Telangana has become the first state to make gender education compulsory at the undergraduate level. This has started the debate on gender inequality in a highly patriarchal society. On August 15, 1947, when India got independence it was considered as freedom for all. But equality between the sexes remains a dream even 70 years after independence.
Many women’s movements have fought for women to be given their rights. But most of us have grown up with a patriarchal mindset that has deeply penetrated our society for years and is difficult to eradicate. Education is considered the greatest tool for the cultivation of the human mind. Education aims to empower students to question the pre-existing social norms, cultures and prejudices. It tries to provide a new perspective to students about society in which they are living in. Education is the process in which change makers are born.
I am in my final year of graduation in social sciences. In my 15 years of being in the Indian education system, I have seen students changing their perspective on politics, equality, equity, development, capitalism and many more things. But surprisingly and unfortunately, the bigoted views of most people that I know, especially male students, on gender, still remain more or less the same. While making this statement, I do not intend to generalise every male student.
Being a student of social sciences, we have being taught from the very first semester, about gender equality inside the class as well as outside. We have studied about how women are and have been discriminated in public as well as the private space. We have also learnt about the empowerment of women in different countries across the world. We have observed that wherever women got an opportunity, they have made the best out of it. Despite the things mentioned above, almost all the time the conversation that boys have is still incomplete without the objectification of women either verbally or through actions.
They were very sceptical about feminism. They thought of feminism as something that degraded men. They justified their stance by pointing out the privilege that women have in the society which is nothing but benevolent sexism. As part of the course on Gender, we learnt about radical feminism and the same boys we were having a discussion with, criticised the theory and also questioned the relevance of such theories in the curriculum. Many times, I have also heard that feminism means ‘ladkiyon ki chato’ (Obey the girl).
My personal confrontation with gender practices:
Verbally: Patakha, mal, totta, jahar, kancha, these are the words which are still used to describe girls. Whenever boys have disagreement with any girl. While back beaching with boys they will start to criticise her on sexuality no matter what disagreement was related to. It reminds me of Indian caste history where women’s sexuality was used to decide that which caste will be dominant.
Slangs: Benchod (Sister Fucker) and madarchod (mother fucker) are basic slangs used not only by boys but also by girls. No matter if it is between boys or girls, slangs used will always derogate women gender.
Clothes: Judging a girl from her clothes is not new to conservative Indian society. Youth of this country are expected to break this stereotype. Especially, it becomes the responsibility for the students from the social sciences institutes. But is it so? Whenever any girl gets dressed up then boys will surely praise her beauty but apart from giving racial comments, their beauty standards will include her short, skinned tight and revealing dress, her bra strip, her short skirts, her skin tight jeans, her visible cleavage is inevitable part of boys’ derogatory discussions. Contrary to common social concise, students do have sexist comments for that traditional attire also.
In my campus there is a girl who on regular basis goes for jogging. She is fitness conscious. She has shaped her body properly and for jogging purpose she used to wear tight clothes. Her body and jogging habit has become hot topic of gossip among students. Despite of her other achievements, nobody remembers them but only her body matters for them. If this case would have been in college of any other stream like engineering we could have been justified (we should not but in extreme case) by giving excuse of social condition of their college but in any educational institute it is difficult to justify such cases.
Girlfriend and boyfriend relationship – (more public than private)
This is the most incessant reason for the humiliation of girls. As relationships are normal so are breakups. And it is an individual’s personal matter so nobody has the right to interfere but when the society gives their unwanted opinion we can clearly see the baseness in that. While pursuing my education I have seen many relationships growing and breaking up. In some cases people consider boy as the reason for break up and in some cases it was girl. If girl is the reason for breaking the relationship then she will become not less than a devil for other students including her own friends. In some cases her friends had boycotted her. Boys refer her as a slut and by many other derogatory terms and if that girl gets into another relationship then only reason boys give for that relationship is her “uncontrollable sexual desire”. Hence we can say that concept of ‘Be a Bitch‘ given by radical libertarian feminist has not been accepted by so called educated youths also. But for the same; condition for the boys is vice versa. Here I have seen the boys who do have more than one affair but people do not humiliate boy for that. I would like to compare this with the rest of the cases which are happening in patriarchal and conservative society where husband’s extra marital affair is not that much controversial as compared to a woman’s affair.
