3 Questions from SAHELI’s ‘Building a Brighter Future’ panel

At One Future Collective, our work is based on developing the leadership capacities of people and communities, towards enabling them to access their rights. Participating in conversations that centre key communities needing, and capable of propelling, structural change are therefore crucial in our journey to nurturing social justice leadership. 

Our founder and CEO, Vandita Morarka, was a panelist on a panel titled ‘Building a brighter future: How do we empower young girls in our society?’. This panel was hosted by the Navi Mumbai Hub of the Global Shapers Community for their project SAHELI, and Teach for India, on September 16, 2023. 

To learn more about the specific objectives of this panel, and to get to know the panelists alongside Vandita, visit here

For a recording of the panel on YouTube, watch here

The panel discussed the importance of preserving the choices of young girls, approaching the issue of agency resulting from education and employment with nuance, how the patriarchy is upheld in the everyday, such as through the ‘tabooing’ of menstruation. Read below to learn about our key lessons from this series.

 

  • What does the patriarchy have to do with it?

Opening the conversation, panelist Prabha Vilas, founder and CEO of Work for Equality, discussed, with statistical evidence, the ‘double challenge’ of gender- and caste-based discrimination she faced in her journey as a first generation learner from a marginalised background. Panelist Samrudhi, who is a student working with Work for Equality, illustrated patriarchal oppression in the home in both rural and urban contexts through restrictions on women’s mobility and access to choice. Radhika Dhingra, founder of Badlaav Social Reform Foundation, further discussed how the patriarchy informs the physical, emotional and socio-cultural impact of menstruation on young women, leading to poor self-image, reduced self-confidence and physical and social mobility (through education and employment outcomes) for them. Vandita agreed, adding that oppression has multiple, changing agents – family members, caste groups, etc. The complex nature of power, she noted, can make it so that a group that may be marginalised in its own communities can be oppressive to others, stating the example of women from oppressor castes, who can perpetuate oppression not only to men and women from oppressed castes but also within their own families, to younger women. They also highlighted how patriarchal and other oppression need not always be active – sometimes, even the silence or inaction of those in positions of power can lead to continued oppression. They also gave examples of ‘patriarchy in small things’. 

 

  • Who are the key stakeholders in this process?

Through the discussion, the panelists identified three main stakeholder categories in the process of building a future for young girls: systems, communities, and the self. Vandita outlined this difference as being one of impact –  while personal reflection and growth in understanding one’s rights and the processes of accessing them is important, ‘no amount of personal training can change a system’. 

Prabha also highlighted the role of governments as an institution which are crucial to empowering young girls. Are policies written only on paper, or are they also executed for people? They stressed the importance of girl-led, girl-centered advocacy to improve how systems and communities see and engage with women – do people really want young girls to do better, if they are uncomfortable at the idea of women actually doing better and becoming ‘too’ loud, ‘too’ educated, occupying ‘too much’ space?

Vandita underscored the role of communities like families in building ecosystems of support around young girls – their experiences do not need to be understood in order to stand by them, ensure that their trust isn’t violated, and preserve their agency over their own bodies and circumstances. They also called the home the ‘last barrier’, and spotlighted One Future Collective’s Ghar Ki Baat campaign. 

Samrudhi discussed the role of the self in future-building – ‘No one will listen to us, unless we speak!’ She also highlighted the importance of building identities for the self and for one’s communities over time. Prabha agreed, talking about young girls traversing the journey from, ‘What can I do?’ to ‘I can do anything!’ 

 

  • What levels does change need to be actioned at?

Apart from the changes needed from the stakeholder categories identified above, the panelists also stressed the importance of changing our priorities in the conversation around social justice. 

Vandita talked about the role and space for men and boys in such future-building: they talked about how programs that engage men to address the harm done to them by patriarchal systems need to be differentiated from those for young girls and other gender minorities. Finally, they shared that the conversations around ‘including’ men in agenda setting for the empowerment of young women should focus on the need for men to be comfortable with letting go of power. If there is a fear of men having less power as a result of women having more, Vandita asked, then is it really about empowering women? Can more seats not be built around the table, if there aren’t enough?       

Radhika talked about the need for naming our taboos and confronting what about a subject makes it taboo. Similarly, Prabha expressed anger at the prescriptions communities and systems place on young girls like their behaviour, actions, attitudes, appearance – for young girls to reflect on their conditions and organise for action, they must have access to spaces that nurture radical thought and reflections on changework. Samrudhi shared how Work for Equality creates such spaces.  

