Crossing Lines

I have an asymmetric haircut. It’s longer on one side and shorter on the other (reference Karin). So when I walk down the road and am subjected to stares, remarks and general uneasiness I tell myself I asked for it. I could have walked the straight and narrow but chose otherwise. Well, that was a choice, what is not however, is my gender. I like half of the world’s population was born female and a click of scissors, a wardrobe change, a degree, a job, even an accomplishment can’t change that*. I like my sisters have been branded for life and have to wear my identity on my sleeve. As do you. You might not be a girl and hence catcalling, slut-shaming #EverydaySexism might not be one of your concerns but patriarchy and the other myriad forms of suppression affect you too. If you wear pink, you’re gay. If you weep, you’re not man enough. If you write poems, you’re a wuss. If you frequent the gym, you’re all brawn. Either way you can never win.

With the Internet bursting with excitement over Emma Watson’s ‘HeforShe’ campaign speech this is my take on why every educational institution needs its own home-grown movement to end stereotypes and encourage change. A change that seeks and receives: complete support from boys and girls, men and women and all the non-binary souls*, that these seats of higher learning cater to.

  1. Education not Literacy – Literacy is knowing your ABC’s, Education however is the capacity to think comprehensively and reason logically. It is the good sense to know that Feminism is not a threatening term. That equality with women does not in any way reduce your opportunities at a fulfilling life. In fact it ensures it and is instrumental for it. It is the humility to know that male privilege exists and the courage to stand up to and contest the status quo. It is the willingness to acknowledge the discrimination that your mom, sister, girlfriend, friend or wife faces and the refusal to let sexism continue unhindered and unrestrained.
  1. Positive Interaction not Segregation – We can’t deny that it doesn’t happen. Every day I walk into the Mess to be faced with an almost apartheidic separation of the student population. Women on the right, men on the left. I applaud the efforts of the courageous few who cross-over into unknown territory, who look for strategic placing of fans, non-rickety stools and proximity to the toaster as basis of their choice of seating rather than this sub-consciously constructed gender defined invisible line of separation. Why does it matter you ask? It matters because we are raising a generation of boys who can’t talk to girls and a generation of girls who envision men as potential rapists. What is the point of coming to a world-class educational institution, with a culturally diverse student body, a mini-India if I must put it that way and stick to only the people who are from your tiny ignorant part of the country. Messes and Cafeterias were the nodes of cultural exchange, the birth-places of new friendships and romances, the ideas for the greatest books and scientific breakthroughs were conceived in casual conversations, it is time to reclaim that culture.
  1. Security not Confinement– In a speech from my first day someone went – “Girls are our most sensitive property” and beamed around as if to be met by a sea of approving faces. I heard an uncomfortable murmur and saw the M. Tech girls sitting in the front seat clench their jaws. The question is not – why do girls need protection? The question is – from whom? And the answer is staring you in your faces. So that brings us to the question – What are they trying to suggest? Are they suggesting that parents have failed in their role of instilling a moral compass in the minds of their young? Veiled however it might be, the insinuation stands. If I were a boy, I would take it as a direct insult. I would be outraged. But sadly not many thought along these lines. The fear for women’s safety is however painfully real. The high wires and guards make us feel protected not because we doubt our friends but because cultural transmission has brought us up to fear the male psyche but done nothing to alter the same.
  1. Womens’ issues are Mens’ issues– As Jackson Katz says Men automatically stop listening when it comes to women’s issues, because they reason it is about women. They have the ability to go unexamined, are lacking introspection and are in fact rendered invisible in large measure in the discourse about the issues that are primarily about them. Men and women don’t live in isolated compartments. Our lives are irrevocably intertwined. The well-being of one has direct consequences on the other. The perpetrators of violence on women and girls are the same as the ones who commit heinous crimes on men and boys. The set of wrong-doers is in no case mutually exclusive. So no problem can ever be solved by asking why the girl was in a mini-skirt, that is victim-shaming and is entirely useless but the question that should be asked is – what went wrong with the people who could bring themselves to commit such acts of violence. Why are they wired to cause pain? Are they the victims of brutality who have now become the channels of brutality? What is wrong with our society? What amendments can be made? The fact that men can be the victims and women the perpetrators should also be duly acknowledged. In such cases social construct instructs the man to keep shut about his suffering at the hands of a woman and gives a clean chit to the perpetrator. Stereotypes are hence two-edged swords that hurt both sexes.
  1. E.P (Somebody Else’s Problem) – India is faced with a disease called S.E.P. or Somebody Else’s Problem. The feelings of self-preservation are so strong that we will overlook anything or anyone that has the tendency of slightly discomforting us. Corruption might not affect you but if you stay mum at the face of it, what does that make you? Poverty is not your problem, but if you refuse to help out someone in need, what does that make you? You are as guilty and as insensitive. The fact of the matter is in a one life paradigm, you get only a few chances to stand for something and evading that responsibility might make for a hassle-free life but at the end of it all how does your presence even matter? A rock might probably have affected more change than you did and that is a seriously sad thing to happen.

-Teesta Dasgupta

Note:

  1. The author does not mean any disrespect towards the transgender community (trans) and believes that gender is indeed between one’s ears and not one’s legs and supports every effort to ensure the same.
  2. The author subscribes two a non-binary system of gender identification (trans*) and hence the statement.
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One thought on “Crossing Lines

  1. The article is quite a good read. Thanks for offering us a thinking cap, though we are not sure how many of us are actually going to put it on.

    We cannot just deny the necessity to reflect on the issues that are so well articulated in the article.
    Now, can we stretch our imagination a little further and think beyond the black and white? All of us have been perpetually victimized by the stereotypical notions of the society irrespective of our gender; no wonder gender is a social construct in contrast to sex which is biologically assigned.

    Now coming back to the grey area of sexuality, which is often termed as more fluid, what sort of stereotypical attitude do the people belonging to this grey area often encounter in their life? LGBT community belong to that subaltern category who never speaks, or even if they do, society ensures that it goes unheard. Educational institutes being an integral part of the society has to function with the same stereotyped, prejudiced and discriminatory attitude towards the LGBT community.

    If you permit me, the issues that you have mentioned can also be replicated on the issues faced by LGBT community. In fact, they are equally discriminated and are subjected to the stereotype and prejudice, if not more.

    Students who are sensible and educated (being literate is not enough as you have rightly pointed out) should sensitize others on this subject.
    It seems as if all of us have kind of taken ‘ignorance is bliss’ quite literally. We definitely need to read, write, discuss and debate on this issue.

    Thanks for prompting these random thoughts in me. I will definitely try to organise these thoughts and pen them down in near future.

    Keep writing!!

    Liked by 1 person

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