What Nourishes India’s Stereotypes: School Students Take On Gender Inequality And Sexism

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What exactly entails the glossy life of a 21st-century student? Academics, projects, extra curriculars, social life, social media, vacations, and the hidden struggle of keeping it all together. In all these activities, one thing that affects all students is gender inequality.

Gender inequality is so ingrained in the system that it is something that comes up in various forms, right from birth – boys are supposed to like blue and girls are supposed to like pink, boys are supposed to wear pants and girls are supposed to wear skirts. As we dig deeper, we find that this aspect of gender-based differences ends up playing a role in almost all aspects of our lives.

In a recent student-centered survey I conducted, many such incidents came to light. A lot of students still felt that they received second-grade treatment when compared to boys. What to wear, how to sit, everyday biases, curfews, not getting permission to go to the same place, not being allowed to go out late and – well, the list is endless. Some students shared their personal experiences too.

One wrote, “The stereotypes in our society tend to establish certain tasks that women can’t do. I am a passionate debater but whenever I go for debates, I witness a sense of ignorance. It’s like they’re saying ‘ladki hai, kitna bol legi, kitna ladh legi, kitna chilla legi’ (she’s a girl, how much can she speak anyway, how much will she yell and argue) and I feel really bad about it but at the same time I get an opportunity to rub their stereotypes on their faces.”

Another student shared, “We had a pizza at home but it was sufficient for only one person and we had this other dish which I could eat but didn’t like. So, my brother was given the pizza and I was given the other dish. And I was told that when I become a mother, I would ‘have to sacrifice for my children, so better start now!’” These are such simple yet impactful experiences, that show the strong foothold that patriarchy has in our society.

It’s not only girls who face gender discrimination. Boys too have to deal with toxic masculinity standards as well. Many boys also came forward to share the biases they face. “At my tuition we are three people, two boys (including me) and a girl. When I am 10 minutes late to the class the teacher scolds me but when that girl is even 15 minutes late the teacher doesn’t say anything to her,” a student wrote.

Another shared his experience with feminism, “A girl was picked over me for an internship in the name of feminism, despite me having a better profile than her. Obviously, that is not what feminism stands for, so it’s not like I became anti-feminist or anything. However, it did infuriate me quite a lot.”

A map showing the dowry death rate in India, in the year 2012. (Source: M Tracy Hunter/Wikimedia Commons)

Other biases that came forward in the survey included teachers and school setting gender expectations in subtle ways. “I expect the girls of this class to maintain decorum,” “I didn’t know girls talked this much,” “These sports do not have any trials for the girls.” A lot of times I have noticed in school that boys are asked to carry heavy desks or instruments, but not girls. This stereotype shows women as weak and not strong.

A college student shared, “At my home, I’m always forced to learn how to cook and take care of the house and it is very irritating.” Another one said, “At technical colleges like mine, women are fewer.  As a result, they are always given preferential treatment.”

A frustrated student also remarked, “Girls are expected to work in a neat, organized manner whereas it is alright for a boy to do untidy work.” Another one observed, “Most people think of women as girls who are obsessed with makeup and shopping and due to this they are treated as weaklings who don’t know anything.”

It is when children are taught different things right from birth, that they end up fulfilling the expectations that were set on them and then everyone believes that this is the way it is and is always supposed to be. We fail to see the mass conditioning that is going behind this in the first place. We need to know these biases, to check our thoughts and the opinions of those around us.

As the youth we are the changemakers of tomorrow, and as parents, teachers, neighbours, relatives or in fact anyone from the previous generation you are the influencers, you are shaping the youth and their ideas. We all must realize the power our big and small actions possess and make changes around us for an equally better and inclusive future for all. Share your experiences with others, question why people are the way they are and most importantly, keep an open mind about everyone’s freedom and the right to make their own decisions.

The author is a student of the High School Achievers Program conducted by Young Leaders for Active Citizenship (YLAC). The High School Achievers Program identifies promising high schoolers and builds their capacity to lead change. This post was published as a part of the 2019 Delhi edition of the program.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are solely those of the authors and do not represent the views of YLAC as an organization.

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: Deeptrivia/Wikimedia Commons; John Haslam/Flickr.
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