Stop misogyny in LFS

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The Principal,


A few weeks ago, several alumni as well as current students of Little Flower School came together to highlight the misogyny pervasive in the institution. Our first step was a plea for engagement and open, transparent dialogue about the issue, which was neither adequately nor sincerely addressed. Following this, we decided to bring to the authorities’ notice several instances of misogyny that students have faced in the school. We invited students, both former and current, to share some of their experiences with us and received an overwhelming response. In this petition, we have compiled several such instances to help elaborate exactly what kind of comments and actions are offensive and to illustrate that misogynistic attitudes are deeply entrenched in the subconscious.

The purpose of this email is not to accuse, but to appeal for a change. Therefore, we have decided not to cite individual names of either students or teachers. We believe collective responsibility must be taken by the authorities and corrective measures should be taken immediately. The incidents highlighted are to raise awareness and should not be construed as an attempt to hurl accusations.

Here are some of the instances of misogyny that students have had to face over the years:

1. Several students who wrote to us have reported being slut shamed for having male friends and being called ‘characterless’.

2. Another student reported that when she went to the Principal to request permission to go home due to menstrual cramps, she was told to “stop the drama” and that “there’s never so much pain. You’re only doing this to attract attention.”

3. A student reported that teachers called her ‘characterless’ for walking home instead of taking public transport and accused her of doing this to attract attention.

4. A student reported that a teacher once told them that crossing legs was a symbol of invitation for men.

5. A student reported that the Principal once accused her of standing outside the school to attract ‘van drivers’, when she was merely waiting for her own conveyance.

6. Another student reported that she was accused of wearing “stylish” clips to “attract boys’ attention.”

7. A student reported that their class teacher once told the girls not to smile and laugh on the roads because it attracts attention.

 8. A student reported that she was scolded for something as innocent as tightening her ponytail and claimed that she was doing it to "attract boys".

9. A student reported that she was asked not to play with her hair as it “gives the wrong signal.”

10. A student wrote, “I was a backbencher in std 9 and Sister was on her rounds. I had been humming a tune to myself, quite ignorant to the fact that she was standing there at the doorstep. She tells me and my partner to step out, scolds the guy just because he didn't tell me to stop humming. On top of that she tells me ''I feel like ramming your head to the railing there. You were singing love songs to him? Right? This is what your parents have sent you to do at school?”

11. A student reported, that she was once caught playing a game of tic-tac-toe with her male friend. (Tic tac toe is a game in which 2 people try to form patterns of crosses or zeroes. Whoever achieves this first, wins.) The Principal summoned them to her office and accused them of trying to calculate whether they would give birth to a male child or a female child.

12. 2 students have reported that on the day of their farewell, the boys were sweeping the classroom when the teacher reprimanded the girls saying, “Why should the boys have to sweep when the girls are here.”

13. A student reported her class teacher accusing her of being “too bold for a girl.” Another time she was told she was “too irresponsible for a girl” simply because she didn’t stay back for cleaning after class.

14. Another student reported that during an English lesson, the teacher silenced a girl who was trying to argue her point by saying, "Girls shouldn't talk so much. They should be a little submissive."

15. A student reported that her parents had been asked to keep their daughter “under control” because “girls aren’t supposed to behave this way.”

16. A student reported that she was asked to laugh softly because “girls aren’t supposed to be loud.”

17. A student reported that a teacher told female students that they must never sit behind their fathers on two wheelers as their breasts would brush against his body.

18. Another student reported that the Principal advised female students “not to sit on their fathers’ laps.”

19. A student reported that the Principal told her “This shows what kind of family you belong to” because her tie was hanging loose.

20. A student reported that she was told by the Principal that “only shaking your butt and dancing won’t get you anywhere” simply because she had long nails.

21. A student reported that the Principal once told her, “You are the kind of girl whose marriages don’t last for more than a year. “

22. A student reported that she was once questioned for buying from the canteen everyday and asked if her ‘boyfriend’ was paying for her treats.

23. A student reported, “ I was told I was one of those girls who would elope and would be a disgrace to my family just because like most of the teenager girls, I too had maintained a "personal diary".

24. A student reported that she was told by a teacher that “rebellious girls like you will never get a husband.”

25. Four students have reported that faculty members have forcefully felt students up to check whether or not they are wearing appropriate underwear. All of them report feeling humiliated and insulted by this.

26. A student reported,” When I was in class 10, somebody brought their phone to school, which was confiscated. The Vice Principal scrolled through the images on the phone and found one in which students were standing on the pavement outside the school and smiling. Her response to this was, "Girls posing like this on the road! You know, we hear things happening to 3 year olds, 5 year olds. I blame the girls. They ask for it."

27. A student reported that the Principal once summoned all the girls from 6 to 10 to the auditorium and amongst other things told them that "Girls are butteflies. They have a tendency to flit from flower to flower. As responsible girls, you should curb that tendency."

28. Another student reported that in a similar assembly, the girls were made to chant, “My body is the Temple of God.”

29. A student reported that her mother was called to school and reprimanded for letting her daughter post a picture of herself in a dress on social media.

