10 Boys From My Class Spoke Up Against A Sexist WhatsApp Joke, And I’m So Proud!

Posted on September 7, 2016 in Education, My Story, Sexism And Patriarchy

By Sinjini Sengupta

Every morning we’re hard hit with headlines screeching gender crimes, and I won’t even go into statistical figures. Every morning, we’re also served tea in bed by the mother, the bahu, or the devrani.

Point is, academicians in contextual gender fields have a point when they argue that the previous two sentences you just read are not really distinct, irrelevant and erratic – they actually form parts of the same spectrum. The spectrum that cries out to us right from when we’re born, that we are different. Boys and girls, the “us” and the “them”!

Curious, right?

Okay, so let us begin with a rather simple question. What makes us curious? I believe this should be easy. Well, we’re curious about things we do not know, or we do not understand.

It has been ages that we’ve believed them when they told us that ‘Men are from Mars and Women from Venus’. Several psychological studies today, however, will stand to vouch for the fact that the core differences between genders, while undeniably existent, have much more to do with social conditioning than intrinsic inborn distinctions.

It’s true that our anatomies are different. It’s true that our inclinations may vary too, yet we have to grant that men and women are not ‘designed’ to be as different from each other as to guarantee the stereotyped roles they’re made to play in their later lives – nurturing versus bread-earning, delicate versus strong, hormones versus muscles.

And so it becomes imperative to ask, where do these differences come from?

Question, in another but related context, also arises around how men view women and vice versa. Is how we are unapproachable and curious about each other helping our cause of a better society? Is it granting any scope for solidarity between genders, or is it rather prompting the whole race onto a dangerous track where the power games and gender crimes surface?

The answer is rather simple, is it not? We, the Society. We, the People. As a tradition, we provide the little girls and boys with a very different breeding ground. We discriminate between them culturally and socially, and with every breath, we tell them how to behave differently and what to make of their lives. We expect different things from them, and teach them different things.

However, accidents happen!

Like, as a kid, I’ve had the rare fortune of being put into a co-educational school by my parents.

The thing about that one, seemingly small decision is more than you can imagine. We sat side by side, sharing lunches and home tasks. We played the same games, basketball to doll houses. We learned the same skills, stitching to sewing to writing wall magazines. We sang the same songs as the sun scorched the assembly lines, and we danced to traditional tunes at the cultural functions.

The best thing is, we were never taught to bother about what people outside our school walls thought of it. We flunked our math tests together and wept on each other’s shoulders, without having to fall in love. We ran after running buses and fell on our knees on the highways to bruise ourselves, and to save ourselves miraculously. We bought our bicycles around the same age, and pillion rode on each other’s cycle without stopping to wonder who takes the rider’s seat gender wise.

I do not know if we have become better human beings by doing all that. But, here is something I can tell you today.

We all know of notorious WhatsApp groups that flood you early morning, every morning with dozens of ‘Good Morning’ wishes followed by jokes on marriage and what not.

Right, let’s not even go there! But the thing is, of the many groups that I’m a member of, one is with all our old school friends. The other day, one of them forwarded a rather stereotypical joke on marriage and men, making fun of how men roar like lions but sheepishly wash dishes at the wife’s command when no one watches.

As would be usual, the feminist in me rose up in fury, considered a protest, and then heaved a sigh and got back to work – because she has known enough to know it doesn’t help!

However this time, something interesting happened. First, there was this slight ping, and I checked in to see that one boy from the group had asked – So? And then, another. And the third, and so on.

Within minutes, messages were pouring in dozens. At least ten to twelve boys – mind you, boys – vociferously protested the joke. The first one said, So? The second called the joke stinking of sexism, and asked, what’s wrong in doing dishes if one of the two had to do it anyway? The third bragged about how he is the king of the kitchen in his house. The fourth after some discussions bade us good night, saying he’d have to get up early the next morning to get the kid ready for school. I won’t tell you what the fifth and the sixth wrote, because – let’s say – the language was “unparliamentary”!

The feminist in me grinned ear to ear. The batch mate in me was proud, immensely proud! And the mother in me promised that come what may; this is one thing she owed to her child and she will.

A humble first step, to make the world more equal. A small area – the school, to share. To begin with!

Will you too, please?
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This article was first published on the author’s personal blog.

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Image source: Illustration by Thomas Trutschel/Photothek via Getty Images

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