I woke up to the news of Bois locker room all over social media where a bunch of schoolboys were sharing nudes of women and speaking about them reductively. There were many people who were blaming the underage girls on social media and asking them to not share their images in the first place. This incident made me reflect back on my school days where sexism did exist and to a large extent was reinforced by teachers.
As far as I clearly remember, sexism began in schools where girls had a strict dressing code and they had to wear skirts of a particular length. They also had to wear plaits and were not allowed to keep their hair open. As little girls, we did not think much about these rules, instead, followed them blindly unable to speak up. Girls who wear skirts below a particular length were punished. If boys spoke about a certain girl reductively, the teachers still blamed the girl, and the girl was punished. Reflecting back on the situation of the bois locker room and of the experiences I had in my own school, I realized that as much as gender sensitization is important among school children, it is even more important among school teachers who arguably play the biggest role in the mental development and thinking of school students.
Teachers in my school also played a role in creating the “us” vs “them” mindset among girls and boys. We were not allowed to sit next to each other though it was a co-ed school and teachers often looked down upon girls who were dating. This behaviour put most of the accountability on girls while giving boys the free pace to get away with their bad behaviours. Rather than teaching students about healthy relationships between men and women, discussing relationships was only in the form of gossip, almost like it was forbidden altogether, thereby creating a space where any and all kinds of relationships existed. Had the teachers had conversations about healthy relationships with our class, toxic relationships would have reduced to a large extent.
Very often, the girl’s parents were called to school if she was found dating, but no action was taken for the boy. Girls were shamed for just about anything at school. This gave boys the wrong message that they could get away with bad behavior. In school, a boy drew a naked girl on the blackboard when no teacher was around, nobody called him out from the school. To us, he was just one of the bad boys who we needed to stay away from, not the bad guy who needed disciplining and counseling – this was because we barely had the space to have conversations about the ethics of such behavior.
There were certain boys in school from Grade 7 itself, who spoke about women reductively and even catcalled them. Most often, the girls were too embarrassed to complain to the teachers, or even worse they just let these boys pass, thinking that they liked her. There was no mandate or guide given to girls or boys about how to deal with the situation, there was no safe space for girls to have conversations. Boys feared calling out other boys because they would not be seen as “man enough” or would be left out by their “boy gang”.
In the bois locker room case too, we see parents blaming girls for putting up pictures on their social media handles as the cause for this worrisome incident. This attitude is similar to asking a girl to change her dressing to avoid getting raped – girls and women are asked to change themselves to fit into society, instead of asking boys to change their behavior. To all parents reading this article, I hope you have a difficult conversation with your boys and ask them to not engage in behavior that affects women negatively, and create a safe space for your daughters to have conversations with you.
To all people from a school or administration reading this, girls need you to help them break free from gender roles and the tumultuous expectations which patriarchy lays on them. Please act sensitively with both genders in a way that empowers them to become better human beings. You can help this world break free from sexism.