30. A male student reported, “I still remember when I was in 10th, I had a junior friend with whom i used to talk in school. I was called by her class teacher because there were rumours of me dating her. I was literally told to "Get over with all this and to concentrate on my boards", while she had her parents called up. I mean what is all this? Why? She gets slut shamed and i get to walk out just like that, and these are the same teachers teaching us equality. “

31. A student reported that on their excursion to Juhu Beach, girls were not allowed to enter the water while the boys roamed around shirtless.

32. A student reported that in a girls-only assembly, they were instructed to “be careful” and were told that “The boys are growing up too. Don’t let them see your pads.”

From the incidents cited above, it is evident that misogyny is being promoted and perpetuated in the school in both explicit as well as implicit ways, either unconsciously or out of a misplaced sense of propriety. Based on the accounts of several students, as a collective, we have identified a few problems which need to be tackled immediately. These are as follows:

CONCERNS:

Unnecessary sexualisation of children: Both boys and girls are constantly sexualised. The notion that boys are toxic bags of hormones, only driven by their carnal instincts is widely propagated. Even fathers are portrayed similarly. (as illustrated by points 18 and 19.) Young girls are sexualised from an early age, which is why innocent, harmless actions are seen as sexual invitations and attempts to ‘attract male attention’. Girls are portrayed as people who only seek validation through the male gaze. (as illustrated by points 1,2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8). Any male-female interaction is thus, sexualised and misconstrued as sexual initiatives. (as illustrated by points 9 and 10).

Character assassination and slut shaming: Teachers often question a girl’s character and upbringing for innocuous issues like having male friends or not subscribing to a dress code. While we believe that it is essential to follow rules, not adhering to them does not justify slut shaming. Further, boys are reprimanded differently than girls for disrespecting the same rules. While it is merely a matter of discipline in case of the boys, for girls it is about her character and upbringing.

Objectification of girls: Publicly referring to girls as “butterflies” and “temples” should be actively discouraged. Girls need to be taught that they are human beings and not objects. (Refer to points 27 and 28.)

Gender stereotyping: Teachers sometimes assign regressive gender roles to students (as illustrated by points 13, 14, 15, 16 and 17.) Efforts must be taken to stop generalisations and stereotypes. Notions that girls can’t be as loud, or as opinionated as boys are sexist and need to be dispelled. Similarly, notions like boys should not sweep if girls are present, should also be discouraged.

Gender bias: Some students have reported instances of gender bias. (illustrated by points 30 and 31) Discrimination under the garb of concern is not justified and should be stopped.

Violation of bodily integrity: (as illustrated by point 25) Students should not be touched without consent irrespective of the intent. Education on importance of appropriate underwear should be instilled without making it synonymous with one’s character.

Offensive comments: Several teachers have been reported to have passed offensive comments about a girl’s character and upbringing. More so, comments have been made implying that the sanctity of marriage and its duration is a major validating factor for a girl (points 20,22 and 23). Imparting such notions in young girls is detrimental as it discourages them from seeking to be independent and self sufficient.

Inadequate intermingling of genders: Healthy intermingling of girls and boys is discouraged. This prevents fostering of respect for the opposite gender. Innocent male-female interactions are sexualised and penalised. Gender segregation in terms of different playgrounds and staircases, is instated. Such segregation is not only unnatural, but destroys the very spirit of a co-educational institution. Further, it isolates gender non conformists.

To help aid the process of bringing a change, we have identified a set of core solutions to tackle the problems mentioned above. These are:


CHARTER OF ACTIONABLES

The school should accept moral responsibility for all its actions and guarantee that any such actions by teachers or any other person in authority will be penalised.

Institution of a students welfare committee: The committee should comprise at least 3 teachers and 3 students, all of whom are sympathetic to the cause, objective and unbiased. The committee must be elected by students and should provide a platform through which individuals share personal grievances and with whom parents and students can communicate openly. The committee should enquire into the aforementioned issues and strictly penalise authorities who encourage misogyny.

Interactive sessions: The school should organise interactive sessions on gender awareness, gender norms, gender non conformity, sex education and menstruation for all students together. These issues must be destigmatised and healthy discussions about the male and female bodies should be encouraged to promote greater respect, understanding and maturity. Such sessions should also include conversations regarding the issues highlighted above and a bilateral process of ideation for solutions regarding the same. A combined session on this may also be a part of moral science programmes in classrooms.

Mental health: Based on accounts of students, it has come to our notice that many of the malpractices highlighted above have impacted them adversely and affected their mental health. To prevent this, the school should employ a competent counsellor with a PhD degree in Psychology. Counselling is a delicate job and needs to be handled with utmost care, sensitivity and objectivity. A conducive environment for sharing and healing must be created which does not exist currently.

We urge you to appreciate the gravity of the issues highlighted above. Corrective measures against these need to be taken immediately to protect students. The way forward can only be when we acknowledge misogyny and recognise such instances for what they truly are- manifestations of a deeply patriarchal mindset. It is essential that students’ grievances be addressed and problems rectified to aid evolution of individual personalities as well as the society, at large. We request you to kindly address these issues at the earliest so that the school is restored to its past days of glory. Please respond to this mail at the earliest.


Yours sincerely,
Signed

 



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