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Male students, female teachers and patriarchy in the classroom: Snehlata Gupta

January 8, 2013

Guest post by SNEHLATA GUPTA

Smug patriarchal pronouncements about ‘dented and painted’ women and ‘rape in India and Bharat’ brought back to me an experience I faced in the classroom some years ago.

I teach English in grades 11 and 12 in a co-ed school in Delhi. That year I had this rather ‘difficult’ boy in class. I can’t remember now how the discussion really began. The discussion got to the point where students were talking about the amount of freedom available to girls and boys and why girls have far less ‘freedom’ than boys. It was somewhere at this point that this boy stood up (unlike the regular practice of standing to speak in the classroom, I insist students should sit and talk in my class) and stated with complete confidence that  ‘if girls dress so provocatively boys can’t help themselves.’

I remember being completely aghast at this blatant show of patriarchal arrogance. I went all hot and cold in the same moment. I had this red mist in front of my eyes. I can’t recall ever being angrier in my life with a student. I wanted to strangle the boy. I don’t know what really riled me the most – what he said certainly, but it was also the manner in which the young boy (he was not more than 16 or 17 at that point) with complete self assurance and self-righteousness, believed he could make this declarative statement. He was so smug in the ‘rightness’ of his viewpoint. My instinct was to crush him immediately with a cutting retort using my ‘teacher authority’. Better sense prevailed and as I waited to calm down, there was a howl of protest from the young women in the class. There was an angry and acrimonious discussion around the issue. Many of the boys remained quiet; a few were in quiet agreement with the girls who were insistently pointing out reports of minor girls being raped and killed wanting to know if they too had been ‘provocatively dressed’ if they too were ‘asking for it’. This boy was taken aback by the anger of the girls. I don’t think he was expecting them to hit back at all. Probably expected them to feel shamed or something.

The discussion in the class did not appear to have much of a lasting impression on him.

Sometime later in the year, the same boy followed me out of the class one day (students often do it to ask some question). Again it was not what he said so much as how he said it that angered me greatly. He said he had a problem. I asked him what it was. In a quiet, hushed, almost embarrassed tone he said he felt I should wear a dupatta in class. I couldn’t believe I was hearing him right! Here was a young male student of mine telling me how he felt I should dress.

With great restraint I asked him why he felt I should wear a dupatta, he said because it embarrassed him to see me without one. Then he added some other boys in the class also felt embarrassed. It made me angry but I kept hold of my temper. I asked him if the other students had nominated him the spokesperson and if not then he should ask them to come to me with their complaints. I also told him if it embarrassed him he could shut his eyes in class or stay out of class.  After that even more determinedly I refused to use a dupatta in class. Maybe a rather childish reaction but it made me feel good.

I usually do carry a dupatta to school/class, but often drape it on a chair because it gets in the way when I am writing on the board, which I do rather a lot. I think I dress very modestly and neatly if not exactly very smartly, one because that is me and two I feel my appearance should not be a distractor in class. Probably it is also an unconscious result of years of conditioning at work – constantly being told as young girls and young woman not to draw attention to oneself.

Both these incidents got me thinking about what we can and need to do as teachers. As a middle-aged teacher I couldn’t escape the offensive, patriarchal gaze of a 17-year old boy. Please do not misunderstand me – this was not a sexual gaze, a result of rampaging hormones. This was a patriarchal gaze born of a sense of power and entitlement that society has sanctioned and conferred on those born and raised as a male.

How does one tackle the deep-seated sense of entitlement that so many young boys/men have just because they are male?

As a teacher I don’t have any easy answers. The way education is being shaped today; classrooms are little more than teaching shop floors. There is little room for meaningful discussion on important issues. How do I simultaneously empower my female students while sensitizing my male students?

71 Comments leave one →
  1. January 8, 2013 11:07 AM

    what is actually required for these boys is to be thrashed. there is no other way.
    at a certain age, all kind of thoughts come in one’s mind ; good and bad, these kind of thoughts should be punished so that boys understand that this thinking is as wrong as a habit of drugs, stealing etc.

    unfortunately, I feel the rot in our society is now so deep that the unless some boys are murdered for such thought process things won’t change

    • January 10, 2013 11:21 PM

      Please be kidding.

    • payal kalra permalink
      January 17, 2013 1:00 PM

      getting angry and thrashing is certainly not the solution. it’s something like the aggression that the men have that makes them rape women. not much difference, then. if these thoughts are natural, then they need to be confronted, dealt with and can be changed. if boys learn this in the patriarchal society then their thoughts can be diverted in the right direction too. suppressing them is not required. in fact, it might turn harmful later.

  2. January 8, 2013 11:29 AM

    Wow. Imagine how his Father must have treated his wife (his Mother). That’s how he grew up thinking, learning and behaving. Your upbringing decides how you’ll turn out.

  3. January 8, 2013 11:56 AM

    It’s is really sad indeed shameful to have kids with such upbringing & a closed mindset and I am pretty much sure that these kind of boys grow up to become Men who eventually eve tease girls, rape women, demand dowry, thrash their wives, abort a female child, hit their parents and breed a society which is utterly disrespectful as he seems to be.
    Well , the best one can do is to inculcate the power of reasoning and gender sensitivity among children not to mean to preach children about absolute feminism but about comradeship and the mutual coexistence/respect, not on the basis of sex, caste or creed but on sole humanism because we all need to learn as Men or Women to accept the other as “persons” at the first place giving no room to who is superior or inferior and segregation.
    Though it sounds quite an ideal and time taking process but I still think we need to mature as a society, hence till then “Try Try never say die”.

  4. Guest permalink
    January 8, 2013 12:01 PM

    The male eye instinctlvly latches on to the features of the female – the breasts first and then the face.That is the fact of biology an undeniable one. Perhaps reading Desmond Morris would help. Having said that, human beings have the repsonsibility of respecting another’s rights to body space – equally for both sexes. The world over, women like to wear as little as possible because their bodies are beautiful, but social mores dictate how much is permissible. How does one explain the unusually high incidence of rape in western countries, where there is more equality of sexes ?

    • P Bhatia permalink
      January 8, 2013 6:26 PM

      Unusually high incidence of rape in western countries??? Where do you get your info bro? It’s actually much higher in India. In the farms and fields of India, women are raped regularly. No one reports it, because it is not seen as much of a crime, only as a woman’s complicity in the act because she somehow provoked it. I wish you have daughters and they teach you to think straight.

    • Guest permalink
      January 8, 2013 7:13 PM

      It is not biological, as you have mentioned in your comment. The notions of “provocative” or “sexy” are very much social constructs (patriarchal social constructs). There have been numerous studies on heterosexual male sexuality which strongly propound that sexual response in men, while heavily dependent on sensory stimulation, is benign (read as ‘not rape inciting’). However, something like notions of the “moral” or the “appropriate” or the “proper” is conditioned by hierarchies and perceptions of power. These, and not sexual “urges”, condense rapes and all other sexual assaults.

