In the past few weeks, there has been a tremendous change in this country. With the #MeToo movement claiming its spot in Indian society, women have now shared their own narratives and experiences with sexual harassment. Sexual predators are being outed on social media. Albeit a movement of mass social justice, Me Too is still getting huge amounts of backlash from all nooks and corners of the country.
But to properly understand this wave and the hostility towards it, it is important to understand the underlining causes behind the cases of sexual harassment. Of course, male privilege and rape culture are broadly the answers to this current situation. However, they are further divided into the various aspects of our daily lives. In layman terms, it is the daily instances of sexism and the effects of patriarchy on our daily lives that undermine a victim’s experience.
Like it has been said many times – “Education is the key to success”, it’s pretty much ingrained in us that what we read and learn at a young age shapes us into what we are. It is rightly said that education has the power to change mindsets and make the world a better place. But what if it becomes the medium to ignorance and bigotry?
While education in itself cannot be the deteriorating factor, it is the harmful execution of it, or precisely the institutional implementation of education. With the Me Too movement, Indian students have also come forward to share their own narratives of sexual harassment in schools. The recurring cases of teachers misbehaving, sexual offenders (generally men) not being punished or victim blaming show that there’s a national problem in our system.
In our country, casual sexism in school is quite common – girls being asked to cover up and dress ‘modestly’ by teachers is probably the least noticeable yet the most common form of sexism. At a young age, children see that adults equate conservative dressing to ‘respect’. Anyone who crosses this trademark of respect is considered immoral. This cements in the minds of young kids who grow up to be the ones on the internet who do everything in their favour to disregard victims or become perpetrators themselves.
The recurring cases of teachers misbehaving, sexual offenders not being punished or victim blaming show that there’s a national problem in our system.
While blaming the victim for what they were wearing cannot work any longer as a plausible excuse, new methods are coming up to disguise the previously visible sexism. This involves questioning the morals of the victim, their vendetta against the accused, their line of thought and their memories of the event. All of these are just disguised forms of what these people were taught as kids – that a girl not dressing up ‘appropriately’ is unworthy of respect, and therefore should not be sympathized with. Somewhere in their minds, they have concluded that she will always be wrong and her narrative false.
When people are questioned over their beliefs and ideologies, they rarely like to change them, even after they are called out to be wrong. As the human race, it is in our innate nature to find loopholes to sustain ourselves and our beliefs. While it is impossible to be respected in the 21st century by being downright sexist, it is still hard for people to change what has been taught to them for years.
Thus many celebrities, professors, politicians or family members cleverly disguise it. So when girls from around the country shared that their offenders were forgiven by teachers, it pretty much concretes the idea that disbelief of the victim exists, even after the immense number of sexual offence charges pouring in every year. People fail to grasp the reality and frequency of harassment.
So, what could be done now? It is established that sexism and ignorance of teachers at school level enable the perpetrators to do as they wish. Thus, to ultimately halt these harassment cases, it is important that schools take action to remove the problem from a grassroots level. The most important programme that could be implemented here is a comprehensive Gender Studies and Sex Education course.
Our Indian education system horribly lacks a curriculum that teaches students about gender, sex or women’s issues. Even when these topics are staring them in the face, teachers would either concord them into something completely different due to personal biases or would altogether skip it. While Gender Studies would ensure student involvement in daily problems of sexism, Sex Education would show that having sexual desires is common and there are ways to control them (without ruining the lives of somebody else). As well as make us aware about sexual and reproductive health.
You don’t need to be a scientist to respect women and acknowledge your privilege.
When we live in a society that hushes conversation about sex, it is important for us to create an environment where desires become natural. Being aware of ourselves and the world around us is what’s going to save us. It should be mandated by governing bodies that no ‘dress code’must be allowed in school, except for a uniform. The way the uniform is worn by students – short or long skirts, tying hair in two plaits, putting oil in the hair- must not be ridiculed by students.
There are ultimately two answers regarding the need for such coursework. First, unless students don’t learn about these issues, they’ll continue to be unaware while they furthering patriarchy. We need a generation of active and learned citizens. You don’t need to be a scientist to respect women and acknowledge your privilege.
Second, feminism isn’t just a social science. It’s meant to make people aware. India has no comprehensive sexuality education for school children. This is largely because of the huge stigma around contraceptives and safe sex in our country, but also because people overlook the fact that sex-education teaches students about gender identities and sexual fluidity too.
When schools introduce a thorough education of gender and sexuality, we learn to normalize what we have so far perceived to be stigmatised. Even though an abuser is ultimately wrong, their problems could be traced back to what they learn as a child in school.