 

What are your key questions when building a future for young girls?

Mapping and negotiating power

Uncuff India Episode 10: Dimensions of conflict and peace: visioning a utopian world

Uncuff India Episode 9: Civic space and dissent: A pathway to social justice

Explorations on Feminist Leadership | S1: Episode 7

Episode 7: Safety in Educational Spaces

The way educational spaces are conceptualized and the way they operate is with the image of an authority figure ‘passing down information/expertise’ to a set of clueless, naive students. As long as there is a rigid hierarchy of one who learns and one who teaches, there is limited scope to qualify an institution as a safe space. Manasvi, Sanskriti and Srishti aim to delve into the ideas of what educational spaces are, how they create a knowledge dissemination mechanism and why it often looks monolithic and what safety means and entails.

About the hosts

Srishti Ghulani is pursuing her MSc in Social and Cultural Psychology from London School of Economics and Political Science. She likes to research and write in arenas of classroom power dynamics and democratic education.

Manasvi graduated with a BA in Psychology in 2020, but most of her college days were spent working on the youth collective they founded called ‘Nathi Nonsense’. The aim of Nathi Nonsense is to use tools like art and media to design interventions for social transformation in young people and society. Manasvi currently co-leads two youth fellowships in the old city of Ahmedabad – Citytantra, a feminist grassroots fellowship aims at strengthening local governance for women through youth-led community media, and Shaharnama, a community arts and media project enabling artists to intervene and build fraternity in their community.

Sanskriti Bhatia is a recent Psychology and Sociology graduate. New projects have always stirred her creative side and she strives to take them up with zeal. She has always had a simple goal in her mind – to make a difference. She has a small initiative called ‘United We Fight’, which she co-founded with her best friend. Their idea is to create a holistic platform where NGOs can raise funds to battle numerous causes. Apart from this, she loves creating art, reading books, baking, and cooking.

Content warning: COVID 19, Punishment, Death, Victim Blaming, Sexual violence, Bullying

Transcript

Manasvi

Hello and welcome to “Explorations on Feminist Leadership by #OneFutureFellows2022”, a podcast by the 2022 cohort of the One Future Fellows, where we discuss, examine, and learn about feminist leadership. I am Manasvi and my pronouns are she/her.

 

Srishti

I’m Srishti, and my pronouns are she/her as well.

 

Sanskriti

I’m Sanskriti and my pronouns are she/her.

 

Manasvi

So today the three of us are talking about safety in educational spaces. We aim to unpack the terminologies of feminist leadership in educational institutes. What does it mean to be safe? What does a safe space look like? What positionalities do we as students and teachers hold? And can educational institutes ever become safe? And finally, do we see educational spaces as the monoliths we currently experience them as the status quo? There’s a lot to unpack here. And Srishti, I think I’ll invite you to maybe talk more on why we chose this topic.

 

Srishti

So the reason why we chose this topic is because all three of us are like everyone else, have been a part of educational institutions, right. And we’ve experienced the sudden and also like gradual change in terms of how they were earlier when we were young and how like we currently see them working as, how do we see like administrative issues coming up in educational institutions, how diversity is addressed in educational institutions or the lack of it.

 

Srishti

And all of these concerns were something that we, all three of us, were discussing when we were deciding on a topic for the podcast as well. Which is why, like, we think that this becomes like a very relevant topic in terms of how children or how students become like a part of community. How do they imagine a community? Where do they see themselves being safe? Can they ever imagine themselves being safe in any institution? But I think we’ll just start with, like, on that note, I think I’ll just ask Sanskriti, maybe, like, what do you think an educational institution can look like? What does it mean to be a part of an educational institution? Can we only look at it as like a four world classroom or do we also have like re-imaginations of what a classroom or educational institution might look like?

 

Sanskriti

Thanks for that question Srishti. I think it’s a really interesting question that we need to unpack. For me, and I think for everybody, the first thing that comes to our mind when we think of an educational space might be a classroom. The way we conceptualize educational spaces and the way they’re taught to us is with the image of an authority figure passing down information to a set of clueless, nice students. Consequently, the students that emerge from a system like this, which is what we imagine traditionally, are engineered to know only as much as as what passed to them, not so much as critical thinking or questioning and being curious.

 

Sanskriti

When I think of an educational space now, especially post COVID, I think of it beyond a classroom. I imagine my laptop and being in various courses and classes, like the fellowship that I’m a part of as One Future Collective, and being a part of this fellowship, I think I’ve learned the ideas, the importance of curiosity and asking questions and giving each other the space to ask those questions.

