On Equality In The Classroom

It wasn’t the playschool teacher’s fault , really. She probably thought only banner waving firebrands would take exception to something so commonplace and so innocuous–and I may not have looked like the stereotypical activist to her.

I was attending my younger daughter’s  first PTA meeting, and the teacher had entirely complimentary things to say about her–she had apparently taken to school like fish to water, was friendly and cooperative, didn’t trouble her at all etc. But there was just one problem.

What problem, Ma’am?

“Oh, she doesn’t sit like a girl.”

I raised an eye-brow but decided to hear her out.

She carried on, “She sits with her legs apart, like boys. I keep telling her, you’re a girl, don’t sit like this, sit properly. So please tell her to sit properly at home too, then only she’ll learn”… She trailed off at this point after taking in my horrified expression.

I gulped. This woman is trying to teach some three-year-olds that they should sit a certain way because they were girls? Wow! Is she crazy or just plain stupid?

Somewhere inside my head a tiny voice told me to not fly off the handle–after all she was my kid’s class-teacher. Getting her back up will serve no earthly purpose. I decided to try to reason with her.

“Tell me something, Ma’am–do you also teach the boys how they should sit?”

“Err..no! They don’t need to be told how to sit like boys. They just know!”

“Or maybe that is just the way kids sit? Maybe?”

“Well, maybe… ”

“The point I am trying to make, Ma’am, is that they are way too young–yet–to be made to conform to gender-specific behaviour. It will come to them naturally if it is meant to, when the time is right. And even if it doesn’t, so be it–certainly there’s nothing to be gained by forcing it. Why don’t we just let them be kids for a while, instead of slotting them as boys or girls? They are only three years old, for God’s sake!”

The teacher was staring at me in frank surprise.

“It is definitely part of your job to impress upon her the general rules of good behaviour, good manners and etiquette, but I’ll thank you to not take it upon yourself to teach her to ‘carry herself like a girl’. That would amount to overstepping your brief. As her mother, I would greatly appreciate if you refrained from doing that.”

The teacher peered at me blankly, her thoughts on me probably echoing mine on her–Is she stupid or just plain crazy?!!!For the moment, though, she appeared to have decided to buy peace by not disagreeing.

‘ Oh, OK, I’ll keep that in mind.”

I thought it best to leave it at that, but I intend to make sure she keeps her word.

This is what happens when schools consider it their duty to produce ‘well-adjusted’ individuals who fit well in gendered moulds–some or the other teacher can easily go overboard in their zeal and decide that it’s never too early to begin such training.

Speaking of gendered training, apart from lady-like mannerisms, older girls are also encouraged to learn  womanly skills like needle-work, which is another pet peeve. I happened to go to a girls’ convent and I remember they had started to make us do needle-work from Class three onwards.

I think we were in Class four when we were taught to knit. We were supposed to knit a meter-long muffler during the year. Well, mine never progressed beyond a few inches for various reasons, not the least being that I hated knitting, and at the end of the year I was among the ten-odd girls from our class who were made to march to the Principal’s office for not finishing the work. We stared at our shoes while the principal lectured us on the usefulness of these arts, wagging her finger sternly all the while. In subsequent years I took care to finish off the darned things  well in time.

Of course it goes without saying that none of the boys’ schools thought it fit to teach the boys to even hold a needle or to sew on a button. Just like in the homes.

At least ours was a girl’s school, so we were never faced with the terrible scenario of half the class–the boys– going out to play football while the girls sewed/knitted/ crocheted, as was the norm in the co-ed schools. What’s good for the gander ought to be good for the goose too!

Cooking and swimming–and driving later on–are far more important skills to pick up–for everyone— than needle-work, which can be pursued as a hobby by those who are really interested. I am happy to say that needle-work is losing favour with schools these days–my elder daughter has not had to do it in school so far. They have a roller-skating period once a week instead. It must certainly be more fun than embroidering table-mats!!

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30 Responses to On Equality In The Classroom

  1. Age.
    That is the  important factor that determines if you are right or the teacher is right.
    Your daughter is 3 years cute! Not three years old.
    Let her sit any way she wants.
    At that age children are just cute genderless mini humans.
    Not boys or girls with predetermind proper ways of sitting.

    Your daughter will sit properly with no prompting from any one, when she grows up.
    At three years, I probably rolled in the mud semi nude.
    Most of my old black and white pictures of me as a child show me nude!

    I entered school at age of six and had learned to dress, sit, stand, and talk properly on my own.
    My mom never received any complaints.

    • Exactly, GVji !! Kids are kids–‘genderless mini humans’ is an apt term. It is ridiculous to try and slot them at such a young age.
      I guess the teacher simply went overboard in her zeal to do right by the kids.

  2. techie2mom says:

    Scribblehappy, I so agree with you (Actually i still can’t sit the way a lady is supposed to sit :)) and this gender stereotype is so much around that we may not even blink when we face it…
    I can ride a motor-cycle & i used to do it many a times when hubby used to go out of town. For this i’ve heard so many suggestion & the worst was from a little girl, who told me that Girls are not supposed to ride bikes!!! It was sad, a little girl saying that….
    Even the guys has to face the stereotypes, i never gave it much thought (probably because i have a daughter & now a days all i think is about her :)), but Leena left a comment on my post (What matters is what you have inside you) and it got me thinking…

    Quoting Leena here:
    “I totally agree with what you say. And it is true not just for the girls but for the boys too. Pink has to be the favourite colour of a GIRL and a boy can never opt it as even a remotely acceptable colour. Drawing is meant for girls and not for boys. Boys are supposed to be good with maths and not with music or poetry. And even if they were to sing or play music, they must never be heard as appreciating it rather should be competing. Arts and economics is something a female can opt for but not so for her male counterpart. The list is endless.