    • January 14, 2013 4:32 PM

      Umm, women’s attire varies vastly depending on the socio-cultural and religious mores of the societies they live in. Tribal women in Nagaland were bare-chested until as late as the seventies — before mainland India’s cultural norms subtly modified notions of modesty and sexual propriety.

      Women the world over dress for comfort, safety and convenience. Very few of the world’s women wear clothing befitting a Victoria’s Secret fashion show. The male gaze has a more damaging influence on women’s fashion than an inherent female desire to frustrate men by provocative clothing.

  5. Prakash permalink
    January 8, 2013 12:03 PM

    I think that patriarchy is on the retreat in India. Sexist comments against women in general are far too common even in the “developed word”, so India is no exception. Education will help to change this for the better.

    However, this is first and foremost a law and order problem. We need more and better policemen and policewomen. Policing should no longer be a low skilled job. The law should punish rape severely. That is the bottom line.

    Education is the long term solution. The immediate need is to make our cities safer for women. If you take a look at the police resources which are being used to keep our politcians safe, compared to what is being spent on ordinary people, then it is clear that something is gravely wrong.

  6. January 8, 2013 12:04 PM

    The simplest of the steps might be to introduce them to a new culture. Videos of other cultures, how people behave, perhaps a few good educational movies.

    Another point to ponder over might be, how was it that the situation reached to such a point? Why didn’t the teachers at an earlier age sensitize the boys? It quite happens that the boys are all made to leave the class and learn from the streets and movies, while the girls are given special education in the classroom. It is a matter of fact that boys are abandoned to learn on their own certain aspects of life. Then, they will learn from what they see around them in movies and society.

  7. Radhika permalink
    January 8, 2013 12:09 PM

    Dear Nivedita,

    I’m no teacher myself. I have never taught in a formal class setting. But I work in a human rights organization that works with young people. Young people here either don’t have such evil patriarchal values or know for a fact that they will be chucked out if they express any. Hence I have never faced such a situation.

    I was just thinking as a woman, how our reactions to such comments can be productive. And I completely understand how this particular young boy only wanted to harass you and he probably was appreciated by his friends for taking on a teacher like that. I know their kind. It’s a bit hopeless in that department. But I was still thinking making young boys or men “shut their eyes” or to keep away is not the solution. They need to keep their eyes open and learn to accept our body shape and type as not an object for their pleasure.

    This is not a comment for you because I understand how taken aback you would be at that moment and our reflexive thinking doesn’t really play a key role in this situation. But all of us, women either by sex or by gender, must make an attempt to make these patriarchal off-springs understand that our body may or may not be different from theirs, but doesn’t mean we have to hide it. As much as Salman Khan can pose without a shirt because he doesn’t have breasts, a woman’s body should be celebrated equally. They need to learn to celebrate, not gaze at. They need to learn to not look at us for our breasts, but with respect. And we need to make them learn. So, for all of us, next a time a young boy or a man makes a comment, in a safe environment of course, let’s try and teach them a lesson.

    • Nivedita Menon permalink*
      January 8, 2013 4:22 PM

      Just a quick clarification. The post is written by Snehlata Gupta (as clearly mentioned in the title and by-line), not by me. And I think Snehlata is clearly a wonderful and thought-provoking teacher – the women students in her class expressed their anger at the boy’s assertion, and a discussion ensued. The student felt he could actually approach Snehlata to say what he did, and she responded honestly and strongly. A good experience for the boy overall. The more strong women he encounters, the more he is likely to change his opinions and attitudes – after all he was only 17.
      As for Munish and fastrack0007 (below) and Guest (above) – good to have you come out and expose yourselves here, we know the likes of you well!
      PS – were either of you in the recent protests? And if you were, what did you learn?

      • Radhika permalink
        January 10, 2013 11:15 PM

        Hi Nivedita,

        Thanks for your reply. And I’m sorry to get the name wrong, I’d like to congratulate Snehlata for putting up this article. I just need you to understand that I admire Snehlata’s teaching style as well. The point was not that at all. The point was that asking men to “keep their eyes shut” when they’re uncomfortable is not the solution. He definitely did get the taste of power from Snehlata, but the point is to address that discomfort in itself. And at the same time, it is the easiest for the teachers to push for gender and sexual sensitivity in their own school as part of the formal curriculum. There was a question asked and I replied to it.

  8. January 8, 2013 12:22 PM

    Looking back 50 years, what I used to feel, honestly , that “difficult” boy is trying to seek help — the woman’s breasts never stop attracting the male eye– a fixation from baby days of probably,. All commercials , movies fully use this weakness in men. Why is it so? When in a fashion show , malfunction of wardrobe caused momentary topless condition, the cameras and media went crazy!! When we go to tribal areas where being topless is common, the pendulous ones , too may around, removes the interest I find. Some psychologists should find way of helping boys between 14 to 18 years, to handle these pressures on them emotionally and physically. That boy was simply crying out for help, from the teacher, fighting the inner battle between his urge to watch the breasts, but at the same time, the shame of his wrong doing with own teacher, troubling his conscience. Must admit he was courageous and honest. Rest simply hide their feelings but remain guilty of the same – just getting lost in keen observation as if it is some cabaret dance, the teacher’s movements.

  9. January 8, 2013 12:41 PM

    The problem lies with the fact that the projected state of a “respectable” woman is one where she is completely cloth clad from top to bottom. No one ever talks about or shows a “normal” society where the woman is wearing whatever she wants to wear. Even at homes, the way we are brought up projects a highly patriarchal society. The man of the house decides whether the daughter can wear skirts or not, and the girl has no say on her clothing choices.

    Beyond that, a woman’s body is objectified. Not celebrated. We need to make our children move beyond these conventions and become a part of a society where everybody celebrates the other person for what they are, do, wear, etc – whatever that might be.

  10. Vasavi permalink
    January 8, 2013 1:08 PM

    Your article struck a chord within me. I am not a teacher, but I have been to a posh Delhi co-ed school, and then to a girl’s college for my graduation. To think back at that time, I was depressed at having secured an admission in a girl’s college. What really saddened me was the absence of boys in the class… all those silly-sally dreams the Karan Johars of the world incite in you about college days were dashed to dirt. But, three years into a girls-dominated atmosphere, and then another two years as post-graduation in a course which has a feminist bent, made me realize, there was more to be gained than to be mourned. I realized, I could sit any which way I want, my legs can go as wide as they practically can, my bra straps could peep out of my tops, I could wear plunging necklines and flaunt my cleavage, I could dress whatever way I want, I needn’t shampoo my hair just because its been three days, and I neednt necessarily get my hands waxed! Stupid as it may sound, somehow, the whole experience of treating my body according to my will, and doing as I would wish, with no pertinent thought about the “decency” or “appropriateness” of my conduct, was exhilarating!

    Now, as a woman of 23 years, I feel enraged for all those times I was told in desperate hush voices to sit properly with legs crossed, or to wear a shamiz underneath my white school shirt because my bra shows, to wear cycling shorts under my skirts… blah blaaah blaaaaaah!

    Its my body, and I can comport myself the way I’d like! Period!