Here feminine male refers to a male who is considered to have a socially constructed characteristics of a female and masculine female is a female having socially constructed characteristics of a male. I have observed the perception of college students for both the personalities.
Tomgirl (feminine male): In my college there is a boy who is considered as tom girl by other students. Feminine male characteristics such as his walking style, his action, his speaking style and his friend circle which mainly consist of girls. Due to these characteristics he is bullied and stigmatised by his male friends. Carrying a girl’s bag is still considered as disgrace. (In this context carrying a girl’s bag do not signify the benevolent sexism). This act of stigmatisation clearly shows the patriarchal mindset of such people as being girlish considered as a state of shame.
Tomboy (Masculine Female): When she had newly came to college whether to call her ‘he’ or ‘she’ was the burning question of whole college especially boy’s hostels. Her short hair and boys’ attire gave her look of boy. If we refer to the social concise about tomboy then she was a perfect tomboy. Her upbringing in her house was the reason of her personality. An athlete, intelligent and brave girl. Most of the time she used to be the only girl on playground among all boys. But do all these qualities of a girl matter to society? Despite of all this, she suffered from stigmatisation by rest of the students. Other students used to call her ‘chore‘ (Rajasthan word for boy). She didn’t have a problem with that because from childhood society gave her that name. She felt humiliated when other students mainly girls was harassing her for not being a girl and discriminating her. Other students including her seniors who had spent more than a year at one of the most liberal campus; were using offending words such as “carrom board” to criticise her body posture. Apart from students, Kaka-maushi (class IV employee) was also getting confused with her. Sometime security guard had stopped her at the entrance of girl’s hostel assuming her to be a boy. Maushis were critiquing for her male attire. At an instance one can afford to ignore the perception of Kaka- maushi about her because they are not educated but what about this educated army of this country? Where has their theoretical knowledge gone when it comes to practice in daily life?
When we talk about gender as a whole then it becomes inevitable to talk about LGBT communities. In this campus many students consider that referring someone by gay or lesbian tag is something immoral. If two girls are very close friends, then they will be declared as lesbian by some group of boys and some girls will also be offended. While interviewing, I asked students what will be their reaction be if their children will identify as LGBT? Many of them at first instance got confused about the type of question! Almost first reaction of all of them was that they will not let it happen. But on forcing those on what if it were to happen then many of them said aggressively that it won’t happen and they refused to answer further. Small group of them were saying that they won’t be able to accept this fact. Why these biases? If there are students with gender biasness in their minds, there are also students who are liberal in this context. But why this bifurcation among students? For these biases one can find many reasons but we can find the root of this in their socialisation. Students whose thinking is more oriented towards gender equality have certain reasons behind that. They have socialised in a family where there is more gender equality. In many cases both the parents are source of the income. One need not confuse gender equality with financial condition of the family. I have seen some students belonging to marginalised sections of society having more respect for females than students from well-off families. Contrary to this; students who were having discriminatory view for females had more male domination in their home. Hence, from childhood their mind has been nurtured through the ideology of male domination. Their socialisation is important reason for this. Other reason can be religion and tradition but education intends to empower the students to question the pre-existing social norms, culture and prejudices but in this education system, I have hardly seen this happening at least not for gender equality.
“The problem with educated people is that they have not educated enough to question their education”
Without an educated and empowered populace, the dream of gender equality and more non-violent world will forever remain ambiguous. But we need to have a skill based education to bring this equality. According to the report of the organisation for economic cooperation and development; current educational attainments remains far away from the adequate for the enhancement of personal well-being and social progress. The objective of empowerment of women and gender equality are influenced by qualification and skills that men and women possess. Gender quality is not option it is collective responsibility of one and all for the betterment of country.