When Charu Verma, teacher at KR Mangalam World School, Vaishali, Ghaziabad, had enrolled for her B.Ed (Bachelor of Education) course, she found it unusual to know that even men applied for it. “Why would a man come to this classroom? Of course, there are male teachers in the profession. But the fact that I still found it odd despite being reasonably well-educated has got to do with years of internalized patriarchy where we see women and men as being fit for certain roles,” she tells MAKERS India.
Across the country, the profession of teaching is predominantly made up of women. More than 80% of all teachers in kindergarten through high school are females, according to the Ministry of Education data. As per media reports, the gender imbalance is most evident in elementary and middle schools, where more than two-thirds of teachers are women.
This shows that even a formal education and the agency to opt for a career as in Verma’s case years ago is sometimes unable to free men and women of the biases that come with internalized misogyny. Such biases normalize notions like the ‘softer’ side of women and the more objective, rational and demanding side of men.
The reasons for the above data could be attributed to the government policy of incentivizing the profession for women by making it mandatory for primary schools to have at least one female teacher. To realize this agenda, several teacher training centers dedicated to female teachers were set up and incentives were given to those willing to work in remote areas.
Women as ideal teachers: Benevolent patriarchy?
While women are significantly overrepresented in the profession of primary and middle school teaching, which is indeed a positive indicator, are women teachers stereotyped?
Traditional patriarchal structures form the foundation of institutions like family boxing women into the role of caregivers. While in reality women are burdened with unpaid domestic labor, patriarchy idealizes them in the role of nurturers.
Associating women with a ‘natural’ mothering instinct and thus better suited to teach children is conforming to gender-based perception of women’s roles. Such a perception not only idolizes women as mothers but also negates the possibilities of men to be seen in nurturing roles.
For the longest time, the benevolent patriarchal view has held that teaching would allow women to strike a balance between work and life. The assumption is that the less exacting nature of a teaching job would let women fulfill their roles at both the workplace and at the home and the kitchen.
Women’s work devalued
The job of a primary school teacher is often perceived to be less demanding as they are not required to be subject specialists. In her report Gender Inequities in School Teaching: Reasons and Repercussions, Jyothsna, a member of the Faculty at Azim Premji University, Bengaluru, writes, “Primary school teachers need to create charts, diagrams and 3D models that will stimulate curiosity and engage the minds of their students. They need to convey abstract ideas in a language appropriate to their students’ age and context.” Moreover, such a reductionist view of a primary or middle school teacher’s roles fails to account for the work that teachers carry home in the form of ‘corrections’ (assessing and marking students’ work) and preparation, as Jyothsna writes in her report.
“As female teachers, it is not only mandatory for us to tackle situations at home but also in schools. If the situation is sorted the credit goes to the man in-charge, and the woman ends up being just a helping hand, but if the situation worsens then the stereotyping begins. For a female teacher, the general role-set is to be in your bounds, wear appropriate clothes and stay away from male teachers and students. Being a female sports teacher, it is even harder to make your place in this profession rife with male egos. They will find ways to bring you down and no appreciation is ever given,” says Mumbai-based Ichhapreet Kaur Wadhwa, who has worked in the physical education department of various schools.
The question of pay gap
More women teachers in schools do not organically lead to their greater assimilation in institutes of higher studies. Research indicates that male teachers are more prevalent in colleges and universities as teaching in these institutions is associated with a greater value both in terms of monetary remuneration and social capital. This gender disparity could be attributed to the fact that over 30% of girl students drop out of schools by the time they get to class IX and the number rises to 57% in class XI, according to the ‘Children in India 2018’ report. Early marriage and childbirth remain the biggest social factors contributing to women not completing their higher education.
Studies blame the ‘pay scale distortion’ to be chief determinant of this gender disparity. Although this distortion has been corrected in recent years, a lot still needs to be done. “Even today casual sexism is prevalent when it comes to women in this profession. In marriage especially, a husband, who in most cases is likely to be earning more, can say anytime: What do you do after all? What you earn anyway doesn’t contribute to our family; I can give that to you from my end,” said Kaur Wadhwa.
“Even two decades back the general perception was that women entered the teaching profession owing to financial compulsions. ‘If nothing else; then she can at least teach at a school’ used to be the thought process even among the educated class. While that perception has now changed for good, education today has become a commodity and teachers don’t command respect any more. Moreover, while the job itself is secure and not necessarily sexist at the workplace dominated by female teachers, if it has been able to fulfill the question of greater empowerment can be debated,” says Rachna Pokhriyal, TGT Hindi at Gaurs International School in Greater Noida.
Why does teaching as a profession for women come with a patriarchal approval seal? Women should choose to teach on the basis of their aptitude and interests, commitment and professional competency as well as the benefits, security, pay and prestige that come with it, not because some custodians of patriarchy approve of it as being safe (timings) and respectable.
Women should be viewed beyond the role of nurturers and as being equally ambitious, while men should be allowed to perform in equally nurturing and empathetic frameworks to bring parity in the profession.
(Edited by Amrita Ghosh)