Most schools engage in consistent efforts to educate their students with regard to the importance of gender equality, while keeping the best intentions in mind. However, what goes unchallenged is the deeply institutionalized practice of perpetuating stereotypes. Seemingly innocent remarks, frequently witnessed practices and simple-minded beliefs can often take a devastating road. Certain generalized beliefs practiced in educational institutes, lead to the manifestation of implicit assumptions that propagate discriminatory ideas.
Stereotypical notions are often covertly present in commonly heard statements. At school, girls are usually assumed to be calmer, more helpful and studious. They would be asked to tidy up the cupboard, while the boys are told to move the furniture. Girls are also assumed to have a neater handwriting, a tactful way of speaking, a sensitive outlook and a disciplined behavior. If a boy makes trouble, that’s what they are supposed to do, and if a girl engages in the same activity, she is conveniently labelled as discourteous or impolite. Such practices condone benevolent sexism and have the capability of perpetuating the notion that if you’re a boy, you can get away with anything. (Or rather, you are allowed to get away with anything).
To cite another example, in high school, girls are often told to dress ‘decently’ and in a way that ‘does not attract boys’ attention.’ Girls can’t wear makeup because they would be responsible for distracting the boys and they can’t style their hair however they like because ‘school isn’t a fashion show’. This, of course, has no logical basis to its defense and is supremely problematic as it cultivates the idea that ‘boys will be boys’ and the onus is upon the girls to keep them in check. Having a dress code, or a uniform that everyone adheres to is harmless, however manifesting differences in those codes on the basis of gender, is not.
As evidenced by the experience of several school going children, girls and boys are supposed to stand in different queues, sit in separate parts of the classroom and not mingle too much. This indicates the idea that boys and girls cannot stay together without ‘causing trouble’.
It is imperative to recognize that schools are not just a place for gaining academic knowledge, but also the very place where young children gain an understanding of who they are, and where they stand in society. Stereotypes that are prevalent in school have the power of molding the perspectives of young children. In the case of adolescents, the norms practiced in their environment can have a deep-rooted impact upon their self-identities, and can go a long way into shaping their future. As vigilant members of society, we must acknowledge the existence of such stereotypes, and consciously avoid promoting (and imbibing) generic ideas that pose a threat to the ideals of equality.