  11. ashish permalink
    January 8, 2013 1:09 PM

    madam , it is a very disheartening yet widespread phenomenon as far as our country is concerned that we as boys are raised up with a chauvinistic rather than with a chivalrous attitude towards female sex . i too have witnessed such ugly incidents when i was in school. i would like to say that we as a society need an attitudinal overhaul and inculcate a positive behaviour towards female sex. we can take the help of our religious scriptures for developing good moral values in children .

  12. January 8, 2013 1:26 PM

    Your words are intact. But, I am not sure of the thought that “This was a patriarchal gaze…” At the same time, I dunno what else it can be if it’s not the formal one? :( The present day over circulated consumerism, deteriorated social set ups, vulnerable egoistic value systems, unhealthy educative systems, lack of true guides …..all these communicate a lot I guess :( I believe as a teacher you can spread a great deal of awareness to the upcoming generations; you are indeed lucky for being in this profession :)

    Besides, I want to add one other perspective along with ur thought. I am working in advertising field N what made me stunned the most is the attitude of women. Sorry to say, somehow, many have acclaimed themselves as a sheer commodity in the market N they’ll do the optimum to vie with the rising market demands.

    This is the high time to bring in total deconstruction N reconstruction. A restart is required for the whole mindset.

    • Sunalini Kumar permalink*
      January 9, 2013 8:52 AM

      Britton, in a world which is still overwhelmingly dominated by men (directors of advertising agencies, decision-makers in companies who hire ad agencies and conventional target consumers who will buy the product), do you think women are the ones really ‘deciding’ to make a sheer commodity of themselves? Sure, it’s a decision, but what kind of freedom exists to make it? Choice is between being called ugly/plain/prudish/argumentative/opinionated/manly and being called a sexy kitten. Who can blame women for choosing the latter? As for those who think the problem is some ‘natural’ outflow of the male gaze towards women’s breasts, they’re obviously not aware of the thousands of men who don’t routinely stare at women’s breasts. All men in fact have at some point spoken to a woman without staring at her breasts. Have they stopped being men or have the women become suddenly unattractive? Notice I say ‘stare’ and not ‘look’. There must be a good reason language distinguishes between the two. It should be reasonably ‘natural’ then, for us women to stare at your manly crotches or imagine your nipples under your shirts while talking to you no? A while ago some researchers established that all women who find a man attractive take a quick look at his crotch at some point in the conversation. That sounds reasonable to me. A quick look. A stare is a stare.

      Another problem in some of the comments here is a fatal confusion between seeing and acting – So let’s accept the boy found the teacher’s breasts attractive/offensive, because of the way he thinks about ALL female bodies, or maybe simply because he is, as Snehlata said, all ‘raging hormones’. What gave him the entitlement to say it to her, to ask HER to act on HIS feelings? Students clearly don’t say everything that comes to their minds about their teachers. If a girl student had a crush on her male teacher and asked him to dress more modestly so she could focus on her studies – say wear an apron over his crotch – would that strike you as slightly unusual? You really don’t see the POWER relation involved in what happened with Snehlata? The boy was very clear about what he was saying to Snehlata – you may be my teacher, but you’re still a woman. AND I, THE LORD BE PRAISED, AM A BOY-MAN.

      • patnaikt permalink
        January 9, 2013 10:03 AM

        You are right. But most of it comes from how one is brought up. Sorry to say that it is the parents and mother in particular (at least in my time) who are/is responsible for such ugly thinking and upbringing. I have seen my own cousins who were given far better and treatment compared to their.sisters. Even now too I believe this goes on irrespective of the family background. I have been fortunate to have parents who never discriminated amongst their children despite me being the only son amongst four daughter. Though my sisters were always spoiling me.
        I still believe unless gender biased is removed from the minds of parents and society things will never change.

  13. Anuradha Singh permalink
    January 8, 2013 1:51 PM

    Snehlata,

    I can totally understand what you felt. As a young (atleast that is what I consider myself, because for the society, I am old and still not getting married !! ) supervisor when I was 25 I could not escape the leers that I got in class, even during exams. On being asked to concentrate on his paper and not me, I was very conveniently said that women have a developed a tendency to react on everything. At another time I was training students in a workshop on survey methodology. At the end of the day this young man comes up to me and said that no wonder this training is getting late. It was ought to be this way if it was handed to a 25 year ‘old woman.’ Off course a 25 year ‘young man’ can surely take “efficient” charge of things.

    Young women are unable to escape this patriarchy and hierarchy in terms of sexes !

  14. Inkerial permalink
    January 8, 2013 3:07 PM

    I don’t really have an answer to your question, which is an extremely important one. I think it is a question that everyone, whether a teacher or not, should ask themselves every day. How do we ensure that the next generation sees injustice and acts on it? How do we ensure that every person in the world has the same rights, and perhaps more importantly, feels ENTITLED to the same respect and dignity as everyone else? I don’t think there are easy answers. I will say, though, that your post gives me hope. The debates on Facebook give me hope. The sheer outrage and horror in my friends’ voices and posts give me hope. Because increasingly people are talking about sexism, about misogyny, about patriarchy, about gender violence. And I think that is how one changes minds. This is a battlefield, the prize is equality. What makes it more difficult is that the enemy is not a particular gender, or a particular person, but these stupid, ingrained attitudes that we ALL carry within us at some level. I have been a self-identified feminist for over a decade now and I still frequently catch myself having to unlearn my attitudes (I must dress a certain way, I must not be provocative, I must not draw attention to myself, I must not ask for too much, I must not be too vocal, I must be feminine). The sad thing of course is that men carry the burden of patriarchy also (I must be strong always, I must not show feeling, I must provide for my family at all costs, I must not show weakness). And these attitudes cannot be killed, but they can be starved out. But from what I can see, the siege has started. And what we maybe need is anger, of course, but also determination. And a refusal to let anger and hope turn to bitterness and cynicism. The world can get better. The girls in your class, the boys who agreed, the many wonderful feminist men and women who are my friends, people like you, they all prove that the world can get better. Defeat is not an option. We must keep talking, with your students, with the people on the internet, with the people on the street. No woman is safe until all women are safe. Keep fighting the good fight. I am sorry this response got as long as your original post, and I hope other commenters have more concrete answers. In the meantime though, please keep fighting the good fight.

  15. munish permalink
    January 8, 2013 3:23 PM

    What a imaginary story you have made out… And certainly i agree with boy that he comes to school for just study, and you are teaching him something else.

    Why he should close his eyes?? when there is a dress code for students why not for teachers??

    You can’t ask guys to close their eyes, as it’s your choice what to wear, it’s our choice What to see and what not.

