriarchy.

2. Sex education should be included in the school curriculum on a priority basis
throughout the schools of this country.

3. Schools should encourage open discussions and initiate steps to raise awareness on issues like gender identities, equality of sexes, gender sensitivity and many more. These issues require immediate attention and are more often not trivialized by institutions.

4. A healthy school environment should be ensured so that the child undergoes
holistic growth and development instead of over emphasis on academics and
bookish knowledge. This would prove to be beneficial for the child’s mental health as well.

5. Three words that hold the highest level of importance - Smash the Patriarchy

Written by - Isha Singh

Edited by - Sandhya R

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