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Indian Schooling System Is Constantly Reinforcing Toxic Gender Roles And Stereotypes. This Needs To Change!

October 04, 2022 | by Mehak Walia

Toxic gender norms are a prevalent part of our lives and it’s awful but we have to deal with them everywhere. The worst part is the fact that the educational institutes that we spend a large chunk of our lives in, like schools and colleges, spend the most time reiterating these awful and toxic norms. It is often said that what we learn in these institutions shapes us including our thinking, personality, choices, careers and even our existence as a whole. These educational institutes, which are the building blocks of society are killing its equality. I mean, these institutions are supposed to be reforming society and modernising its thinking but instead, they are the ones that are full of problems and need urgent reforms. From the increasing trend of rote learning and decreasing innovative thinking to abysmal sex education and perpetuating stereotypes, norms and toxic gender roles.

Also Read: How Are Teachers With Repressed Sexuality Expected To Impart Sex Education To Students?

This gender stereotyping is when the roles, characteristics and attributes of men and women in society and households are predefined, therefore limiting their choice and freedom. It becomes toxic when they are not even allowed to think to venture out of their allotted roles. And our educational institutions are the prime advocates for these toxic gender roles.

Roles Of Educational Institutions In Reiterating Gender Norms

How is it that the institutions of knowledge and excellence are not able to shake off gender stereotypes and end up ingraining them? This is because the teachers and administration are also part of the society filled with these toxic ideas and the injustice within them either becomes invisible or easier to ignore. These stereotypes are sometimes subtly and sometimes blatantly advanced.

One most common problem in schools is the tendency to put the responsibility on the girls to not “excite” the boys. Schools monitor the skirt lengths, advise girls to hide their bodies as much as they can, etc. Recently there was a case where during an entrance examination a girl was asked to wrap a curtain around her legs because she wore shorts to the centre. These kinds of practices send the message that even the clothes worn by a girl can be monitored by anyone and that boys will be boys who can’t control themselves.

Above all this, schools also attach shame to the natural biological processes of a woman by shaming them if involved in a relationship with a boy, asking them to hide their sanitary pads, attaching embarrassment to period stains, etc. These are some of the ways that girls are asked to hide their biological processes and sexuality. Instead of providing educational and open sex education, schools often are attaching shame and taboo to such topics. Even the boys are not taught to respect the girls and are made aware of how to help others. They are not sensitised about the social realities and are left to their own devices to come up with their own understanding and reactions.

Another subtle way of spreading these toxic gender roles is via books. The same books which are supposed to enlighten us also are subtly spreading the message that certain jobs like business, sports, army, etc are suitable for boys and jobs like teaching, nursing, receptionists, etc are for girls. This differentiation later on in life makes it difficult for both genders to cross over. Most books are not gender neutral and indirectly wire us into believing in the predefined roles and later follow them as well. And over the years, we have, time and again, come across problematic text written in these books.

I mean the teachers who are supposed to motivate us are the ones who end up breeding an atmosphere which implies that boys, on average, understand science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) better, whereas girls perform better in reading, writing and handicraft. Such classroom discourses result in similar behaviour among kids – each student showing conformity to their respective gender roles. This really does need to change.

The imposition of toxic gender roles and norms doesn’t just stop with students, the pressure to conform is put on teachers as well. One of the most common ways this is showcased is through the fact that even teachers have uniforms. Female teachers are asked to cover up with suits, dupattas and sarees whereas male teachers are allowed to wear whatever they want, without any consequences. Female teachers are also over-sexualised even in media like Ms Briganza in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. I mean, this just pushes things further, making it seem like women literally aren’t safe anywhere.

Can We Do Something To Solve This Issue?

Educational institutions have a lot of power and with great power comes great responsibility. Hence it is their utmost responsibility to tackle these biases. It can begin by training the teachers, there should be workshops to sensitise the teachers and help them change their approach in dealing with the very impressionable minds of young children.

Another thing we urgently need is a better and more inclusive sex- education which will not only remove the shame and embarrassment but also make all children aware of the natural body processes. We also need to gender-neutralise the textbooks very carefully so that no child is limited in their potential because of the existing biases. Schools and colleges are through which we can change not only society but make a better world.

Also Read: This Hindi Divas, A Hindi Teacher Spoke To Us About Teaching Hindi In An Increasingly Angrezi Medium World

We cannot deny the fact that the Indian government and institutions have been working to reform the existing education model. However, there are still several issues which are required to be taken care of. They are where the minds of future generations are given the space to grow and develop and it must be turned into a warm, nurturing and inclusive space, for everyone.

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