    • Inkerial permalink
      January 8, 2013 4:52 PM

      Dear Munish,
      I have a question for you, I hope you will not take it the wrong way. Let us agree that women also, have eyes, and can see things. Now let us also agree that women also have desires and are attracted to other people, of whichever gender. Now, let us assume that a man wears a pair of pants which a woman finds distracting. Or the top button on his shirt is undone. All around them, other men and women are going about their business, unaffected by this outrageous display of neck or the outline of a behind. But this woman is unable to concentrate. She has not been able to get anything done all day. Does she, in your opinion, have the right to tell him to wear a long, shapeless robe? Or wear looser pants? Or a dupatta? Should the man in question be ashamed of his body and how it makes this woman feel? Or are you saying that men, in general, are less able to control their desires than women? That men are somehow less than women in their ability to moderate their interactions with other people? That men, like small children, must have temptation completely removed because they cannot resist it like adults? That men cannot control themselves and so must control others? If this is what you are saying I must disagree with you very strongly, because all the men I know, at least, are better than that, and more able to control their thoughts and emotions and actions than that.

      • Arrow permalink
        January 9, 2013 9:44 AM

        Men are generally more interested in and responsive to visual sexually arousing stimuli than are women. Here we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to show that the amygdala and hypothalamus are more strongly activated in men than in women when viewing identical sexual stimuli. This was true even when women reported greater arousal. -Department of Psychology(Emory University)

        I don’t think our society sees men and women as the same.In accordance with Indian law a women cannot rape a man. Besides we are not dealing with adult men in this article. When I was in school my English teacher who was a female asked the guys to put the top button whenever it’s undone. So it goes both ways. I don’t see any patriarchy or power in the boys comment.

  16. fastrack0007 permalink
    January 8, 2013 3:24 PM

    I see more violence from your side that the way you have depicted here that you wanted to trashed him or strangled him…

    • Nivedita Menon permalink*
      January 9, 2013 11:38 AM

      fastrack0007 – She “felt angry” but did not express it, she expresses it years later in a written, self-reflexive piece. He felt something, and not only expressed it immediately, he expressed it in the form of a command for her to change her behaviour to deal with his feelings! And she is supposedly the one with power in this situation, being the teacher. Imagine what he does with his sisters and female friends! And you see her as more violent!

      Arrow – you have cited the Emory University study to make what point exactly? Let’s first take that study seriously – it claimed that men are more responsive to visual sexually arousing stimuli “even when women reported greater arousal”. What does this mean? If men are more responsive, it isn’t their problem but the problem of the arouser of stimuli? I could take away from this study the need for men to be strictly policed, painfully trained to control their responses, and always kept under rigid external controls because they have no way of controlling themselves. Instead you take away the idea that anything that might sexually stimulate a man (in your view, exclusively women and their breasts) should be kept under control!
      Second, these kinds of studies are always criticized by other equally scientific studies that question the assumed autonomy of the brain and other physiological reactions from the context in which they are placed. For example, a peer review in a science journal of this Emory study argued that other factors may contribute to the variability in sex differences observed in response to visual sexual stimuli, “participant variables such as hormonal state and socialized sexual attitudes, as well as variables specific to the content presented in the stimuli.”
      SO – “Socialized sexual attitudes” can affect the way the brain reacts to stimuli – if patriarchal and misogynist views are legitimized, that can make the brain react to stimuli differently than a brain that takes feminism and egalitarianism seriously.
      Take heart, men – you do have control over your brains and d***s!

  17. Harsh Kumar permalink
    January 8, 2013 3:32 PM

    In-depth article and a very good inferential comment by ‘Ms Inkerial’. It is indeed an ongoing battle (a perennial one rather) and achievement of ‘equality’ would be more easy once we ‘systematize’ and ‘sensitize’ the state machinery for ‘safety of women’…and of course ‘social implementation’ is to be carried on by us all…day in day out!

  18. Shekhar Yadav permalink
    January 8, 2013 4:05 PM

    I am sure it stems from what family values are bestowed upon such students. What can be expected from a boy raised in a family where the father discriminates between his son and daughter. I have seen this happening in Yadav families and a lot of families whose roots lie in Haryana, UP, Rajasthan etc. Given the amount of time kids spend at home, and how quickly they absorb things, this is bound to happen if there is no opposing force in the same family to explain to such boys that they don’t rule anyone’s life. After all, my school never even had such a discussion and I don’t think my outlook in life would have been any different if my parents had not been liberal enough to give the same freedom to their kids without basing their decisions on gender of the child. Education system can only do so much, it’s a pity that people still don’t understand that being cultured is different from being patriarchal.

  19. January 8, 2013 4:16 PM

    At least here it was an immature kid. What about twisted priests? Once I was asked by a temple priest not to visit the temple again without wearing a dupatta. I was wearing a full hand kurta with a French neck: Not one bit of my body exposed. Come on, imagine the amount of skin a sari exposes! I was furious that day but dumbstruck because I absolutely didn’t expect it from a priest. It was my daughter’s birthday and that man completely ruined my mood. Kept praying to the goddess of the temple that I don’t curse the priest in my anger.

    Come on society! WHY FORCE WOMEN TO FEEL ASHAMED OF OUR OWN BODY? DO YOU ASK BOYS AND MEN TO CAREFULLY COVER THEIR CROTCH? WEAR AN OVERCOAT OR AN EXTRA SOMETHING OVER THEIR PANTS? It’s time we learn to accept a woman’s sexuality. It’s time we abandon the dupatta – that is the disgusting attitude of the society!

  20. patnaikt permalink
    January 8, 2013 4:47 PM

    Education at home by parents/grand parents and education at the level of kindergarten by teachers can help (my personal experience has been that kids believe their teachers more than anyone else).

  21. January 8, 2013 5:30 PM

    I am a teacher, and I have taught the same age group – boys and girls together. I am a big believer in teachable moments, and this incident that Ms Gupta has so eloquently described is a perfect example. It is unfortunate that such a mindset still exists. Certainly change is needed at all levels. But Ms Gupta’s question was about what she personally could do in such a situation. In my own experience I have found role play and simulation to be very effective in teaching diversity awareness and social justice. It could be very powerful, for example, to show the class (boys as well as girls) excerpts of racist commentaries against Indians (these could be acted out) and ask them what they think about being judged purely on the basis of the color of their skin. Then show how similar this situation is to judgments on the basis of gender. It is a crude use of intersectionality, but if you want the message to hit home it has to be simple to start with. A little marketing may be necessary to get the school to agree to this lesson plan – and I’d suggest getting some heads of department on your side. That said, I would recommend also just subtly sliding this little exercise into an English lesson or something so that it doesn’t attract too much attention.

  22. Nisha george permalink
    January 8, 2013 7:54 PM

    Dear teacher,

    What you wrote about is your extreme anger about the opinion of a young man in your class.

    May I ask you what is the difference between the views he held and the ‘ wrong ‘ views other people have held over the long history of our world.

    A lot of people from the so called civilised world were of the most sincere belief that because a race of people had dark skins they must be washed to get them clean , they were not worthy of equal respect and opportunity and it was perfectly ok to buy and sell them . Because of the colour of their skins they were not quite human.

    In our country today Dalits are still considered lesser beings by many of those who consider themselves higher beings

    In Present day cosmopolitan Mumbai it is difficult for an ordinary Muslim to rent a house because of the religion he or she practices.

    In Chennai it is difficult to rent a house if you are non vegetarian.

