TW: This article talks about rape culture.
The last few days have been difficult. Too much has happened in too less time. I haven’t been able to process all of it. For the most part of it, I have remained shocked. I have been numb, angry, disgusted, triggered, and enraged.
Now that I am in a better mental space, I will attempt to pen down this article, digging a little deeper into the problem and share a very personal experience.
It is important to note and acknowledge a few things about the #BoysLockerRoom incident. Some of the perpetrators were 17 to 18-year-old, school-going boys, and the survivors were minor girls, some as young as 13-14-year-old. That is where we will focus.
Rape culture begins in schools. I have studied in an all-girls’ Convent Missionary school for 14 years. I have seen, very closely, how socialisation and conditioning work into young minds, and how horribly problematic things are drilled into you slowly. It is even more effective if it is done by people or institutions you look up to with immense respect. Schools do that to you.
My school was run by a congregation of nuns who believed chastity is the greatest virtue, that women’s bodies should be covered so its purity being protected. In no way do I wish to disregard or look down upon their values, no matter how problematic I think they are. But, what I do have a greater problem with, is them being in positions of power to preach those problematic values.
The lines between right and wrong are so blurred. I loved, respected, and looked up to my institution and its people. For the longest time, I did not realise anything was wrong. I trusted and believed in their values. Slowly, when I started understanding, I was too scared to speak against it. Everything was done under the garb of discipline and rules. As an obedient (not much of a rebel) child who loved her school, speaking up against those rules was scary to me. Because we had seen that mere breaking of rules had punishments. I still regret not rebelling. I do not blame my 15-16-year-old self for being scared and anxious. But I regret my silence and obedience to such toxic behaviour.
But, a few months before I graduated out of school, I mustered the courage to speak up for the first time. I did hesitate initially for fear of consequences. But in the end, it felt good. It felt powerful and empowering.
I might have learnt so many good things, received a good education from that school. I got love and affection from its people. But I cannot separate the good part from its toxicity. It is difficult to call out your own school. It shatters so many good memories. But it is important to call out their toxic and problematic culture.
The length of your skirt measured the modesty of your character. A ponytail instead of a braid or a dash of kajal was very provocative. Talking to boys in school fests was a ‘horrible thing and must be prohibited’. We were even shamed for wearing a different coloured bra except white because that meant we were asking for it, I guess.
If this is not slut-shaming, then what is?
For rare occasions when we were allowed to wear coloured clothes, there were strict instructions determining decency. Sleeveless was absolutely not allowed. 12-year-old me happened to not abide by that rule once, along with a few friends. We were pulled aside, and made to stand separately. We were shamed and humiliated and made to feel horrible. We were told things like “Girls from decent homes don’t wear such clothes,” “Why are you trying to attract attention from boys?” “If you mind your own business, they won’t do anything to you.”
If this is not victim-blaming and breeding of rape culture, then what is?
Teachers instructing us how girls should sit, at which volume they should talk, how they should behave.
Since we turn 10 (5th grade), not a single day of our school life passed without our skirt lengths being measured. We have been told that the length of our skirt equals the respect we deserve. We have been conditioned into believing if any abuse, harassment happens to us, it is always our fault. Because of course, we were asking for it.
When people are advocating for mandatory sex education, conversations around consent, boundaries, empathy in schools, I cannot emphasise enough on the need for it because the ground reality is so disturbing.
Schools are not only preaching such toxic values of slut-shaming and victim-blaming, but I feel they are also conditioning and socialising very young girls into believing it themselves. The consequences of it are going to be dangerous. Leave alone other people blaming and shaming you, if any untoward incident occurs, the emotional trauma that the victim will experience will be doubled because of the personal guilt. I cannot comprehend how problematic that is. On top of that, other consequences will be women slut-shaming each other. That is the worst kind of society we want to live in where women don’t have empathy and solidarity for each other, where they don’t create a safe space.
I really feel that Convent missionary schools are an absolute nightmare for young girls because of their toxic culture. It seems like a breeding ground for rape culture. As against the common notion, it affects women the most. Rape culture is not just men behaving in a certain manner. It is the set of values and beliefs that we, as a society possess and preach that enable such behaviour.
It is so problematic in innumerable ways which I cannot put into words adequately. It has taken me so much effort and time to unlearn those biases and get rid of the toxicity. I think I am still in the process of unlearning. I am in the process of growing to become a better feminist, more importantly, to be more empathetic and kind to women around me. I am also trying to be brave and unapologetic because we were made to feel guilty for things that weren’t our fault, made to question our character and self-worth.