Educating the educator

GENDER SENSITIVE LEARNING : The goal of education is not to reproduce the existing structure, but to create a new mode of critical thinking and creat

Lately I got an opportunity to interact with a vibrant group of teacher educators; and one of their primary concerns was how to alter gender stereotypes, and make school education more sensitive to a refined practice of culture and socialisation.

Possibly, the growing violence against women (the images of the Bengaluru incident are still haunting us), the objectification of female sexuality, and the legitimisation of dowry (the recent illustration is a pathological school text in Maharashtra) cause acute anxiety; and sensitive educators feel the need for a new culture of gender sensitive learning.

However, this is possible only when we are willing to accept that education is not merely about passing examinations and becoming ‘successful’ in life; its goal is not to reproduce the existing structure, but to alter it and create a new mode of critical thinking and creative practice. It is in this context that I wish to emphasise on the three desirable qualities that you­ng learners, irrespective of biological differences, ought to cultivate to create a gender sensitive/compassionate society.

First, reflect on the ethic of care. This means that we learn about the world and relate to it through love, empathy and extraordinary care. The pursuit of knowledge is driven by an urge that unites reason and love, critical enquiry and empathic understanding. This leads to the transformation of the inner being of the learner. From a hyper-competitive/aggressive/utilitarian being she/he is transformed into a caring person.

Second, think of self-reflexivity. It is important to know oneself, get adequate contemplative moments to understand one’s inner world, and acquire the courage to hear and pursue what the inner voice dictates. With this calling one finds one’s vocation. If it is encouraged, one can resist the temptation of following the mob mentality, and gain clarity to see beyond the societal pressure and hypnotising mass culture, and realise one’s spiritual autonomy. And third, imagine the beauty of a non-hierarchical consciousness.

This is the capacity to embrace differences without hierarchising. There are diverse cultures— a spectrum of occupations, wide range of aptitudes and skills. This variation enhances the beauty of the world. But when we hierarchise, and begin to say that my language is superior to that of others, my occupation is more challenging than yours, or my intellectual capability is ‘pure’ and your manual labour is ‘polluted’, I cause violence, and strengthen caste/class/gender hierarchies. Instead, a non-hierarchical consciousness is inherently inclusive, pluralist and compassionate.

The problem is that gender stereotypes and ideologies which children often inherit from the larger society go against these three core qualities. Take, for instance, patriarchy as a social institution or structure of consciousness. It doesn’t understand the ethic of care because it is based on asymmetrical power—the power that controls women, brutalises men, and negates the possibility of a relationship based on trust, care, comradeship and love.

It hierarchises consciousness, spheres of work and activities. For instance, it is thought that for a boy it is not normal to learn Bharatanatyam dance, while there is no problem in becoming a boxer. Or a male chef working in a hotel is doing real ‘work’, whereas a mother in her kitchen is not a ‘working’ woman. In other words, patriarchy divides the world — to be hard, competitive, aggressive and professional is to be ‘masculine’ and superior; and to be tender, poetic and caring is to be ‘feminine’, and it is not so important in the practical sphere of ‘hard’ work!

Patriarchy redefined

In our times, we see the alliance of patriarchy and the growing market-media induced culture of consumption. In fact, patriarchy is redefined; it becomes rather sleek and colourful. It reduces us into captive consumers of products and packages of ‘success’, ‘beauty’ and ‘vitality.’ Men have to earn more, make women ‘contented’ with material comforts, gifts (recall some of the ads of diamond jewelleries) and mythologies of ‘happy life’.

And women, despite their education and outward mobility, have to orient themselves as good looking, glamorous, smart bahus (see the popularisation of television soap operas of the Ekta Kapoor variety) or ornamental companions of men. Not solely that. With its implicit commodification, it transforms sexuality — particularly female sexuality — into objects of greed. The result is the negation of the ethic of care, non-hierarchical consciousness and self-reflexivity.

Instead, it leads to a broken relationship — achievement-oriented men patronising women; or women are seen as attractive dolls (the Barbie doll syndrome is the symptom of the age) without soul, intelligence and autonomy. Simone de Beauvoir’s ‘second sex’ remains subdued in a world that normalises ‘masculine he­roism’ consuming ‘feminine passivity’.

At this juncture, I wish to ask the moot question before young teachers and educators: can we take a step forward, despite all these difficulties and obstacles? This demands that as educators we have to educate ourselves and critically examine the prejudices and stereotypes we have internalised. This means our willingness to critique the culture of patriarchy, and redefine schools as a new possibility for an alternative practice of culture and socialisation through innovative curriculum, critical pedagogy and reflexive practices leading to the formation of an integrated personality guided by the ethic of care, self-reflexivity and non-hierarchical consciousness.

And I would argue that this is a move towards androgyny as a state of consciousness which, despite biological differences, transcends the duality of ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’, and strives for a set of shared human traits that unite reason and emotion, outer and inner, and courage and compassion. Is it possible for our schools to encourage a boy to learn the art of cooking, the aesthetics of dance and the practice of nursing? Or, for that matter, is it possible to encourage a girl to climb a tree, repair electric fans and lead the school team? I want my readers to think.

(The writer is a professor with Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)

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