Circa 2005- I am in second grade. I notice my shirt is getting a little small for me. Finally, I was growing. It felt a little tight, but nothing too concerning. Being a skinny girl it was rare for me to have clothes that were tight for me. “Hey you girl, ya you, your uniform do you think this appropriate?” I look behind to find my tall stout dance teacher whose only credit till date is that he can move and he knows a few steps good enough to teach dance. He is standing there with his thin moustache looking at me furiously. Being an over sensitive and obedient student I quickly look at my uniform to find what went wrong. After I am unable to find anything I look back at him puzzled. “It’s too tight, it’s like you are inviting people to look at you. Change it from tomorrow” He just walks away as tears fill my eyes and I kept quiet.
Circa 2011- I am in a completely new environment. The shifting hadn’t been easy for me. New school, new culture, new state and new friends. Everything got me paranoid. As I enter the classroom I notice the boys are all sitting far away from the girls. It is as if there is invisible lava in the middle and the boys and girls are unable to cross it. Being me, I cross that imaginary lava and try initiating conversation. The new teacher suddenly takes me aside and almost in an inaudible voice says, “ I know you are new, but you cannot let your reputation be maligned like this on your first day right?” Once again I kept quiet. The small poster in the school board says: Boys and girls are equal!
Circa 2014- Once again new school and a new stream. This time the burly Physical Education teacher comes into the class. Finds my friend crying after an injury and laughs, “Why are you crying like a girl?” My friend stops crying, the class erupts in laughter and the teacher goes about her business. My entire body filled with so much anger and I wanted to shout back right then. But then again I kept quiet.
These are just a few instances that I witnessed, faced and experienced when I was in school. It is often said that school is our second home- it is the place you spend more than six hours in. After one point you learn more while in school than from your parents or while you are in your home. Yet, the rampant sexism that occurs inside the confines of these premier learning institutes is often ignored or laughed at.
Schools are places where we learn how to function in society- we learn ethics, manners and all kinds of goodwills. Yet, it is also the place where blatantly sexist teachers are allowed to foster and traumatise. It makes sexism normal, so normal that at one point you stop noticing. You don’t realise that when your PT teacher says boys can’t cry like girls, or when your Physics teacher pulls you up for talking to a boy and ruining your studies that it is sexist.
All of my life I have come across these teachers who have always been blatant about their ways. While that doesn’t surprise me as much as the fact that these teachers are allowed to exist and teach in those schools. It irks me more to hear the deafening silence of my peers and the ignorance from my other teachers.
My friend and I were attending the party of one of our guy friends, and she owed him money. While returning it to him in the school the next day, the English teacher ‘caught her’. My friend was then threatened by saying that she couldn’t participate in such activities in school. She was also questioned as to why she was giving money back to this boy. After explaining her the scene, the teacher asks whether her parents know that she hangs out with boys. The very fact that it was her mother and father who dropped her off to that party was something the teacher couldn’t fathom. After all, a good girl of her tender age cannot be out being friends with boys.
Due to all these repercussions, the entire atmosphere of the school was different. Girls would come and tell me that those two girls are bad since they whisper and talk to boys- who by the way are sitting at the other end of the ocean almost!
At one point my mother herself was called and told that I would be faring badly in my 10th boards if I didn’t stop my ‘activities’. By which she meant talking to boys, making friends with them or being even remotely in their vicinity. But of course, once my 10th results arrived I had the great joy of rubbing it on her face.
At first, I blamed the area, that people from this particular area of the town are like that.
Later, for my 11th and 12th, I joined one of the top school located in my area. While here the ‘rules’ of boys mingling with girls were much more relaxed, yet there was no escape from sexism. From being banned from playing certain sports as girls (since we sweat after playing because of which are bras are visible) to being shamed for sitting with a boy. There was also a point of time where the extremely loved and idolised PT teacher came up and told one of my acquaintances “You need to stop playing basketball, I could see the black and white bra inside” and this too fell on deaf ears.
Since we hit puberty, there used to be classes on periods. Yet, every time we were being educated on it, the boys were sent out since it didn’t concern them. Again something that I didn’t understand and neither do I till date. Why is having periods so secretive that if the boys come to know the basic function of our body then a nuclear disaster might happen? Even the word periods seem to have enough capacity to destroy an entire country. Till date, no girl could go and tell her male teacher that she has periods so she needs to be excused.
For years these thoughts kept filling me with anger and disgust. Every time I think of these teachers my blood starts to boil- my blood doesn’t boil because such people exist, because that is a given fact now. It boils because the people around me too laughed or stood in silence hating them from within. My blood boils because the school allows them. My blood boils because these teachers are the ones who are idolised because they are funny and cool. But, most of all it boils because I kept quiet all these years and never answered back.
While these experiences are extremely personal to me there are several studies done about sexism in school and it is a fact. It aches to know that even today we live in a world where the place which is supposed to groom is the one that normalises it and even teaches us to be like this. From cases of bullying to rapes by teachers- there are many incidents which have shown us that there are monsters that are hiding behind the garb of teachers.