India’s Educational Institutions, In The Business Of Creating ‘Good Girls’ Even Now

Policing of girls' behaviour, dress, choices, all begin early. Raising 'good girls' who can then go on to become 'good wives and DILs' is considered more important.

Policing of girls’ behaviour, dress, choices, all begin early. Raising ‘good girls’ who can then go on to become ‘good wives and DILs’ is considered more important.

I was privileged enough to have studied only in the posh, private, expensive educational institutions in a metro city. My college didn’t have any dress code or rules about how we should come to college.

Ah, how liberal and modern, right? Yet, gender bias and the idea of a ‘good girl’ managed to creep in.

Good girls tie their hair up

I’ve had a teacher in my eleventh who told me that I should put on a bindi and tie my hair up because that’s how a girl should be. Not once, but twice. When he asked me a third time if I will ever put a bindi or tie my hair up (I had short hair), I denied. He never spoke about it after that. However, he compared me with another girl who put on a bindi and tied her hair and said, she looks very nice. While she is undoubtedly beautiful, what subject is he teaching? Indian culture? 101 ways to be a girl?

It saves paper to not write dress codes, for they are already entrenched in our brains.

If this was a one-off incident, it wouldn’t carry any weight. It could be dismissed as his personal objection to a certain hairstyle. But the same happened during my twelfth board exams, and it was a female invigilator this time! She scolded me twice, telling me to tie my hair up because it might disturb me while writing. As her intention seemed genuine, I calmly said I wouldn’t be bothered, as my hair had always been short.

The next day, she brought a rubberband (wow!) and told me to tie my hair “because there are male students also in the exam hall.” Okay, so what? Is a snake going to emerge from my open hair and engulf them? Or are my hair strands going to fly and strangulate them? We were in an exam hall, not a horror movie set!

‘Why do you need to study so hard; you’re a girl’

Hearing people say, “Why are you studying so hard, you’ll anyway marry and your husband should earn for you,” is not a surprise. But that coming from my economics faculty was one for our class. He said that when he saw the list of toppers in the eleventh, and all of them were girls. Not that anybody was bothered about it, but education is a basic right.

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The same faculty said that divorce rates are increasing because of women being highly educated and working in mid-level and top-level jobs. Okay, we get it, he had some aversion towards girls’ education. But why? He revealed that too one day, because economics deals with topics like unemployment, child marriages, women’s participation in the economy, etc. He said that unemployment crisis arose because women, who were earlier curtailed to the house, are now competing for all jobs at all levels! I won’t be amazed if someday, someone blames women for global warming, world wars, and UFO attacks too.

Good girls don’t ask for it

We were in seventh grade when a guy commented about the length of my friend’s skirt saying it is too short. She immediately complained to a teacher, who said that it should be taken as a joke. A guy who’s hardly thirteen, deciding what a girl’s skirt length should be, is a joke.

All these incidents reek of instilled victim-blaming. Teaching girls from young age that their dresses are subject to public opinions. Their hair alone is enough to disturb their male classmates (and it’s somehow their mistake). That their education is secondary to that of their male classmates. That they should dress up ‘decently’ so as to avoid male gaze and let male classmates study. That their education is all a pastime, they can’t do anything significant. All while charging the same fees from male and female students.

Do not fall for this code for ‘good girls’

If you are a male student reading this, please remember that you aren’t a wee bit more important than your classmates. Nobody in the classroom should have to dress up in a specific way because you are there. If you can’t concentrate on studies, that’s entirely your problem.

If you are a teacher reading this, a girl’s dressing should be appropriate to the occasion, not to your standards. Teach girls to be confident, when they’ve done nothing wrong. Teach them how to be their own self. Most importantly, treat them as equal to everyone else.

What’s worse is people who take pride in enforcing these regressive rules under the garb of ‘protecting girls’. For centuries, we have done everything to protect our girls and here we are. Maybe, make girls educated and self-reliant so that they can protect themselves? Maybe, raise boys better so that girls don’t feel unsafe around them?

Image source: a still from short film Khayali Pulao

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