Patriarchy begins with the textbook

A girls helps her mother cut vegetables while her brother plays cricket in the garden outside; it was a caveman who sparked stones and lit the first fire thousands of years ago and, of course, the man is always the doctor in the white court while the woman is the nurse who helps him out — all these images of gender stereotyping are found in our school textbooks.

Through language, imagery, narrative and text, men and women are being rendered in potentially damaging ways in school textbooks. These pages are where gender stereotyping is being actively propagated, incipiently ingraining attitudes and shaping perceptions, women’s groups and research organisations have said.

Speakers at a panel discussion addressing gender issues at SNDT University in Juhu on Tuesday repeatedly referred to the role of school texts.

“We have to target textbook writers because that is where stereotypes are perpetuated,” said Vibhuti Patel, economics professor, women’s activist and one of the organisers of the discussion. “New gender equations have to be presented in textbooks.”

Researchers said textbooks had improved over the years,  but cosmetic changes such as populating books with more women alone wouldn’t make a difference.

“A lot has been done, but you can’t put in gender just through additions and deletions,” said Sonal Shukla, director of Vacha, a research centre from women and girls. “A gender sensitive perspective is not just including women,  but writing it in a way that makes sense.”

Delhi-based resource centre Nirantar released ‘Textbook Regimes: A Feminist Critique of Nation and Identity’ in 2010. A textual analysis of books from five states, the publication interrogated gender assumptions in textbooks and the inter-linkages of gender with patriotism, power and history. “We are talking about justice, but not why this happened,” said Archana Dwivedi, deputy director of Nirantar, referring to the Delhi gangrape. “Deep social and cultural systems are responsible for this.”

Nirantar has trained teachers on gender issues. Dwivedi recounts how women teachers recoiled in horror once when a citizenship chapter was written using “she” instead of “he” while writing about a generic citizen. “Articulation is still very masculine,” she said. “They were shocked at the writing in a female voice.”

 

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