ENOUGH IS ENOUGH: Right from inappropriate humour, to facing ‘ground reality’, to transferring age-old ‘wisdom’… the reasons behind our misogynistic textbooks are perhaps a clue towards why women are often given less importance than cattle in our country
Delhi University’s ‘Emails Should Be Like Skirts’ book isn’t the only sexist text around. Unfortunately there have been multiple instances that have come to light recently, often in textbooks that have been around for years
By Sonam Joshi
A DELHI University textbook for B. Com. (Honours) students has come under fire for advising its students to keep their emails like women’s skirts — “short enough to be interesting” and “long enough to cover all the vital points”.
“Email messages should be like skirts–short enough to be interesting and long enough to cover all the vital points,” the book titled Basic Business Communication states. It has been authored by CB Gupta, a former head of the commerce department at the Shri Ram College of Commerce and has been in print for over a decade.
On his part, Gupta told PTI that the analogy was taken from a foreign author and not taken with the intention of hurting anyone. He said that the quote can, in fact, be traced to Winston Churchill, and has been used countless other times.
Unfortunately, this is far from being the first Indian textbook to promote causal as well as blatant sexism in the garb of educating students. Here are some other recent instances of school and college textbooks that have been called out for their sexism.
36”, 24”, 36”
IN APRIL, the CBSE class XII physical education textbook “Health and Physical Education” came under fire for defining beauty in terms of body measurements. “There is a vast difference in the shape of males and females, 36”, 24”, 36” shape of females is considered the best,” the book stated. “That is why in Miss World or Miss Universe competitions, such type of shape is taken into consideration (sic).”
Printed by a private publisher and authored by Dr VK Sharma, the book was taught in some schools that follow the CBSE syllabus. The book went on describe why “females” could not run properly because they had a different shape than men. “The bones of hips of females are wider. Knees are slightly apart. Due to this shape females are not able to run properly,” it said. While HRD minister Prakash Javadekar condemned the textbook as “sexist” and called for a probe, CBSE said that it was up to the schools to exercise caution when choosing textbooks by private publishers. The publisher has stopped printing the book.
UGLY? PAY DOWRY
IN FEBRUARY, it was discovered that a class XII sociology textbook created by the Maharashtra State Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education stated that “ugliness” and “handicap” of girls were responsible for the groom’s family demanding more dowry. The textbook was first printed in 2013 and was being used by thousands of sociology students. Instead of condemning dowry as illegal, the text seemed to justify it by linking it to ‘ugliness’.
However, the state’s education minister Vinod Tawade told The Times of India that statements reflected the “social reality” but that he would revise it after the “objections”. It was also defended by the Maharashtra State Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education chairman. “There are over 10-12 reasons mentioned in the chapter, not just ‘ugliness’ and ‘handicapped’. Besides, this is the ground reality in rural Maharashtra. Also, sociology teaches prevalent practices in Maharashtra that have been mentioned in the textbook,” he told The Times of India.
IN SEPTEMBER 2015, a 24-year-old teacher complained that a Class X Social Science textbook in Chhattisgarh said that the percentage of unemployment after Independence had increased due to the more women being employed in all the sectors. “Before independence few women were employed. But today women are employed in all sectors that has increased the proportion of unemployment among men,” a chapter on economic problems and challenges stated.
“Does it mean that percentage of unemployment is measured on parameters keeping only men in mind? In the age of technology and gender equality, students can’t be taught about such prejudices. Women have equal right over jobs with men,” the 24-year-old teacher Soumya Garg told The Times of India. According to an Indian Express report, the chapter had been a part of the textbooks since 2008. It was eventually withdrawn.
A CLASS 12 Rajasthan government Hindi textbook listed “good height” and a “beautiful complexion” as being requirements to be a successful entrepreneur. In a chapter on “Skill Development”, the book listed the desirable “physical attributes” in an entrepreneur. According to an Indian Express report, these were “”Uttam swasthya, prabhavshali vyaktitva, acchi unchai, sundar rang, shaleenta, gambhirta (perfect health, impressive personality, good height, beautiful complexion, sobriety, seriousness).”
FOLLOW YOUR MAN
IN 2016, a team of academics found that in a chapter on the Sindhi poet Sant Kanwar Ram a Class VII textbook from Rajasthan stated that a “woman’s duty was to follow her man” and that a woman’s job “was to bear children”. “It also showcases how the poet had six children, three each from his two wives. He married twice before the death of his first wife at the age of 46. The Times of India reported an academic expert as saying, “The entire chapter reflects male dominance and that a woman’s job is to bear children”.
male foetus RECIPE
THIS MAY, activists called for the withdrawal of an undergraduate textbook prescribed for third-year students of the Bachelor of Ayurveda, Medicine, and Surgery (BAMS) which was teaching techniques to conceive a boy. The Times of India reported that the text had been copied from an ancient Ayurvedic compilation called the Charak Samhita and described the process of creating a male foetus in detail.
Donkey = Housewife
IN 2006, it was discovered that a Hindi textbook from the Rajasthan Education Board compared a woman to a donkey. “A donkey is like a woman. It toils all day and sometimes has to give up food and water,” the Class IX Hindi textbook stated. “In fact, the donkey is a shade better, for while the housewife may sometimes complain and walk off to her parents’ home, you’ll never catch the donkey being disloyal to his master.” Government officials told The Times of India that the comparison was meant as a joke.