Diya Gupta


The Munsel-ling Gender Wars

11:43 PM, Wednesday, 24th September, 2014
Shaun and the children after swimming in the river
Me relaxing in the river
Bring on the war, ladies!
Alexander Pope in ‘The Rape of the Lock’ may have thought that he had pitted the sexes successfully against each other; Beatrice and Benedict in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ might believe that they have a thing or two going in male-female repartee; Congreve’s Mirabelle and Millamant may fancy themselves at the pinnacle of witty thrust-and-parry – but to truly experience the sex wars, you have to come to Munsel-ling School.

Shaun and I decided to bathe in the river one glorious sunny day in Spiti, but as we were walking down the hill, we were entirely taken over by a gang of children, mostly girls and one or two very small boys, who clearly thought that they were taking us swimming. Our hands firmly held in their little ones, we proceeded to march towards the river in search of an elusive pool of calm water (Shaun and I found it easily enough when we went for a bathe the next time).

En route to this pool, we passed a group of boys, stark naked, shouting and leaping wildly into the water. The girls pointed and hooted with laughter, as the boys desperately scrambled to cover their modesty in front of the opposite sex, not to mention their English and Science teachers. And then I realised that the girls clearly did not want to stay and swim with the boys. I found myself being firmly dragged away by a six-year-old girl, while the others soon followed suit. Shaun remained behind to splash the boys thoroughly as I shrugged lamely at him while being led away.

“Do you like boys, ma’am?” queried one of my captors. I considered this question. I supposed I did, since I lived with one. “Well, yes, I like them when they’re not being annoying,” I replied. “We do not like boys,” said the girl. “They are always pinching!” “Yes, that’s not very likeable of them,” I responded. “Boys are horrible,” finished the girl. “They are our ‘jaan ki dushman’ – sworn enemies!” Hard to come up with a rejoinder to that one.

The boys seem to hold the girls in a similarly low opinion. My Class 9 and Class 10 boys have a peculiar obsession with Bob Marley – I haven’t quite understood whether he is a style icon to them, or whether they actually listen to and like his music.The Class 9 boys happened to glimpse a picture of me on Shaun’s laptop with my hair in braids and told me that I had “Bob Marley hair.” “Oh, you like Bob Marley?” I said. “ Yes, ma’am!” chorused all the boys happily. There was a heavy silence from the girls. “And what about the girls?” I asked. “We don’t like him!” chorused the girls, just as firmly. “Girls never like anything like that,” piped one boy rather scornfully. Hmm.

In every class I teach, there is a clear divide between where boys and girls sit, and the twain certainly do not meet. One of the worst punishments you can mete out to a boy is to make him sit next to a girl, and vice versa – their sense of discomfort in sitting next to the enemy is so palpable that Shaun and I almost feel awkward doing it. But it works very well as a method of class control!

My Class 6 students chose to divide themselves into a boys’ team (called Rikitikitavi – how they love that story!) and a girls’ team (called Thunder) when I played a word quiz with them last Saturday. And then when the Rikitikitavi team won the quiz, there was plenty of jubilation and dancing from the boys who started chanting to the girls – “Losers! Losers! Losers!” I shook my head and left them to it. It was the lunch break after my class – the boys would soon get distracted from gloating by the smell of food.

The strongest evidence of the sex wars is undoubtedly in Class 8, which has double the number of girls to boys. The boys evidently feel very sorely about this, as the girls outvote them in nearly everything. I take classes on debate and public speaking with Class 8, and let them choose their own topics and speakers. Inevitably, the boys as a minority under threat unite as one team, and the girls as another. And the topics they choose would put Pope, Congreve and Shakespeare to shame: ‘Women should have more rights than men,’ ‘Men are naturally better than women’ and so on.

One particularly cheeky little boy, while speaking for the motion in the last topic, actually took out his history book and pointed to a series of pictures on India’s freedom fighters. “Look at this,” he said. “ If women are so great, why aren’t there any of them in these pictures?” He continued with a grin, “We’ve all heard of Mahatma Gandhi, but not of any Mahatmi Gandhi!”

Naturally, the boys burst into gales of laughter at this, while the girls bristled and I had to intervene and point out that this boy had raised a very important question – why were there no women in the history book? Is it because women did not have enough education at that time to become prominently involved in the freedom movement? Or is it because, even though women were involved, history books are written mostly by men about men? I left the class to ponder on that. Oh yes, the sex wars may very well lead to classes on feminism next!
Diya on 8:48 PM, 28th September, 2014
Debbie! How nice to hear from you! You are very right - we will find it so hard to leave the children behind! We've grown very attached to them. Hope you and Tim are well!
Diya on 8:45 PM, 28th September, 2014
Cheers, Laura! The girls here need some role models closer to home, I think - and there are some in the history books, just not quite so many. And as for Shakespeare fanaticism, mea culpa, mea culpa! Of course it is Benedick! Maybe I'll mention the couple's witty exchanges, but leave out the foreplay bit, eh?! Keep reading and commenting!
Diya on 8:41 PM, 28th September, 2014
Thanks, Cynthia! The girls will be raving feminists by the time I'm done - and some of the boys!
Diya on 8:39 PM, 28th September, 2014
Yay, thought you might particularly like this one, Jason! I'm never very sure whether I like boys all the time or not! ;-)
Diya on 8:38 PM, 28th September, 2014
Baba, I am not sure about true love among the two sexes here! They love to fight!
Debbie PJ on 8:32 PM, 27th September, 2014
Great stuff as usual Diya . You and Shaun look really well. Are you going to find it difficult to leave there? Debbie xx
Laura Clark on 3:51 PM, 26th September, 2014
Great post! Maybe introduce them to Emmeline Pankhurst et al, the fighters for women's emancipation who *are* in the history books? (And as a Shakespeare fanatic myself, I'd probably add that Benedick - not Benedict, and it's quite deliberate as he spends most of his time in the play making knob jokes! - and Beatrice would be an excellent solution to show them: a couple who profess to hate each other's gender but who end up turning argument into foreplay, and discovering that respect/power comes not from putting the other down but from mutual compassion - and passion, of course!)
Cynthia on 1:26 AM, 26th September, 2014
Go Diya!
Jason on 5:58 PM, 25th September, 2014
Best blog yet! Ace! Love the sex wars and the ending on the historiography of his-story! :P This was my favourite line though, '“Do you like boys, ma’am?” queried one of my captors. I considered this question. I supposed I did, since I lived with one.' :)
Ujjal on 11:01 AM, 25th September, 2014
The war continues. Even in adulthood and old age. From the days of Adam and Eve. Is their true love among the sexes or is it just a form of "nothing is unfair in love and war"?
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