    Many Indians believe that india is only for Hindus. That me being a Syrian Christian am not Indian because I am not Hindu.there was even a discussion that people of other religions should settle down permanently in other countries;)

    Many religions and people believe that homosexuality is evil and homosexual all must be evil and child molesters…throw them in the fire.

    Many parents believe that if children don’t obey they are not being respectful and need to be spanked to be taught obedience and respect.

    Daughter I laws believe mothers in law are only in the world to find fault with them and mother in laws believe that the daughter in law will never get it quite right.

    ….I can go on….

    And all these views are held by grown adults after they have seen a large amount of life . They continued to whole these views through life surprisingly! Your student he is only a young man ,an adolescent. That is the time that you have views largely based on upbringing and what you see and your own developing views. I remember having passionate heated arguments in college with classmates. Many of our views I would laugh about today.

    All best summarised in one line . WE all held a single story . Everybody with any of the views that are mentioned above and many other biases have only a single story a. And as Chimamanda Adichie brilliantly says on her TED talk. There is a big danger with a single story.

    And you dear teacher have only a single story of your pupil . That of his views on women. By doing that you are doing the same thing he is doing.

    The only way we are exposed to the complete story is by opening ourselves up to discussion , free open, and agreeing to disagree. Which is something that you can do with all your pupils. Know more about them and get them to have open free discussions where nobody is judgemental. Throw the world open to them and get people from different fields and areas come and talk to them.

    I am amazed that an adult has responded that the best way to teach that boy is to thrash him. We as human beings have learn very little from history

    • Nivedita Menon permalink*
      January 9, 2013 11:17 AM

      Nisha – you write – “I am amazed that an adult has responded that the best way to teach that boy is to thrash him.” if that is what you got out of Snehlata’s complex, painfully honest and moving account, then you don’t show much sign of opening yourself to “the complete story” at all! Did you even notice that a free discussion did in fact ensue in her class? It was only at the student’s following her out of class and trying to police her dress that she ended the discussion. What would you think of a girl student telling a male teacher not to wear particular kinds of clothes? it is in fact unimaginable.
      I suggest you listen to Chimamanda Adichie’s lecture more carefully, because we could all learn much more from it than the self-righteousness you demonstrate here.

      • Joseph Mathai permalink
        January 9, 2013 1:17 PM

        @ Nivedita Menon Nisha George’s comment about “I am amazed that an adult has responded that the best way to teach that boy is to thrash him.” Was not directed at Snehlata’s piece. It was directed at the first response by Suarabh above “what is actually required for these boys is to be thrashed.”
        I think Nisha George has placed a nuanced and good point that we should not just stop at the point at where we leave the boy in Snehlata’s story. We need to also think about the trajectory of the boy after Snehlata’s story leaves him.
        I don’t think Snehlata means to do it in her story, but most didactic narratives in which the narrator is present do tend to glorify the position of the story teller and vilify the “villain” of the piece.
        I think what Nisha is trying to say (and I would like to be corrected if I am wrong) is that the solution which Snehlata is asking for is just more of what she was doing.

    • jdevika permalink
      January 9, 2013 4:59 PM

      Nisha George’s comment reminds of what I have heard from generations of Nair mothers and grandmothers who condone their sons’ despicable sense of sexual privilege, especially towards lower caste women but also towards less-privileged women in their own families as well — all their acts are interpreted as Krishna’s ‘bala-leela’ — young men indulging in a bit of unthinking fun. Nisha George sounds old as the hills — she should think of that before she starts pontificating in this particular tone so familiar to most of us who have known such grandmothers.

      • Nisha george permalink
        January 10, 2013 5:43 AM

        Despite my attempts, I clearly have not expressed myself clearly :)

        Nivedita Menon,

        I have at many times been very self righteous. But this is not one of those moments. I was just trying to offer a different point of view.

        BD says it better , or in a more palatable way ? When she/ he says that this was a teachable moment and just getting angry with the students reaction would not change anything for the boy. Do you think getting an angry reaction will leave him more open or more closed to other points of view. Role play like bd suggested would be an excellent start.

        And I would like to reiterate. This boy is very young and his views are affected by his background and by what he has seen. Like j Devika and another person commented ,surprisingly a lot to do with what the women in their lives, mothers and grandmothers told them. Not just Nair women, many many women have treated their sons like gods and not held them responsible for their actions or taught them to respect women. In fact many of them have encouraged their sons!!There was even an article a long while back about how boys in high school basketball teams in the U.S. reated women as ‘scores’ and their mothers who completely condoned this – hormones!

        So .. This is a young boy , this is his background. We change nothing for him if we react only with anger , revulsion and indignation.

        If we need to ‘ change the trajectory of his life’ as Joseph Mathai said we need to do more.

        Did Snehalata Gupta put up this post only to hear from people who completely agree with her. I think not.

        Yes when I talked about the ‘ thrashing’ reaction I was referring to the person who responded first to this post.

        Dialogue..open dialogue is one of the ways forward.

        Changing mind sets slow but not impossible. But only happens, I think when we are open to listening to other people’s point of view even those that are dimetrically opposite to ours.

  23. Ramesh Narendrarai Desai permalink
    January 8, 2013 8:59 PM

    I think that you handled the situation very well. In a situation where someone else’s behaviour is found to be offensive by one, it is for him/her to adopt the appropriate responsive behaviour rather than expect the other person to change his/her behaviour. This is a general rather than a sex related response.

  24. January 8, 2013 9:41 PM

    Unfortunately, neither our education system nor the cultural norms of our society give adolescents the space to question or even explore their sexuality or gender . This boy I feel is either being gutsy to speak or is doing it to get brownie points from his friends. In either case, the issue remains that as the article rightly mentions, there is no space to discuss or question this in school. Discrimination and violation is structural and untill we get to the root, such behaviour from students will remain. And it is not really their fault as we have failed to have open conversations with them..

  25. VRINDA GROVER permalink
    January 8, 2013 11:23 PM

    Thanks for writing this. Teachers like you are the only real hope for us.

  26. Simply Complex permalink
    January 8, 2013 11:42 PM

    Funny line of thinking you have. You can wear anything (sure, your body , your choice ) but you expect others not to look. When you are in a public place , people will look at you. Depending on what is worn, the look may me brief glance or a longer ogle. No one put a gun to your head and told you to wear anything revealing.

    What’s more hypocritical ? While you go moaning about men telling you about your dressing, we have a woman HR head who introduced dress codes that needless to say are more stringent for men while women get to wear just about anything. Hypocrites !

    I see many girls wearing T-shirts with text or captions often strategically placed right where the breasts are. If we read what’s written, you take offence. If you don’t want people looking at that, don’t wear T-shirts that draw attention to that part of your anatomy.

    Oh – and Salman Khan, I’ve heard girls whistle when does shirtless scenes, maybe you should go “educate” your sisters on respectable behaviour too. Plenty of times I’ve read in the newpapers, women behave much worse at strip shows than men. Maybe men should strangle such women , eh ? Or better yet kick these women in the groin.

