Okay, you got me. That was a clickbait. This is not my usual style and so, my integrity demands full disclosure. In a world of information overload, the shocking works. Now that you’re here, stay with me, because although the title of this article is outrageous, it is honest. The only problem with it is that it is incomplete.
It must be added that certain mentalities and patterns of interaction at even the most prestigious, progressive and elite schools insidiously perpetrate toxic ideas that, in the not-so-long run of a child’s school life, seriously impact their future experiences in the world. And yes, the ideas of gender fostered in schools make children unsafe. Very unsafe.
School is a centre of not only academic learning, but also social training and education. The verbal and nonverbal cues picked up during these crucial years influence the development of childrens’ beliefs, values, self concept and habits, among other things. Here are some of the most surreptitiously “normal” yet deeply harmful ways in which negative gender dynamics and gender roles are learned at school
Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus
It’s ridiculous how boys and girls talking to each other alone or spending lots of time together are automatically assumed to be romantically involved. And this of course is a big “no, no,” because they might infect each other (we’re so scared of the xxx). Whatever our justifications, whether valid or not, this separation is harmful. It only reinforces the belief that boys and girls are very different from each other and any interaction they have must be tinged with romantic or sexual desire. “Boys and girls can never be just friends” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, because boys and girls are taught that they can never be just friends!
These artificial differences are by such distrustful behaviour, as well as other divisive behaviours such as disallowing boys and girls from sitting together, playing together, or even pitting them against each other regularly in simple things such as class quizzes. Through such processes, children form in-groups based on their gender and begin to identify individuals of the opposite gender as “them” versus “us”. As a result, boys and girls begin to view each other predominantly as objects of romantic or sexual fulfillment, rather than fellow human beings.
Bra straps and hemlines:
This one is really obvious, but it goes unchecked so often that it really needs to be spelled out. Bra straps need to be safely hidden under the folds of “appropriate” clothing and hemlines need to hide offending slabs of female flesh and bone. This one-sided moral policing steals young girls’ autonomy over their bodies by objectifying them, in the guise that they must remain safe from the male gaze.
Not only does this teach girls that many parts of their skin are not for public exposure, but also it teaches boys that there is something riveting about this forbidden expose. Again, as a self-fulfilling prophecy, it actually reinforces the concept of the “male gaze”. Girls begin to think “inappropriate” dressing – too short, too tight, too deep – equals sin and trouble they cause for themselves. This linkage of clothing to character and ascription of sexual value to body parts is a learned behaviour. We teach children to objectify themselves and each other by telling them that it is abnormal and bad to be dressed in certain ways.
Can she even lift?
“Boys, please rearrange the furniture in the class.”
Whether or not you believe that boys are physically stronger than girls, girls are certainly capable of doing tasks that require strength. Even if we accept the claim that girls cannot do heavy lifting, it really doesn’t take much to lift tables and chairs in a classroom.
More often than not, in schools, boys are expected to do any kind of strength task given to them, but the same is not expected of girls.
This removes from a girl’s mind even the idea that she is as capable as anyone else performing these small tasks. She begins to see herself as the weaker sex who can do nothing that is even mildly physically strenuous. and Boys begin to see themselves as superior due to their strength. This unequal power dynamic enables the oppression and exploitation of these girls at every stage as they continue to grow into women.
And it’s making you unsafe. Very unsafe.
Real change happens in society only when harmful thought patterns are identified and changed. Schools are shrines of education and socialization, so the prevailing dynamic there is crucial to the psychological and personal growth of a child. To have a healthy society, we need to be able to get rid of our toxic habits. Maybe that’s worth thinking about.
By Sanya Sharma
Sanya is a second-year undergraduate student at Ashoka University uncertainly exploring the inseparable realms of history, politics and literature. As someone with an insatiable curiosity who is always at a crossroads, she loves the interdisciplinary in every field of life and so she indulges creating various forms of art. She writes to make sense of the world.