Being a young teacher is interesting, because I’m not too far away from the journeys that some of the kids I’m teaching are on. I get where they’re coming from. As adults, we’re still figuring out how to get it right. We’ve grown up with this generation of not talking about how we feel, and that hasn’t done us any favours.
Interestingly, because I teach at a majority British Pakistani school, to all the British Muslim girls, being married is a big deal. They’ll ask me openly about my opinions towards marriage. I would always tell them that I’m not really thinking about it and it’s not really a goal for me. This really blows their 14 year old minds. Recently, with the COVID pandemic happening, a few of my students have been calling it ‘the Chinese virus’. I had to stop them to explain that the virus might have originated from China, but it won’t stop in front of you to check your ethnicity and say, ‘you’re Pakistani, so you won’t be affected.’ I think it’s important to educate kids at a young age. Otherwise, they will never learn. I think exposure is everything. It gives you the opportunity to make up your own mind. As a teacher, your role is to expose the kids to as many different things as possible and guide them.
*Trigger Warning: The rest of the interview includes multiple forms of trauma: sexual assault & r*pe.*
It’s a really tricky one when it comes to girls being in charge of their sexuality. I don’t think in my life so far I’ve had anyone tell me to embrace my sexuality. It was very much always ‘cover this, cover that’ or ‘don’t roam around at night by yourself’. As teenage girls, we grew up with a lot of caution. It’s more important to educate boys to not sexualise women than to make girls feel that dressing a certain way means that they’re inviting certain things. Personally, I think the only way to really stop people from objectifying women is to make it explicit. You have to really sit down and talk to them about women’s bodies and men’s bodies. They may know about geography, history and even about politics, but they lack common sense.
I think another problem I have found is that in India, there’s this issue with some groups of men sharing pictures of underage girls online and would organise gang r*pes. There was this case which shocked the country because the men that were involved went to ‘private fee-paying English speaking schools’. In a country like India, if your family can afford to send you to an English speaking school, that means that you automatically have some level of social awareness, or so we thought.
I guess I’m more aware about these issues because I’ve been a victim of sexual assault myself. However, I’ve also been in situations where I defended someone who was accused of it. It becomes difficult to remain completely objective when accusations of r*pe or assault go viral amongst a community of people you know. The sensationalism of offline activism makes the cause less attainable, as men resent women who accuse and women fear more men. Ultimately it becomes some form of mob justice. I feel guilty for implying that it isn’t perfect but that’s the reality of it. We need a multitude of processes to fix this – workshops, counselling, and education.
At the same time, men are not the only people who propagate toxic mindsets. I’ve specifically noticed it in the workplace where women are super quick to judge each other. We are definitely complicit, and we have to figure out where that comes from. There’s this big thing with shaming people who have done things that are ‘inappropriate’. With all the constant judging and shaming, how will women ever have a healthy relationship with their sexuality?
Hopefully, with our generation it’ll be easier because we’re more educated and are exposed to the world around us so we can play a role in de-stigmatising these issues. If I were to have kids someday, I would definitely start having these kinds of conversations earlier.
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