An Equal Classroom
A boy in my class quipped how much he liked pink, but he was greeted with whispering laughter. Another boy said he always wanted to become a dancer; the reaction was laughter again, as they considered it feminine. Mothers of most of the students in my class are home makers and for them, the concept of who does household work is definitely more than clear.
These stereotypes are reinforced in our minds by the media day in and day out. A home appliance advertisement is incomplete without a woman donning the role of a multitasking superwoman. Whenever it is a question of protecting a woman, a macho man comes to the rescue. A doll is either dressed in pink or is bestowed with curves. Boys can only play with racing cars. Most soap operas project women as all devoted to the household and man is the sole bread winner. This list is endless. We consume media from all around all the time we are awake and take these stereotypes deeply embedded in our minds to our classrooms.
Promoting Stereotypes in the classroom
A boy comes with his ears pierced, which of course is a discipline issue in the school. However, his act is projected as feminine. It is made to be a gender issue, which is unhealthy. May be it is a way of self- expression that we cannot even fathom. It seems we have compartmentalised our minds into feminine and masculine activities. Boys cannot talk much, as it is a girl’s forte. Boys are supposed to be naughty, but girls only gentle. Managing homes is just a woman’s problem, hence it is better for them to choose lighter professions. In this, a criterion of light has never been and will never be clear.
All of us at one point of time or the other have made use of expressions like, ‘Don’t talk like girls’. ‘Why have you pierced your ears like a girl?’ ‘Why are you walking like a girl?’ ‘In my so many years of teaching I have observed that boys are usually better at Mathematics and Science.’ ‘This bench is too heavy; let not girls pick it up.’
It does not end here. These stereotypes are so deeply drilled into our minds and personalities that even gender neutral words like surgeon, farmer, doctor, police officer, cricketer, wrestler, etc. evoke masculine images, all thanks to the media. Whenever we see and listen about cricket, media shows Sachin Tendulkar and not Mithali Raj. Farmer is usually seen to be a man. A famous Hindi poem which reads, ‘Khoob ladi mardaani woh to Jhaansi wali raani thi’ also projects that fighting even for a good cause is a masculine characteristic. Sometimes, girls are clearly encouraged to play lighter sports. It is commonly said, ‘It is alright for girls to pursue Arts, in fact it is better for them to do so, but boys must pursue vocation oriented subjects’.
We all are progressive people, at least we all pretend we are, but somewhere at the back of our minds, we still believe in the difference between the capabilities of boys and girls. This is the reason we have compartmentalised the gender activities. On the one hand we give examples of Kiran Bedi in the classroom and on the other we drill into the heads of our girls that eventually marriage is the only way to happiness. What happened to being a strong individual, where happiness is not dependent on anything external? On the one hand we tell our boys, respect women and on the other we tell them that they will be the heads of their families when they grow up. Aren’t respect, equality and heads of family oxymoron?
It all seems alright. But, the effects are subtle, yet dangerous. By telling our students everyday about the difference, we are directly contributing to increasing gender bias in our society. We are limiting them, limiting their creative prowess, limiting their potential and inhibiting their growth because they cannot even express themselves freely. There is always this fear of being judged if someone will wear pink or worse talk loudly, so unlike girls. Education does not mean being judged. It is letting every flower blossom in its own way. Holistic development of a child means that he/she has the patience and the mind to respect the differences and yet consider themselves and their classmates to be equals. This will later transform into an equal society, which we all dream of.
Nipping the evil in the bud
A teacher does not need to be feminist or otherwise in order to recognise these kinds of stereotyping at play in the school. We as teachers need to empathise and need to be compassionate. We have to understand that the compartmentalizing of the students’ activities as gender issues is doing nothing but hampering their creative expression. We just have to make a conscious effort every day that we are not highlighting the gender differences in the classroom.
- We need to promote healthy self expression. It is the only way to shatter these mind numbing stereotypes. It is alright if a boy wants to play with a doll and not a racing car. Let’s devote time to activities in which they can play with any object that they want to. This should be done from the time the child is admitted in the play school, so that it becomes normal for everyone around.
- Let’s develop writing as a hobby, which will prove to be a catalyst to their dreams and give an outlet to their feelings.
- Let’s provide them with a colourful atmosphere, as colourful as their personalities. What is wrong with pink?
- Let’s talk about their subject choices even if it is arts.
- Let’s motivate them to follow their dreams.
- Let’s tell them sky is the limit. We need to tell them that they can be anyone they want to be. Kalpana Chawla would have never taken that step into space if she had been told to focus on a light career.
As educators it is our responsibility to make every child realize his/her potential, irrespective of gender. Thus, we will be doing ourselves a favour. Let’s not clip their wings.
Priyanka Ohri says, ‘Having finished my schooling from Auckland House School Shimla, I pursued my Masters in Mass Communication and Journalism. At present, I am teaching Mass Media Studies in St. Thomas’ School, Shimla. Teaching as a profession was discovered accidently, but it is my second love after writing. There are two lessons that teaching has given me for a lifetime. First, to do what I love until I become perfect and second, you never know what you are capable of.’