I have raised a daughter, who was the lone girl player in the football team of her school. At home, she saw her parents work in their respective offices and do household chores together and never witnessed showdowns between them over their roles or egos. We considered ourselves aware parents. However, I never had a direct conversation with her about sex; probably I didn’t know how and when to start one. More so, at the age of five, she explained to me how an elephant’s baby comes out of the mom’s baby hole and I realized she is exposed to things far beyond my imagination. Courtesy, the Discovery Channel! I answered all her ‘awkward’ questions honestly, without bringing in an element of morality. One of her questions was: Why Auntie A (a spinster friend of mine) couldn’t have children? I told her with a straight face that biologically, Auntie A could become a mother but would she be able to look after the baby and also manage the home and work alone?” She answered it beautifully, “So, it’s not practical for Auntie A to have a child without a dad.”
As she became a teenager, I discreetly reached out to parents of all her classmates; invited the boys and also some girls over for small parties. My only brief to her was: always split the cost of bills incurred while travelling or eating out with friends.
With the ‘Bois Locker Room’ exposé shattering society’s assumed all-is-well-in-schools notion, I rummaged through the memory of my daughter’s schooling. One of her teachers would reprimand her for wearing a knee-length sports day uniform, it touched her knees while it should be much below. She was agitated over this and tried to dodge her for many weeks. “She has no problem with boys’ uniform being short,” she would crib to me. I counselled her to buy a new uniform and not make an issue about it. Every Wednesday she wore it grudgingly and held its rather unfashionable below-knee length against the teacher and me. Later, I realised both I and her teachers had become oppressors in her eyes.
Since she was privy to the boys’ inner circle, she knew some of the peers body-shamed girls and called others, who were fashionable, sluts. “Even I was called a slut because I played football with boys,” she tells me now.
I know these two incidents had made her react violently later in life. When she was in command, she took up issues against men who called other women sluts. This time she could have broken the offender’s head as her rage knew no bounds. In fact, she was venting all her accumulated anger at character assassination of girls, including her, on one of her peers. I alone understood where it came from.
Despite me being an aware parent and her school not a crass commercial one, both had not created a level playing field for my daughter. She was luckier than lakhs of other girls, yet a right and justice can’t be appreciated unless it’s total and complete.
I spoke with her and other young girls to know their opinion about the ‘Bois Locker Room’ syndrome. I realized that they were not shocked by this and told me it’s just the tip of the iceberg. In fact, social media networks like Instagram have created convenient anonymous spaces to cater to boys’ fantasies. There are too many perverted minds prying on these networks to convert the usual curiosity and fantasy to criminal intent.
Interestingly, the girls narrated a funny reality of our school curriculum to me. While boys and girls have a good idea about human sex organs quite early in life, it’s in the tenth standard that they are officially taught this subject in the classroom. The teacher is invariably a woman and she is nervous while imparting lesson in reproductive organs. The boys have a hard time controlling their smirk at her plight, while the girls cringe into huddles to avoid embarrassment. “That was the most embarrassing day in the school,” the girls told me.
Shouldn’t the only chapter about sex education be taught much earlier than what the boys and girls have already learnt from the internet? The shame associated with sex in the society at large is the biggest hurdle in normalizing the discussions about it - be at home or in the classroom, hence young boys and girls take recourse to the easily accessible internet sources. This can’t be stopped and therefore we have to look at other ways to deal with this issue.
Unfortunately, our school curriculum keeps expanding, yet it’s never related to real life. Education about our body and environment should be the fundamental facts to be dealt with from early age, so that in growing years, the students are able to come to terms with their own bodies and that of the opposite gender.
However, while school alone shouldn’t be blamed, the trend reflected in the ‘Bois Locker Room’ alludes to a deeper malaise within society that we all know and yet conveniently want to forget about till the next eruption. The not-so-well off take it out on the girls, restricting their freedom and putting curbs on their interaction with boys, while the rich start thinking of sending their children away to far-off lands, for this ‘country is going to the dogs.’ Nobody takes ownership of the problem. We all are not able to shed our deep prejudices and treat men and women equally in all senses. The problem keeps manifesting itself. The privileged boys in ‘Bois’ case, who have raped women in their minds, and are no different from the underprivileged men involved in the Nirbhaya case.
Schools can play the role of catalysts in this stalemate. Teachers must be trained rather well to inculcate gender parity among students and never stereotype gender roles as educators.
(Published on 11th May 2020, Volume XXXII, Issue 20)