    Men are visually cued to women, perhaps you weren’t paying attention during your sex ed classes ? Women complain when not appreciated for their looks. Who do you wear make up to look good for, men or women ? Who do you bare cleavage for – your women friends ? Who do you wax your limbs for ? Women ? Are you lesbians ? Who do you flaunt those legs in short skirts to , women ? That’s odd – just few posts above one of your female readers claimed to be so relieved not to have waxed her arms in an all-girl classroom, I take it you all would dress and act like slobs hadn’t it been for men. Yet when men look you go ballistic should someone not rich , dashing , charming enough look at you. But if you want only those rich eligible men to look, why not limit yourself to that specific audience ? You don’t have to show off those legs or cleavage you know, in public. If anything, the dress code conservative folks tell you to follow is to be more covered up.

    Did you know there are 3 official Victoria’s Secrets outlets in Saudi Arabia , and possibly other non-official/OEM stores ? Yes – that same place where women wear abayas ..gee I wonder what use expensive , racy lingerie is when all you’d wear is an abaya that covered you from head to toe. You see, those Arab women do wear lingerie, but they don’t display it out in public for all to see, they limit their audience to their husbands. That’s class , but then what would you know about class , modesty , humility and loyalty , eh ? You’re free birds, stray and feral, wild and free, you belong to no one.

    Lastly – if somehow this inborn trait of men was destroyed , whether by education (er, brainwashing to be truly accurate), you women would be the biggest losers, because once men are no longer sexually interested/attracted to women, you’ll realize you haven’t got anything else to keep men liking you, since you already already failed to develop character that would keep you in good stead. What follows will be world war 3.

    • Inkerial permalink
      January 9, 2013 2:56 PM

      This whole comment is just the best example of a complete lack of self-awareness I have ever seen. It would be hilarious if it were not so sad. Actually, no, wait, it’s still hilarious. Why don’t men wear abayas and tiny briefs under it to only show their wives then? Wouldn’t that be class also? Don’t men have to display “class” as well? Or modesty, humility or loyalty? Or do they all have so much “character” that will keep them in “good stead” while fighting world war 3? Oh, never mind. I’m going away to laugh now. By the way, my heart broke a little when I read this “Yet when men look you go ballistic should someone not rich , dashing , charming enough look at you.” You poor thing, Simply Complex, you. Some woman some day will find you dashing and charming. And then maybe you can let some of your anger go, eh? (I’m going to regret feeding the trolls, aren’t I?)

    • jdevika permalink
      January 9, 2013 5:02 PM

      Ah! When will World war 3 begin! I long for the day when the likes of Simply Complex decide to leave all of us alone and get a life for themselves!

    • seeta permalink
      January 9, 2013 5:18 PM

      wrong. just plain wrong.
      at each and every count.
      not one statement that simply complex has made above makes any sense whatsoever.
      except to his own sick and twisted head.
      i believe this comment was allowed for the laugh riot that it is?!
      or maybe to demonstrate the working of a truly pathological brain?

    • Pankaj Butalia permalink
      January 9, 2013 6:59 PM

      Simply Complex … your comment highlights the basic issue that people are confronting right now. I don’t think anyone is arguing for a prudish society. You have as much right as the next woman has to display your wares – whatever they may be. You can strut about with your chest upright, you can flex your muscles, you can wear tight pants or you can take on a helpless personality to attract whoever you want (this has NOTHING to do with the opposite sex – it has to do with whosoever you wish to attract) but you do have the responsibility to keep your responses in check. You have no right to say … women – look out for my hormones – I can charge like a bull any moment (Because the truth is – when men want to rape – they do not look at what a woman is wearing – surely you know that in burka clad Pakistan men rape with as much impunity as they do in India). You are taking two and two and adding up to five. I may find a woman incredibly attractive – her face – her body – whatever – but I need to learn not to become offensive to her. Just as I want to wear whatever clothes I want or try to be as attractive as my age and personality will permit me, but do not want anyone to put me down for that.
      This is what living in society (ANY society) is all about. We need to respect each other – and also respect each other’s rights. Just because someone is trying to look attractive does not give me the right to mutilate her. If we do not learn this, we will continue to rape and assault – regardless of what clothes women wear. Maybe Snehlata could have tried harder with this kid. I would only differ with her on that. I agree with her that he was not merely expressing his discomfort with her – he WAS trying to tell her how to be / how to behave. He was doing something he had probably seen his father do – and was merely replicating it.
      One last thing I would ask you to examine – and men who feel particularly aggressive towards women need to ask themselves this question in private – why are you so angry with women? You are obviously heterosexual – so you want women – but how can someone who wants women have so much contempt for them ? I cannot love one woman if I have contempt for women in general. Think about it. There’s more here than meets the eye.

    • Simply Woman permalink
      January 9, 2013 9:08 PM

      This whole comment is the perfect example of what is wrong with the male psyche in our country. It is amazing that one can have a head so gigantically puffed up into believing is whatever women do with their appearance is done for men’s eyes and other areas of their anatomy . Daddy taught you that, kiddo?

      My dear simply imbecile, get your head out of your (very manly, I am sure) bottom. There exists a world beyond, ya know.

    • Swati permalink
      January 12, 2013 2:37 AM

      I love how all the trolls have come out of the woodworks, dripping with patriarchal arrogance and schooling a woman on how she needs to dress and behave.

  27. sreeram permalink
    January 8, 2013 11:45 PM

    As swami vivekananda says children are not taught how not to do, only told not to which doesn’t really help.
    Not to have lust for anything to say is easy, but one should also be taught how to do that. If parents themselves don;t know this how can you tell your kids ? are there people who can help you on this ? are people even bothered to think ?

    So everyone should know who they are , your body, mind and if there are things beyond this, I cant see this happening anytime soon.

    Finally to sum up this world all you need is 3 words from sanskrit. sambhavami yuge yuge

    what has happened once will happen again and again. there is nothing you can do about it.
    Its time for people to wake up from this slumber and think about it.

    cheers,
    sreeram

  28. Chishty, MM permalink
    January 9, 2013 12:35 AM

    Yes, it is patriarchy only which can give a juvenile the temerity and impudence to try impose values on a woman who is old enough to be his mother. A sense of entitlement and superiority has become ingrained in boys and it is not going to be easy to remove it.

    But I was glad that the teacher ultimately let the boy be countered by feisty girls. I agree with Nivedita that the more number of strong women the boy encounters, the kind who can hold their own, the more he will come to see the futility of his beliefs. In this connection, I want to recall an incident of Kerala.

    There were some incidents in colleges of Kerala, of boys making sexual innuendos against their female professors. The response of the Managements Association was to pass an order that women professors should henceforth wear aprons in class. It was then I came across the comments of some women professors that they were capable of managing such boys, and that they were not in need of outside intervention. The dignity with which they behaved in the face of a potentially embarassing situation is the same as that of Ms Snehalata Gupta.

  29. Mukul Dube permalink
    January 9, 2013 8:09 AM

    I feel sympathy for Ms. Gupta but despair for the future of my country. If school teachers cannot straighten the minds of the boys they teach, who will do that?

