It is ironic that schools, often considered temples of learning, end up as breeding ground for gender-based discrimination and toxic stereotypes. Schools do play a vital role in objectifying young bodies and conditioning young girls into believing that it’s their fault and that they are asking for it, thereby preaching decency, modesty and victim-blaming. This effectively translates to rape culture, which is rampant in India.
I studied in a Catholic school and experienced slut-shaming throughout my middle school life. From measuring the length of our skirts every single day to humiliating us for making a ponytail instead of plaits or for applying some kohl. If the length of the skirts was considered directly proportional to how ‘characterless’ one was, any use of ‘makeup’ was considered to be done only for ‘attracting’ guys.
I still remember how I was not allowed to participate in any extracurriculars for allegedly having a romantic relationship with a male friend and talking to him during recess breaks. Despite being in a co-ed school, girls could hardly develop healthy friendships with boys and vice-versa. When I complained about a senior ogling at my breasts, I was mocked at and my integrity was questioned. I was asked to wear white bras and a loose school shirt, while he was let off the hook.
Generally, sex is a forbidden language for girls just as menstruation is a taboo topic for boys. I’ve seen how girls have meagre knowledge about sex or sexuality for the majority of their school lives, while boys enjoy every freedom and sex is normalised for them. Sex is such a taboo in our society that teachers skip most parts of the chapter on reproduction in Biology. Similarly, I’ve seen how topics revolving around periods are never talked about in front of boys, we are taught how to ‘whisper’ instead. Schools are ashamed of spreading general awareness, and this is the exact reason why there’s an upsurge in period shaming, exposure to pornographic content, and sexual assault. You don’t teach young minds the difference between good touch and bad touch, and when a girl tells you how a boy plunged his hand under her skirt, you teach her that silence is the only answer and spin the whole thing about her character.
The Bois Locker Room is one example of what such an education can lead to. 16-17-year-old students morphing pictures of underage girls and casually talking about gangraping them not only shows a horrifying amalgamation of bigotry and internalised misogyny, but also how the roots of rape culture lie in schools. There are also instances of minor girls dating men twice their age, and men who prey on school girls. It is important that schools teach consent and boundaries.
Schools leave no stones unturned to reinforce stigma and gender norms. If a boy comes to school with his hair tied or talks in a dulcet tone, he would face homophobic and transphobic slurs. And if boys cry, schools become hubs of toxic masculinity with voices echoing, ‘boys don’t cry’, ‘man up’, ‘don’t cry like a girl’. It’s reflective of how patriarchy affects all— women, men, and gender non-conforming people.
School, our second home, is responsible for making us better humans. But no change would take place if teachers act as agents of patriarchy, thereby reducing themselves to mere puppets at the hands of an already disturbing society for women. It’s the need of the hour for schools to have these difficult conversations with students and teach sex education and gender studies. It’s time to treat women and non-binary people as humans. It’s time we introspect and ask ourselves, ‘If not me, who? If not now, when?’
The author is a student at Assam rifles School, Jorhat, Assam. Views are personal