*This one’s an essay written (last year in July) for an online endeavour of creating social awareness on discrimination – an endeavour that is work in progress. Since I’m hard-put to create posts, magically, out of thin air, this is being used here as well :D*
And disclaimer: Long post; standing-on-soapbox alert 😀
The other day I walked into a sixth standard class, for a substitution period. As is the norm, I began to talk to the students about football – the World Cup being the favourite topic of conversation these days, even among the little ones. What was immediately clear was that most of the boys had something to say, and the girls just giggled and made faces. All of 11 years old, and they were already pouring scorn on the boys – and of course, vice versa!
When the interest began to wane, I asked them what period they were supposed to have had, and pat came the reply – GS class, teacher! Oh, I exclaimed, your Science Teacher is on leave? But one smart alec had already counted the number of Science periods, found them intact, and come to the conclusion that it was not GS for General Science, but GS for something else. It then struck me, that on the way to the classroom, I had a brief conversation with a teacher who said this year she had a GS class – GS for Gender Sensitivity. I recoiled. Gender Sensitivity? And what “syllabus” / “Curriculum” did that entail? I had a mental picture of a teacher in class, actually “taking class” on a topic as sensitive as this! And it was a depressing picture, given the extremely judgmental and prejudiced people we are.
Gender insensitivity is what we see around us these day – as we have from about the time that the world and its mother-in-law (the phrase itself is so discriminatory, but for lack of a more appropriate phrase to comprehensively include the whole universe of gender insensitive people, I use this!) – discovered and decided that men were superior to women. The same people who worship the “teachings” of Vedas and the Scriptures, which in every way possible pay the highest of tributes to Womanhood, are now the masters of denigration in extremely subtle to violently explicit ways. I sigh mentally, and physically each time I come across this in action, feeling exasperated at the thought that each moment, each second, women have to put in twice the effort to even be lauded for doing something a man has.
Back to this sixth standard I was in. I told them it probably was Gender Sensitivity class they had and was met with confounded expressions. To clarify further I asked them if they knew what gender meant – Hurrah! Some did! They said, male/female … and looked embarrassed. There! That expression itself was telling enough. Now that we were on the same page, a bit, we went on to see who did what at home. Not surprisingly, most of the children spoke of ‘mother in the kitchen’, or ‘helping with homework’, and fathers returning late, reading the newspaper, doing work outside the home, watching sports channels and news channels! I then asked the boys what they did and the girls what they did at home – same reply – most of the girls helped their mother, and the boys their father. However, interestingly enough there were some, a handful, less, who actually crossed over to the other side of the perceived set of duties of girls and boys, though reluctantly in the case of the boys!
A few classes later I happened to discuss the same things with Class ten, and was pleasantly surprised by the answers! A majority of the boys there did a lot of housework, right from sweeping and swabbing to and helped to wash dishes, lay the table, which is certainly a new one for me!
Slowly, things are changing, and for the better, I understood. However, it still bothers me that we need a separate class, in the school curriculum to address an issue that should be part of every class! It works, for the system, presumably, on the same premise that we needed a Moral Science class to improve our ‘morals’ – we all know how we did there! And how, so very NOT, it shaped us! I know for sure, we were more inspired by the role models certain teachers became for us, or maybe that friend or classmate or schoolmate who refused to conform and did the most motivating things. Certainly not the lessons from the Moral Science class!
I have the same argument to make for the Gender Sensitivity classes, except that this time, perhaps there may be at least a few youngsters who would take up the baton of finding that sensitivity and passing it on, hopefully to the generation before them, and here I mean the elder generation. The youngsters, from a very early age, we know, right from infancy, take their cues from the home environment and later bring influences into it from what they experience outside of home. With the GS classes, are we working in reverse? And will it be successful? I do hope so, because of the fact that children who are treated in gender discriminatory ways would probably see that others in their class, JUST LIKE THEM, have a different set of rules, and so can, and will hopefully make that attempt to change the rules at home!
When I mentioned how much the girl child in Indian homes is suppressed and oppressed, even in this day and age, and I am on the young girls’ side, a young lad in class ten piped up – Ah yes, teacher, you’re a FEMINIST! Instantly I got on my soapbox! You have to understand this about me – you call me a feminist and then my back is up! Got you, didn’t I? Feminism, for me is humanism. Feminism has long been associated with a violent ‘burn the bra’, and ‘man-hater’ image of a woman – when actually it is about making a difference to bring about equality of the sexes, that pipe dream, and doing it in practical ways!
Treat everyone, and yes, man and woman, with the respect they are deserving of! Shoot down prejudice, too, by saying things like a Daughter is equal to ten sons… yada yada, for all the things she does, super-humanly!! Or that a son is a son, only till he gets married, but a daughter is a daughter for all her life! What we are doing is cleverly engaging in that same superiority inferiority game, aren’t we?
I have two sons, who are now married, to lovely girls – and I mean lovely as not just a physical attribute but the loveliness of their selves. My sons have been brought up with this one main notion, that they are not care-takers, but partners in every sense of the word, in their relationships. It is indeed possible to treat everyone, both man and woman with the sensitivity they deserve.
The newest routine I see doing the rounds is that now, to reduce gender discrimination, and increase gender uniformity, parents, teachers, society at large, are advised to not colour code – that is the western way of colour coding! Pink for girls and blue for boys! Avoid buying pink for your daughter or baby girls, and so also blue for boys! Or, don’t give girls dolls to play with, or boys bikes to play with! The moment you say DON’T do something, it reeks of discrimination again! Instead, why can’t we be more inclusive? Add bikes, add blue to the girls’ lists, and dolls and pink to the boys! Let them choose for Gods’ Sakes, and stop anyone who has derogatory things to say of either! It starts right there – allowing the boys to be boisterous and girls to be sedate. Indeed, even this day and age!
Gender sensitivity. And I haven’t even started on Sex Education.
So, what’s stopping us from really really being Gender Sensitive?
6 July, 2014
Added here, for Day#24 of #RamblingsInFebruary 🙂