When I was in school, till class 10, the student council at my school was terribly patriarchal in nature. Only a boy could be the school captain; the position of house captain was also reserved only for males. The maximum a girl could hope to achieve was being the vice captain of the house she was in, or the head girl – a position which was mandatorily below that of the school captain.
I clearly remember one of my seniors who was very smart and talented. She was the class topper, a national-level debating champion, an amazing hockey player and had learnt classical dancing. She also had a natural leadership quality. If the student council was a gender-neutral place where posts were given according to the prowess of the person, she should have been house captain.
However, she was made the house vice-captain, while the position of the captain went to a boy who didn’t hold a torch to her, both in skills or leadership qualities. In my opinion, he became the captain only because he was a boy. I remember that my biggest lament was seeing that amazing woman having to listen to the captain and follow his decisions which she could not even overrule. I also remember specific events where she had to make changes to what was happening, at the last moment – so that the house wouldn’t lose.
In 2010, the school had a new principal who abolished these roles and started elections to elect the student council. Anyone capable enough could stand for a post of their choice.
However, over the next two years, the school saw a rise in the number of boys while the number of girls sharply declined. And during the elections, the boys tended to vote for boys – while the girls usually voted for the ‘popular person’, who, in most cases, turned out to be a boy who was also a sportsperson.
A keen observer can easily seen what was happening here. And yet, in my school, the teachers were always silent and nobody ever commented on this. The school never tried to bring equality by ensuring an equal number of posts for girls in the student council.
For instance, the captain of the house I was in ensured that the votes went to the boys. On the sports-field, he used to call all the boys when the girls had gone swimming, and give them a speech on the lines of why boys should vote for boys. The reason he would give for this went along the lines of girls being stupid who would end up being housewives. Hence, it would not be fair for them to be leaders when they would submit to a man, eventually.
The point that I am trying to make here is that the school was an instrument in giving inferior roles to girls, despite their skills and prowess. While the new principal did try to establish a gender-neutral system, it didn’t really work because there was an inherent bias, an inherent misogyny, that already existed in the minds of the boys. After all, here, the boys referred to women as maal (property). Nothing was done to combat these issues – and these led to women not getting their desired posts even through elections.
Here, a harsh reality stands out. The girls in my school are extremely competitive – and terms like ‘slut and ‘whore’ are extremely common and regularly used. A girl who has a lot of male friends is regularly termed a slut and shamed. On the other hand, this is not the case with the boys. They are never shamed for their choices – and are even congratulated if they manage to sleep with a few girls. Because the girls shamed each other, boys got a chance to do the same.
One of my classmates dated a girl who had been given a reputation of sleeping around. Not that this should have been anybody’s business – but she was slut-shamed a lot. The girl dumped my classmate for another guy she liked. Outside school, at a sweet shop, my classmate was with his friends, when the girl entered the sweet shop with her new boyfriend. Seeing this, her ex clapped his hands and announced: “Maan gaya saali randi hai (I have accepted that this bitch is a slut).” As it turns out, my classmate was the vice-captain and the captain of the sports team for two consecutive years.
It is said that if we sit idle even when we see a wrong being done, we are committing as big a crime as actually doing it. In my school, there were teachers who would regularly slut-shame girls. I remember how I (as a school prefect), along with my friend, was doing the rounds to ensure that everyone was in the garden – when one of the teachers called us out. She asked us what we were doing and we informed her. I spoke while my friend stood quietly. The teacher replied: “I know girls like you very well. I know what you’ve been doing.” I was shocked.
At another occasion, I was wearing a tight shirt for the inter-house hockey finals that day, because the new one hadn’t been washed. On seeing me, a teacher told me: “It’s girls like you who spoil the names of other girls. Do you think I do not know why you’re wearing such a tight shirt? All you want is male attention.” I just stood there and gaped at her, not knowing how to reply.
If teachers behave like this, how can one really expect students to be any different? If we want to bring a change, we need to start with the schools. We need to ensure that girls are given as many leadership opportunities as boys – instead of always being slut-shamed.
The environment I grew up in was horrible, where I faced discrimination for being a girl at every step. It was fortunate that I came to a college which taught me that I wasn’t inferior to men in any way – and that society has been hypocritical to me all this while. But, not everyone can have the opportunity to be in such places of learning.
If we wish to start treating women as equals, we need to start young. We need to start at the base – from the schools.
Image used for representative purposes only.