 

Srishti

I just had a like a just a follow up. I think a lot of us might learn the value of like curiosity. We might learn like inquisitiveness from educational institutions. But like, for example, coming from a personal perspective. Like for me school was just the most boxed up version of education that I can never imagine so. Especially because the structure of a school is such and this is just one example of what an educational institution is. But the structure of a school is such that you have to give boards. You constantly have to have like one-sided vision for what it means.

 

Srishti

But what do you think?  Like, where do you think this sort of, and when I went to college, for example, everything just felt so uncomfortable because I wasn’t used to not having a structure, right?  You like professors just do whatever they want. They ask you to do whatever you want to do. So do you think there comes some sort of, like, discomfort when you enter like, an institution or when you transition from institutions like that?

 

Sanskriti

I think yeah, I agree to that. Even when I entered college, there was a lot of discomfort in not having a structure and having to do things by yourself, having to read upon resources, researching by yourself. It’s a lot, and I think discomfort is a part of learning, and it does foster learning. And discomfort is not necessarily the feeling of not being safe is, I don’t think it can be equated with discomfort.

 

Manasvi

No, I think I would agree to that, Sanskriti. I mean, when I was also imagining what an educational space means to me, sure there were classrooms, but there has been different educational spaces where I found growth and discomfort has been a part of it. And a lot of times, those means, sure, fellowships or workshops were still more structured, but even, I mean the idea of a community learning together or as friends, asking each other the right questions and having conversations. I think that those are all educational spaces and those also be defined as something we are growing and I think the beauty of those are that we innately feel safe because those are with our friends. That is our comfort zone. So how can we sort of how can we use those values into a structure of educational spaces is a question that I’m also thinking about.

 

Srishti

Yeah, I think if both of you agree that discomfort doesn’t necessarily have to be unsafe, I think honestly, then Manasvi, my question like this is for you as well, like, what do you think is a safe space? Like what do you think, if there is a distinction between discomfort and unsafety, how do you draw that distinction and what does it mean to have like a safe space? How do you create a safe space?

 

Manasvi

So think innately, everyone of us knows what’s the difference between a safe space where there is discomfort and an uncomfortable space where we’re not feeling safe. And other times it’s difficult to articulate that. But innately we have a gut field that says that, OK, wait, this is this is not safe. And I think I would define for me a safe space as a space which is very interested in my personal growth and very interested in investing that sort of love and empathy into my learning.

 

Manasvi

Because that space and people who are holding that space really believe that if we nurture an individual, that individual can do great things not just for themselves, but the society and community that they’re part of. And I think those safe spaces mean different for everyone. And I also believe that creating safe spaces not just the responsibility of a teacher for say when I say teacher, we usually look at them as somebody hierarchical. You come to those questions also but its just not the responsibility of them but is of everyone present. Make it a safe space for learner, for the teacher, for anybody present. And I think that we all need to invest in each other.

 

Manasvi

We all need to practice that sort of empathy to ensure and I also believe that when there is safe space, that is when identity creation happens. Because we are growing there, because we are having, because there’s a space to make mistakes, to explore, to, to do trial and error to see what works for you. And I think when we do that, there is growth. But do you guys have any more thoughts on this? Maybe what is a safe space for you, both of you? Sanskriti, maybe you can start.

 

Sanskriti

Yeah, I’m going off from you. I think the ideas of love and empathy really stood out for me when you mentioned it. Like, yes. So even within college, there are some classrooms, I think, that are guided by those principles and some that are not. And it’s completely not the responsibility of the teacher, it’s also the students. So if the students are really engaged in creating it as a safe space and giving each other the space to ask questions and even to make mistakes, I think if you have the safety that you can make mistakes in a classroom which is created by not just the teacher but also the students, it creates a really safe space. Because if I’m always worried that I need to, you know, answer correctly, I don’t think I would really talk about my reflections as openly as I would in a safe space.

 

Srishti

I think similarly similar to what you both of you said, I think when we look at what is the purpose of an educational institution? Sure, it’s to, like, impart knowledge. Sure it’s to give boards, I guess. Of course it’s like all, like all of that technical knowledge. But at its core and like fundamentally, it’s also to create, like, why are like fifty students in a classroom together, right? It’s not to have, like, a monotonous syllabus being taught to them by one authority figure, right? It’s also to create a conversation among those fifty students, which means that the core of, like, an educational institution fundamentally has to be some sort of, like, community creation, right?