  30. Salini K.C. permalink
    January 9, 2013 9:46 AM

    I think this can change only from home… when a boy wont sit back n watch TV or study when his sister is cleaning up the table (n then of course she may watch TV or study) … when he is not served food by his mom (later on by his sister, or mother-in-law ) when his sister has to serve herself… when his wife won’t do all the household work (she has to even if she is employed) when he is relaxing from the same office time that she has…. when mother-in-laws wont treat their son-in-law as sultan and daughter-in-law as slave… i could give more… i think this is enough.. the point is… these are the things that breed the “superiority complex” in men and the “inferiority complex” in women… we just need to remember that when we treat our daughter n son differently we are sending that out to the society…..

  31. January 9, 2013 1:52 PM

    Dear Snehalata,

    I want to know more about this boy. I want to know the details of your discussions with him and the tone you had these discussions in. I want to be probably a witness to it all. I want to know his side of story too.

    I am a student of law, have studied with people belonging to few of the most patriarchal areas of India. Have taught in law schools to young men belonging to families who marry the females as soon as they are 18 (or even younger, but just for records lets say 18). And I have faced situations similar to you which includes patriarchal behaviors and also the situations where as a new, young and vibrant faculty members I have to deal with men senior or equal in age to me. But at the end of the initial first week occupational hazard at each of the institution I went and taught I have been able to foster amazing student-teacher relationship with all my students (maybe I am lucky, but that luck has always smiled if I have made a REAL attempt to smile and understand each of the 700+ times it came to me in face of a student).

    My problem is I cant be judgmental with your experience and I dont want you to be either. Students and young kids are an opportunity and as a teacher we have higher responsibility to make sure that opportunity is not wasted. Maybe he belongs to a family which is patriarchal, maybe the kid has wrong company or maybe he is being influenced by evil social mindset around him – but that is all ‘maybe’.

    However, there is a certainty – as a teacher we can influence people. We can invite students to think, we can turn them to rationale and we can make them better. That is what we are their for. That is why the students come to school to be truly educated.

    And therefore, I am more curious to know what more did you do ?

    • Nisha george permalink
      January 10, 2013 5:54 AM

      I agree , teachers have the potential to have such an amazing impact on the world. It is an amazing profession.

  32. mahikashyap permalink
    January 9, 2013 3:02 PM

    This is really an amazing piece of work from your side. I have read your some of other blogs they are also good but this one is really outstanding.

  33. January 9, 2013 3:24 PM

    The brilliance of this piece is that it manages to articulate a very pervasive symptom of patriarchy and misogyny in such clear, concise language.

    What surprises me, however, is how people often take the symptom itself to the problem; in the very act of this boy asking Snehalata to wear a dupatta was, for me, indicative of three things: one, the ubiquitous male gaze, which is cited a lot in popular discourse, but very rarely understood; two, the operationalization of patriarchy through the male gaze, i.e., policing ; and thirdly, that the male gaze is not a biological predisposition wherein men are naturally gravitated towards breasts. Nivedita is spot on in arguing out the unsteady foundations of such essentalist assumption.

    As someone who’s grown up in a coed school, in a periurban area, I’ve seen the operationalization of both, the male gaze, and through it, patriarchy. Which is why, I don’t think blaming “families”, “upbringing” or the likes have much merit; because the family or the home is just one space where masculinity is constructed, and that too, a very specific kind of masculinity. This is not to suggest that the father-figure, or patriarchy at home has nothing to do with misogyny; of course, it does. But it is one aspect.

    Peer groups, and gender socialization in these groups, too, are sites for the production of masculinites. For instance, I remember by classes being incredibly stratified spaces; it’s as if the administration anticipated something untoward should girls and boys (at that age of puberty, adolescence) interacted. Socialization and interaction with the opposite sex, in the space of education, was regimented. And that, among a host of other factors, I believe, shaped the way many of my own peers would perceive their classmates. In fact, the articulation of the male gaze served as a vital parameter for the boy to define masculinity; the worse you could do to a fifteen year-old was to call him gay, or “homo” in that crass slang.

    Would gender sensitization and sex-education workshops help? Yes. Do they? I’m not so certain. We had one sex-education workshop in the 10th, and it focused on AIDS. By that time, kids are well aware of sexuality, an overtly sexualized sexuality – mostly, through pornography.

    If I had to accuse the family, or the space of the home of anything it would be this: that they do not engage in healthy dialogue with children on sexuality; that they change the channel everytime there’s a condom ad; that girls are made to feel ashamed of their bodies; that boys’ masculinities is hardly addressed; that there is a strong surveillance of bodies (Foucault), interaction between children of the opposite sex, among many others are left unspoken.

    I’m not certain if I have, in any way, addressed Snehalata’s question; but this post is a step towards interrogating the pervasive nature of patriarchy in society.

    Cheers.

    • Anonymous permalink
      January 10, 2013 12:41 AM

      “The way education is being shaped today; classrooms are little more than teaching shop floors. There is little room for meaningful discussion on important issues.”. That pretty much sums up the problem right there.

      With roughly 30-45 students a class till X standard (much worse in colleges) with burdensome syllabus we had teachers who hardly knew the names of students. Needless to say, there was a complete disconnect between most of the teachers and the students. I personally don’t remember if I had ever approached any of the teachers at school about any problem (not even academic ones). And that was purely because of the fact there we never felt the positive vibe from the teachers who themselves were so overwhelmingly stressed out.

      And please note, that this was an urban, private, co-ed, fairly secular, english-medium school with practically all the students coming from a middle-class and same socio-economic backgrounds.

      It is quite obvious that what prevails in such a case is the culture at home; it’s values, it’s prejudices. So where is the role of an educational institution to provide an alternate view that would enable students in their formative years to question the culture at home?

      Children from diverse cultural backgrounds come to school and the role of an educational institution has to take a lead. It cannot abdicate its primary responsibility of being the agent of progressive change. And this is something non-negotiable.

      • January 10, 2013 8:00 PM

        Thanks for your reply, Anonymous.

        Two things: firstly, I absolutely agree with the great deal of stress on academic institutions, especially schools, today, and the very practical problem of the school not being able to address the diverse needs of students;
        secondly, while I do agree with your assessment of the demographic profile of the school in question, I’m not so sure about the linear causality. I mean, of course misogyny is produced in the home space (and, without essentializing, let’s not forget it is Delhi we’re talking about here). And while one form of misogyny is a marked disrespect for women, there is another form of passive misogyny, if you will, where ideas of shame are being ascribed to a girl’s body as she reaches puberty. The sexuality of boys, as my understanding goes, doesn’t receive the same level of policing – which is a part of the problem, in my view.

        That said, institutions like family, education, media, religion etc. are enmeshed in what I have rather eloquently called the patriarchal moral-economy; perhaps, it was Snehalata’s reflexivity that she decided to pose the question the way she did. I’m certain this is far more pervasive, but not sufficiently interrogated. And educational institutions, too, are a part of the problem; I’m sorry if I did not articulate on that in my comment. For instance, I remember how my classes were rigidly stratified, in terms of seating, and the interaction between boys and girls. If there is a problem of gender socialization in the level of educational institutions or peer groups, I argue that it is so because it wasn’t addressed in the home space (and it is in the case of both masculinity and femininity).

