Sexuality and schoolMost curricula today do little to combat sexism and sexuality-based discrimination
My mother had a peculiar obsession when I was in primary school. She would make sure that my closet represented as large a palate of colours as possible. I had to carry a handkerchief of a different colour to school every day to counter my dull two-coloured school uniform. For some reason, whenever I had to carry a pink handkerchief, I would make sure that it was hidden as deep in my pocket as possible. Even before I was 12, for some reason I knew that pink was a colour associated with femininity; and if I were to be a proud boy, I could not bear to be seen with such a non-masculine material.
A binary world
Even to children, the world presents itself as one of segregation, one composed of medieval biases that ascribe different materials or behaviors to different sexes. Just like colours, there are perfumes that are for men and for women, there are behaviors, from the gestures that one makes while speaking to the pitch in a person’s voice, that are divided and ascribed differently for the two sexes. I have been told that I walk like a girl, and female friends of mine have been told they cut their hair like men. A long time ago, a friend of mine came to school with his nails painted black to be shouted at by the discipline in-charge who said, “Why don’t you wear a sari as well?” Is this not a form of segregation itself? There are absolutely no negative consequences from taking up material or behavior ascribed to the opposite sex, except for the absolute multitudes of taboos that have plagued our minds for millennia.
I can’t help but see a parallel between this form of discrimination and that faced and overcome by generations of communities in the past. A person born as a female is barred from staying out late or having the freedom of clothing, just like people born as ‘untouchables’ are forbidden to use the community tap. Is it not the same faulty system of perception that frowned upon black children playing in white playgrounds in the US before the 1960s that looks down at men who decide to wear clothes ‘belonging’ to the opposite sex?
Those who do not stick to boundaries encounter name-calling and bullying in school. Terms ‘chakka’, ‘hijada’ and gay have often turned from being notifiers of identity to insults. This discomfort and bullying is a result of a wider structure of ideas of division that helped, in many ways, to organise society in the past. This was only propelled further on the subcontinent with the introduction of globalism and colonialism.
What I find disappointing is the fact that most curricula today do little to combat sexism and sexuality-based discrimination. In Nepal, the environment, health and population (EHP) course does play its part in creating consciousness in the student body about reproductive diseases. But it is easy to notice that the course is not concerned with the mental impact of sexism on children. It fails to mention the importance of accepting that it is okay to dress up differently, that gestures, fabrics and pitches of the voice do not only belong to one sex or the other. The curriculum has also so far played its own part in othering or ignoring sexual minorities.
It seems odd that the curriculum supposes that only heterosexual students need to know about safe sex. Homosexuality, asexuality, bisexuality and pansexuality are completely ignored by every subject that a child comes across in his school life. There are no stories in either English or Nepali course books that aren’t heteronormative. The list of stories undertaken present husband and wife or boy and girl as the only compatible relationship that can exist.
Break the taboo
Thousands of students have read about the husband in BP Koirala’s Doshi Chasma who comes home to vent his day’s frustrations at his homemaker wife. There is no Muna Mandani equal of Muna Madan. There are no grammar questions that talk about how ‘man’ isn’t an okay substitute to use instead of ‘human’. Maths has no questions that ask how much Sita would have to pay for the chocolates she is buying for her partner. Asexuality and same-sex inclinations are confined to the world of plants by our science books.
‘Kids aren’t old enough to understand homosexuality’ is an excuse used by many to defend the taboo with which knowledge about the multiple dimensions of sexuality are kept from children. There is, of course, nothing profound and incomprehensible about the matter. To normalise the fact that two men or two women are capable of falling in love and having intercourse, or to say that there is nothing wrong with wearing or liking things that are ‘meant’ for another sex isn’t impossible to wrap one’s head around. It isn’t hard to observe that the curriculum blatantly discriminates against homosexuality. Such matters are left out of the curriculum as if they are matters of national shame. This is a form of unintended or ill-intended state-sponsored discrimination that many countries have done nothing to correct.
Nepal has often found itself making leaps in providing recognition and equality to the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) community in comparison to many other countries on the subcontinent. Yet, knowledge about the spectrums of sexuality and the folly of sexism barely makes its way into the education system. I hope that something is done to introduce at least the matter of homosexuality into next year’s EHP curriculum. It is important to prepare children to explore a world of sexuality that is free from sexism and discrimination, where they are not ashamed to fall in love with whatever sex they want to or carry whatever colour of clothes or handkerchief they may see fit.
Shah is a student of History and International Relations at Ashoka University, Sonipath, India