 

Srishti

It’s to bring all of these people coming from different backgrounds understand their backgrounds way better than they would if they’re just more isolated, right. So I think when we talk about safety that like at least that’s what I experienced, not in my school but a transition I experienced in my like university is that when you have so many people and if you have like the capability of creating a space where people are like Sanskriti mentioned, like not afraid to speak up, not afraid to like sound stupid at any point in time. If all of that is created, then of course that’s a safe space at least in like the surface level understanding of it. Like we can’t discount that like the structural barriers that a lot of students might face regardless or like. But I feel like like that cognizance is also like a way to like a step forward towards creating that space, right? You recognize that these are the flaws that we currently have and you can like further work onto them, I guess

 

Manasvi

I think I’d really connect with it. And I think this brings me to my next question. We spoke a lot about the authority figure and sense of community building. I think that is a power dynamic that always exists in education spaces because there’s usually only one authority who’s responsible for imparting knowledge. What do you feel about Srishti? Do you feel that that sort of our dynamics makes it difficult to be a safe space? What should be the ideal scenario here?

 

Srishti

I feel like the the way I trace it back, I feel like educational institutions, and I don’t just mean a classroom, but like even like your parents also become like your teachers at some point in time, right? They’re the people who introduce you to the world, the norms of the world. And like informal teaching, like the way we call it, like all of that is introduced to us by our parents, right? I feel like then educational institutions become like some sort of like, they become the foundation of how we understand and perceive hierarchy, right? Because we see like our parents as more knowledgeable than us. Like our parents tell us, oh, we know what is best for you, which is why we want you to do this, which is why we want you to do this. When we go to a school, our teacher tells us we have this qualification, we know more than you, we’ve taught more students like than you ever have studied, right?

 

Srishti

So like, there’s always like a reinforcement of that hierarchy at all points in time. I think then, like the question that arises in my head is that whenever, assuming like a hierarchy is there at all points in time, like it’s there when you’re born, your parents are hierarchical in nature and like your teacher is as well, is any hierarchy ever a safe space, right? Which means that when we look at educational institutions, do we ever imagine them as spaces that can ever become space right, safe right? Because I think what like in psychology we call this aise like a reward and punishment mechanism. As long as, like you find ways to like “discipline” people into a system and not accommodate the system according to the needs of the people, do you really understand like what safety even means? And I think to understand like more about this because all three of us, some like have like the same understanding at this point in time. Great. I think now that will, like all three of us have narrowed down the understanding of an institution. Education institution is not something that’s like restricted to like an actual, like a school or a college.

 

Srishti

I think we now see educational institutions as also like a relationship between, like, for example, a professor and a student or like a parent and a child or even like peer-to-peer learning, right. Because we’ve also talked about how it can become a community in and of itself. But I also think like all three of us have sort of just talked about, even while we were discussing what we have to talk about, We’ve just spent so much time together that all three of us have the same line, same direction to what we’re talking about, same thoughts, even same experiences, because we’re from similar backgrounds. Which is why we thought that we’ll have another section where we invite some of the people that we know. We’ll understand their experiences as well, because we do understand that educational institutions can’t just be like a monolithic understanding of like three people together, right? And of course like more people the better, right?

 

Srishti

Which is why the next section is now going to focus on the three people that we talked to, to understand their understanding of and their experience with, like being safe, feeling safe or unsafe, and educational institutions interacting with more people as well, right. So without further ado, let’s listen to what other people have to say about this.

 

Sanskriti

OK, so I’ll just begin with asking the questions. OK, in two words, how would you identify yourself and are you a cat or a dog? OK, two words is a little hard, but the first one would be a dead tree. You know, those aesthetic wale ped that are, like huge and pretty. But you also know they’re dead. Yeah, that’s me.

 

Interviewee 1

And the other would be a rail track, an Indian rail track. It just keeps going on and on. It’s dirty, it’s clean. It’s taking you to places.

 

Sanskriti

And are you a cat or a dog person?

 

Interviewee 1

OK, I think I’m a dog person although I’ve never really had pets, but I really like dogs in general. I don’t have an issue with them, but I think with cats, I’m a little afraid, afraid. And you know that thing about cats, how people say that, you know, people are not really, people do not generally like cats because they know their personal space and their limits. So yeah, I think it’s that I want someone to like, let me love them whenever I want. So yeah, I think I’m a dog person.

 

Sanskriti

Yeah, I agree. Same, even I’m a dog person, I’m a little scared of cats usually.

 

Interviewee 1

Yeah (laughs)

 

Sanskriti

So since this podcast is about safety and educational spaces, I just want to know about which institution you studied in or are currently studying in and what is your idea of an educational space?