    The basic problem is with the mindset of our society which has screwed its fundamentals so badly that it has lost its culture in the name of modernity and its reasoning in the name of traditions.”

    • Welcome here, Techie2mom!

      A little girl told you that girls are not supposed to ride bikes? That’s sad for sure. You’re so right, this stereotyping is so much around that we may not even blink when we face it.

  3. R's Mom says:

    seriously?? for a THREE year old, the teacher said this…I wonder what she will say when she sees R sitting who knows only how to spread her legs and sit, R fighting with the boys in the daycare, matching every punch with a punch and pull with a pull or R trying to run faster than the boy next to her because she wants teacher to give her a star!!!

    I dont know what to say..seriously!

  4. Ashwathy says:

    At school we had craftswork (for both boys and girls)….and both sets of kids went out to play during Physical Training period. Fortunately! 🙄
    It was only around 11th and 12th that girls began to feel they didn’t want to get “hot and sweaty” playing “ungirly” games 😛

    But that was late teens, NOT when they are 3 years old!! 😯 Sheesh! 🙄 😛

  5. Deeps says:

    OMG a 3 year old is being told how to sit like a girl! Aargh! You did a great thing by telling the teacher to let your child be! That is what is important, to let a child be rather than mould them according to gender-specific behaviours! 🙄

  6. Pingback: Indian Bloggers Community post on various issues this Saturday

  7. phoenixritu says:

    Wow! Wonderful post. I completely agree with you. This is like the damn toy shop sales man who did not want my son to buy a kitchen set! I told him to keep his effin opinions to himself and just because I was miffed I bought two of them!

    • Thank you, Phoenixritu. I am glad you liked it.
      Haha, you bought two kitchen sets for your son because the salesman thought you shouldn’t buy him one? I think I might have done just that too 🙂

  8. rjkeith says:

    I didn’t know there was a way little girls were supposed to sit? When did this happen? When I was a kid I was sprawled out on the rug reading a different book while the teacher glared at me out of the corner of her eye because I had already finished the book she decided she wanted to read out loud.
    Not my fault, lady.
    Good for you for telling your little girls’ teacher what’s what! Kids should not be made to conform to anything at three years old. Except maybe that dinosaurs are way more fun if they have laser crayons on their heads.

    • Hi there, Rjkeith, and thanks for leaving a comment.
      //Except maybe that dinosaurs are way more fun if they have laser crayons on their heads.//
      LOL, absolutely!!

  9. Lovely post! So true about the societal conditioning..it’s really sad that a teacher of all people had to fall prey to it. Really liked the way you took it up with her.
    I hated the needle-work sessions too..but in our school, the boys had to do it as well..

  10. saptadeep says:

    Loved ur post mam…..evn other day I ws actually thinking bout this…that is it not our primary education & some silly value system that actually makes society insensitive towards a woman or may be makes her more vulnerable since childhood……she is made to feel the prey….maybe the gender equality chapter should first be ingrained in the family ethos and in the primary stage before we actually celebrate the “gender equality”

  11. kayemofnmy says:

    Roller skating! So in some ways they Have come out of the dark ages. That teacher asking a three year old to sit like a girl sounds dreadful and shocking. To interfere with a little girl’s happy abandon and delightfully innocent poses!

  12. Really strange- surely an overzealous teacher.
    Although at least in some parts of the country, boys are also taught (or forced down their throats) household work- in something called SUPW (Socially Useful and Productive Work) in which I was supposed to learn to make jam, jellies and pickles. (In the end, either Mom made it or I bought it from the market and submitted!)

    • Jams,jellies and pickles!! Not bad! Psst, I hope my daughter never gets to make these–I am pretty sure she’ll dump it on my head and then blame me for the terrible grades she’ll get 😀

  13. I agree whole heartedly! 40 plus and I still do not sit like a girl, forget about like a lady. I remember someone in my office (a lady of course) telling me that I should close my legs and sit properly when a man sits opposite to me, else they will get ideas!!! One more snippet from her – gas will enter your uterus and stomach and you will bloat up if you sit with your legs apart. Looking at my tummy now, I have to agree she may have a point ;-))) (that is the excuse I use now)

  14. Scribby says:

    trust me even I don’t know knitting, sewing, embroidering and what all it is there in the list…though I know basic sewing, knitting and a stitch or two of embroidery but these were learnt in summer vacation as part of my interest…but they faded with time and today it’s been ages I’ve done any of it!

    Thankfully in my school there was no activity like ‘home science’ types..instead we played football, kho-kho, badminton and such..with boys!

    Also, at home parents always thought it is a must for me to learn swimming and karate 😀

    you gave good to the teacher! she must realize that genderization is not her duty…in fact no one’s duty!!!

    • I know just about enough sewing to mend ripped seams, don’t know if I can still knit, and am pretty sure I’ve forgotten everything about embroidery, except maybe cross-stitch and lazy-daisy. So much for all those needle-work sessions, heh!

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