Let’s start with a story of a young girl. Her name is Arundhati. She is very simple and easy going. When she started out, she loved going to school. But soon her perception towards school changed. She now feels uneasy as soon as she enters the school premises. It all started when she learnt that in school, a place that is supposed to empower us through knowledge, is systematically discriminating in the name of discipline. She wanted to protest against it but sadly had no voice to do so. So she decided to do the same thing that many girls do: ignore the situation.
This is just a small glimpse into the life of every school going girl. Some feel it and some don’t but, it is true that every girl faces it. In school, we all have noticed that there are some rules which seem unfair. And even if we protest, the teachers tell us that they are for our own safety and security and so that the male staff members don’t get distracted. For instances the uniform. Generally in most of the schools, the uniform for girls is a shirt and skirt.
Every day, teachers make sure that every female student is properly dressed. So they see to it that no girl wears her skirt above the knee, and socks a little below the knees. If the uniform has a white shirt as a part of the ensemble, they ensure that the girls are wearing a white bra and a white inner and shorts inside the skirt. Not just that, our nails are check (in my school only girls’ nails are checked) and hair too (in my school two ponytails are not sufficient. We have to make plates even if our hair is short and hairband is compulsory). If we don’t follow the rules teachers punish and scold us and ask questions like what would junior girls learn from us, what if they also start wearing such short skirts? In the school, we are often reminded of our duties define by the society.
When by chance we get our monthly period in school, they make sure that it becomes the worst day of our life. And if we end up with a spot or two of blood on our skirt, and our female classmates and teachers notice that then they behave as if we have committed the greatest crime ever. To ask for pads we have to go to a female teacher and ask her for the same quietly. With our classmate also we have to ask in a ‘hush hush’ voice. The story doesn’t end there. The pads are exchanged secretly as if we are exchanging illegal drugs, wrapped in a black plastic bag or newspaper. I want to ask one simple question: What is so bad about having a period? Why do we need to seek permission from a female teacher only when we get it? It is quite surprising that school itself promotes such taboos. Sexism isn’t just practised with students, female teachers face similar things. One example is: in my school, there is a separate staff rooms for male and female teachers. And also there is a dress code for female teachers. They can only wear sarees and mekhela chadar. They can’t even wear salwar kameez.
Girls and women face sexism everywhere: in schools, colleges, workplaces; their representation in the various modes of entertainment like cinemas, soap operas, advertisements are all highly sexist too. At every moment we are reminded of our feminine parts. From these experiences, I have learnt one thing. From school level onwards we are systematically trained to accept male supremacy, taught that boys will be boys. In order to protect ourselves, we have to limit our freedom but they won’t teach us self-defence. Our education system is structured in such a way that our knowledge becomes limited to school books which fail to make us see things critically. Our education system lacks morality. It doesn’t teach the boys to see girls as human beings. It doesn’t tell them that girls too have dignity and deserve respect. One simple question I want to ask: “Do our schools really teach about scientific and rational ideas or it is just a myth?”