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If you wonder why we didn’t complain, let me tell you it’s not that simple. Many of these offenders were powerful and influential.
I queued up behind my classmate, outside the professor’s cabin with my drawing sheet. We were just five girls in our class of Engineering, our nervous expressions gave away the fear of facing the professor. For starters, Engineering Drawing isn’t a simple subject and drawing and maintaining sheets isn’t an easy feat either. I wouldn’t claim I was an expert but I did try my best. Those sheets fetched our internal marks, almost half of the total marks awarded by the university.
But the five of us weren’t afraid of having our mistakes pointed out by the professor, errors on the sheets could be erased and rectified. A few months into engineering, and we had discovered, we girls weren’t always welcome, at least into certain branches. Every blunder we committed, like an assignment submitted late or a lesser score in the exams, was highlighted as a woman’s inefficiency to make a good engineer.
And who better than our own teachers to tell us this? In fact many of them would openly show their disdain when we girls fell behind at workshop or carpentry. We were only grateful that our male classmates seldom carried this regressive sentiment, we found good friendship and support in them.
But what happened that day, remains etched in my memory. My friend entered his terrifying cabin and he scrutinized her sheet. He scoffed many times, something we were used to, but then he passed the verdict. And how!
“Your work is terrible as ever, just look at how all those boys had fared. But then how can I grade you badly all the time? So today I’ll reward you with an A+. Kyonki Tu Achhi Dikh Rahi Hai. (Because you look good.)”
With his red ink, he rewarded her an A+ as promised and she moved out, aghast. And an equally shocked I presented my sheet next.
I was rewarded with his taunts and a generous B. The short, stout and dark complexioned me didn’t deserve an A+ for sure, he made it pretty clear. The other three scored somewhere between A and B depending on their looks.
I wept all night into my pillow. The affront of being judged for my physical appearance by a teacher dug deep into my young soul. I couldn’t muster the courage to confide in my parents, maybe I should have.
A little investigation into the grades of ladies from other classes opened up to the fact that ours wasn’t an isolated incident. It seemed to be an open secret of sorts, that most of the internal marks were awarded at face value.
“Mooh Dekhke Marks Dete Hain (Your face decides your marks.)”
And sadly, I woke up to the fact that I was not only a victim of sexism, but also something that’s at times called ‘Lookism’.
And if you wonder why we didn’t complain, let me tell you it’s not that simple.
Many of these offenders were powerful and influential. We ‘ugly ducklings’ could go ahead and report, but what strong evidence did we have? Wasn’t it much better to study hard and score in the externals rather than getting involved in such mess? Honestly, with our marks and future at stake, we decided to stay away. They would definitely seek revenge, what if they failed us, didn’t a ‘B’ look far better?
I agree, discrimination on the basis of looks happens often, be it in relationships, at workplace or in the outdated system they call arranged marriage. But as educated adults, at that age, we perhaps gather some strength to report sexist colleagues or reject misogynist proposals.
But when this happened to me, I was a naïve teenager, just out of school. I was eighteen, a student, who needed her teachers to encourage her, help her boost her confidence. But the wound inflicted on me then took a long time to heal. I didn’t talk about this much back then, I unfortunately felt ashamed of the way I looked or dressed. If I ever did talk, I was the one who sounded jealous of my other physically endowed classmates.
Let me be very clear here, that not all our professors were sexist, we did have some good and very fair male teachers. This little subsection of a broader spectrum of misogyny, existing in so-called pure and holy fields like education, might not be too common. I feel it’s often overlooked as trivial, thanks to our social norms, that women are meant to look beautiful and well groomed. But on second thoughts, isn’t this sexual harassment as well, discriminating on the basis of appearance?
In my opinion, if more families encouraged their daughters to take up professional courses and work outside homes post marriage, there could be a change in scenario. An equal number would mean more strength and support to many women who are marginalized in their career owing to being a minority. Maybe as parents, we could guide our children, both boys and girls to take pride in their inner beauty and personality, rather than fretting over superficial stuff like make-up and trendy costumes.
Also, the control over someone’s grades or appraisal need not be handed to just one person, but could be distributed, for a just decision. This could help tackling the superior attitude that certain people gain.
These are all pretty long term plans though.
The one solution that strikes me as most effective is, instant and strict punishment to those who dare to openly comment over a woman or in this case, a child’s body. Our fear and their lack of it, is what let’s many of these serial offenders get away with their shameful deeds. Women should feel safe, they should be allowed to lodge complaints, anonymously if they so wish, and appropriate action should be taken against the culprits. So next time they don’t dare to rob a woman co-worker or student, of her dignity and confidence.
This was shortlisted from among the many interesting entries we received for the IWD 2021 blogathon #IChooseToChallenge.
Image source: shutterstock
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