I have been studying this chapter for four hours, I’ll never finish the others today. Daydreaming, as usual.
“The sex need is irresistible in man,” my Sociology textbook informs me. Striking out the last word, I scribble ‘humans’ on top. I add plural pronouns throughout the rest of the paragraph, pondering syntax and grammar to fit them in correctly. Now I read it again to study it.
Studying Economics, I read that an entrepreneur aims to maximize his profits. I write, ‘/her’ in between the lines, next to it. At every point, I add female pronouns, glancing worriedly at the clock, but I can’t stop myself. If I don’t, it stays on my mind - another distraction accompanied by a vague feeling of guilt – and I inevitably return to change it. Time is short and my modifications get aggressive, leaving indentations on the page. “Are you ignorant of half the population?” I exclaim at the book – or the author, or publisher… I don’t even know anymore. “I am not man!” I continue, stabbing the page with my pencil. I stop abruptly and glance around sheepishly, hoping I wasn’t heard; the stress threatening to overcome me.
This particular textbook has its moments of political correctness, although interestingly enough, only when discussing consumer behaviour. Here I see “he/she” and “his/her” in abundance, however this too often lapses into the old familiar “he” and “his”. I may as well joke about this half-hearted attempt: I take a picture, add a caption, and post it on my Snapchat Story.
Physics, naturally, depends on examples to explain its concepts and numericals. Around three years ago, I read about a boy climbing steps, a man standing ‘M’ distance away from a merry-go-round, and other commonplace examples, only involving males.
Textbooks of a subject as objective as Mathematics included only male shopkeepers, dealers, merchants, etc., as a norm. For example:
‘A shopkeeper sells sugar in such a way that the selling price of 950 gm is the same as the cost price of one kg. Find his gain %.’
Names were usually male; if there wasn’t one, the subject was usually a man. In all cases, this was not logically necessary.
In Hindi, I read that an ‘aadarsh naari’ worshipped her husband and saw him as her only reason to live. The texts are what they are, and despite the messages, some of them are extremely well-written. In addition, mindsets and periods have to be kept in mind. However, in studying such writing in the 21st century, why are these contexts not highlighted? Why must we have to parrot those ‘morals’ to satisfy our examiners?
After completing my board examinations, I donate my textbooks to NGOs involved in teaching children who don’t have access to much study material. Many others do the same. But this is what those children learn from: books that teach them that only housewives exist and only boys play outdoors, and subtly imply that being male is normal and therefore desirable, while being female is a slight aberration, and therefore undesirable.
Modern education paves the way to awareness and empowerment, a justifiable and proven fact. However, these seemingly unimportant details and norms in the writing of Indian textbooks have harmful impacts. They may not be the sole cause of a bigoted mindset, but they often, unconsciously, lead to an androcentric or stereotypical way of thought and expression, which can have a trickle-down effect in terms of social learning and influence.