        However, I’m also skeptical of the change that can be brought about the education institutions; they are, following Louis Althusser, a part of the ideological state apparatus (in this case, patriarchy); they are instruments of surveillance, too; so I find the idea of them not abdicating responsibility slightly off the point, because, in a manner of speaking, they are fulfilling the ideological responsibility of patriarchy. Therefore, I’m not certain how it can truly become an agent of progressive change, as you argue it should be. Perhaps, we could arrive at some insights in this discussion.

        Cheers.

  34. Sunil dev permalink
    January 9, 2013 4:07 PM

    I don’t have an answer. I think, as an experienced teacher you will be able to figure it out.
    Though some of us don’t like it, our society is patriarchal. Naturally the values our children imbibe are those in tune with the patriarchal nature of our society. You must be having lot more anecdotes to illustrate this. Only with constant vigil and conscious effort, can we bring over a change. Teachers have to play an important role in it. And as responsible citizens, the roles of us, the rest of the grown ups are also not negligible.

  35. Simply Woman permalink
    January 9, 2013 9:42 PM

    Dear Snehalata,

    a very timely article and one that hits at a very basic level. I am scared to think that such horribly patriarchal tendencies are nurtured in our children at home. I think you handled the situation very well, and did well to hear the guy out before you voiced your opinion.

    I feel that you or some other representative from school should get in touch with this student’s parents, and report this to them on phone or person. Often times parents foster beliefs like this in their children without realizing how wrong it is. And telling them that such behavior cannot be tolerated in school is probably a good idea.

    I remember an incident from my own childhood. My granny used to tell us that “you should learn to endure more, you are girls, not boys.” I was very young at that time, may be four or five. And in an altercation in class with another girl, I said this to her. The girl complained and the teacher told me this was very wrong to say, that girls are not different or shouldn’t have to endure more than boys. But that same day, she sent home a note with me to my mother to come talk to her. When my mom knew of this and I told her that my granny was telling me these things, she was horrified, and she took this up with my granny. We also had a long discussion, the two of us, about how girls and boys are not so different after all, and after that I stood up for myself and protested, whenever I heard such comments, even if it came from an elder in the family. No, my granny didn’t stop saying these things, and in her the system and belief had taken such deep roots that she could not get past it. But I stopped listening to them.

    I feel you need to address your class more often about problems like this, and keep harping on it, unless you see a change. Young children are after all more impressionable than adults, or so I sincerely hope.

  36. Philip Vinod Peacock permalink
    January 10, 2013 1:48 AM

    To a large extent I think that mostof the comments are missing the point.I don’t think that this article is so much about how the author chose to deal with the student as much as an attempt to describe the sense of male entitlement. The point seems to be they despite the evident differences between the teacher and student in terms of age and the apparent imbalance of power in a Student teacher relationship.(Though I would agree that these hierarchical notions are also rooted in patriarchy) The student still assumed he had the right to tell the teacher how to dress, because as a man he believes that he has certain rights and privileges which automatically places all women on a lower rank than he. I think what is needed is deconstruction of male privilege and entitlement.

  37. January 10, 2013 8:01 PM

    Spot on, Philip.

  38. Thara permalink
    January 11, 2013 6:50 AM

    The only way out is to be firm and to do what you think is right. Continue to resist all such restrictive norms . You need tremendous courage, I agree but, it surely helps to bring about a change. Encourage discussions, expose the girls and the boys to these ideas and let them deliberate. Encourage the girls to question all such conditioning and support them as much as you can, at an individual level. I am optimistic that we can bring about a change. The boy is a victim of social conditioning. We need to sensitise the parents also.

    Thara

  39. Jayshree permalink
    January 11, 2013 10:26 AM

    Dear Snehalata

    You have touched a nerve and a chord in all of us.

    I am a volunteer mentor working with disadvantaged children in slum communities of Mumbai in a Beyond School Learning Programme. ( http://www.vidya-india.org)

    The patriarchal gaze as you aptly put is prevalent across walks of life – condescending and used to treating women as a sub species of the human race. Sadly a cultural baggage of thousands of years of so called civilization but hope is not lost, as long as teachers like you sensitise young minds towards universal human values .

    A strong life skills curriculum is already getting attention of schools and NGOs across and one can only hope and continue to do the best for the best for our children.

    And yes attitudes get shaped at home and the society that we live in. so all of us will have to continue to do our bit towards making the world a better and a safer and a joyful place for our children to learn and live together .

    Regards
    Jayshree

  40. Rakesh S permalink
    January 11, 2013 11:43 AM

    Extremely insightful piece. These are the areas we need to explore for efforts to change in society. The teaching limits to children and of how to manage emotions like frustration and anger is a crucial area, specially in the context of gendered child rearing practices. Exceptions apart, the generally, more indulgent upbringing of boys and constant inculcation of limits for the girl child.

  41. January 14, 2013 2:10 PM

    its the behavioral learning in the home enviornment this has to change

  42. Somanath permalink
    January 14, 2013 4:55 PM

    Let me view this differently. Though you have a serious anger, what made you to control the same and not to pour on the boy? There could be many answers, I see it as Maturity. Yes you are matured enough to handle emotional issues. The boys are not matured enough, at the same time the environment in which they live has spoiled them to the root. Other reason I could see is the lack of Parental Care. Many Parents thinks that just putting their children in a good school, paying their fees, and getting what they want is the best a parent should do for their children. But they fail to understand that there are many for them to teach their kids. When the parental care explains the kid about love, family, affection, how to deal with women in family thru small small incidents the boy starts respecting the women. This has to be supported by the teachers at school. Some survey’s suggest that boys at school are following the master’s who are flirtatious with their female staff. I could go on writing more, but to slice it, this cannot be done by a single person, the change could be bought in with the help of both teachers and parents. If any one fails, there is a quiet lot chance of the kid slipping in black hands. Consider the same for girl students too, I have heard enough of statements from girls who flirts their co-students and even masters.. This is some thing to be viewed beyond gender issues..

  43. dipti permalink
    February 13, 2013 12:24 AM

    I think this is one of the biggest challenge confronting all of us fighting for gender justice today ..the last sentence is a question and an answer in itself…one does feel angry and heated up when patriarchal attitudes are reflected in such a manner ..however for the long run it is indeed important to work continuously for the empowerment of women and sensitizing both men and women at every level..in and through every institutions..the family, schools, colleges, etc…only concrete gender sensitization will work to ensure genuine empowerment of women and an end to patriarchy .

Trackbacks

  1. Male students, female teachers and patriarchy in the classroom: Snehlata Gupta | Forum to Engage Men- FEM
  2. The Discussion on VAW in India as 2013 Begins | Genderlog
  3. எச்சரிக்கை ! உங்கள் குழந்தைகளும் கடத்தப்படலாம். « மாநகரன்

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