 

Interviewee 1

So I’m currently doing my undergrad from Jesus and Mary College, Delhi University, and what according to me is safe educational space, right?

 

Sanskriti

Yeah.

 

Interviewee 1

  1. That’s something to think about because I think when you think about safety and and education under one umbrella, it simply comes down to the freedom of choice, freedom of words and freedom to be able to get education in whatever field or area that you want, right? And that is not something that we’re always offered.

 

Sanskriti

Yeah.

 

Interviewee 1

Right from the beginning. It’s your cutoff marks. It’s the stream that you took. It’s the marks that you got. It’s the course that are available to you. It’s the seats that are available to you and whether or not you’re from a particular background, right.

 

Sanskriti

Yeah.

 

Interviewee 1

So I don’t think my college offers that kind of safety in any education. There are very limited courses. While I think most of my peers that I talk to on a daily basis and I engaged in, they tell me about, you know, their peers were studying so many different courses, so many different subjects. And yeah, so I think a simple answer would be, no, my college does not offer that kind of safety. And yeah, I think that’s pretty much it.

 

Sanskriti

From what I’m gathering your experience then, would you describe your experience as unsafe or safe in your own space?

 

Interviewee 1

  1. If it has to be black and white, I think it would be unsafe.

 

Sanskriti

OK

 

Interviewee 1

Unsafe education. But if there’s a chance of getting a gray area here, then it would be that. Because, yes, my college is comparatively much more better than other colleges. We have a variety of courses to choose from and a variety of professors and students who have come from all different parts of the country and walks of life. So yeah, there is some sort of freedom, some sort of safety, but I think we can do a lot more than just that.

 

Sanskriti

And you yourself feel safe, like every day when you go to college, do you feel safe?

 

Interviewee 1

I do not. I mean, it’s a very good thing that you asked knowing the answer already in your head. But like, yeah, I do not feel safe even though I live in I think one of the very safest parts of Delhi and my college is in one of the very poshest areas of Delhi. I don’t think that, you know, I have ever gotten up and started walking out without thinking of possible worst case scenarios. Like, right, like, you know, mera phone charge hona chahiye, do I have something to, you know, protect myself from, even if it is like just a bunch of keys? Do I have a pepper spray? I do not. Am I wearing something right? Am I wearing something that will attract a predator?

 

Sanskriti

Yeah.

 

Interviewee 1

So yeah, I do not feel safe.

 

Sanskriti

Got it. So is that inside your educational space or outside or both? when you say that you…

 

Interviewee 1

I think it’s mostly outside my educational space, whereas inside my educational space it’s an all girls college. So yeah it is pretty good at creating a safe space for women and people who are studying there. So yeah it’s safe. My college is safe. But the journey to and to and fro in from is not.

 

Sanskriti

Got it, and you know, since we’re talking about safety, creating the safe space, what practices do you think we can adopt to make it safe? Like we as students, or even from the perspective of authorities, teachers, what can we do to make it safer?

 

Interviewee 1

I think that’s a highly debated topic, something that’s almost exhausted now. You just can’t talk about it anymore because you’ve spoken too much without anything happening, right? But then at the same time, I think we can all start from the root, first of all, to not be judgmental when you see someone, a person. It’s not, I’m not even talking about seeing a girl, right? It’s just seeing a person. It’s like, mind your own business man.

 

Sanskriti

Yeah.

 

Interviewee 1

And if you see something bad happening, if you see someone getting uncomfortable, if there’s even if there’s like nothing that you can offer, just like, you know, be there to make them feel that you know it’s OK, if something happens to you, I’m here. So yeah, I think starting with that, not being judgmental and raising your voice when you see something.

 

Sanskriti

Yeah. These are really good points and thank you so much for coming here.

 

Interviewee 1

Thank you so much for having me here.

 

Manasvi

So OK, I’ll jump into the first question only. So what are the two things that you identify with?

 

Interviewee 2

OK, one would be a bag that I have which in which I carry like everything that I can need from like eye drops to a tape or some you know children anything that I would need at any it’s a it’s a purse that I have bag that I have that I always carry and it has now become a part of my identity and the other second thing would I think my kurtas, my clothes they are also synonymous with who I am

 

Manasvi

Great and at One Future Fellowship all the fellows are just crazy pet people. So as a ritual here, I have to ask you that what are you? Who do you identify with more, a cat or a dog?

 

Interviewee 2

I can’t. I can’t. I am, I am, I’m basically a pet sitter. You have any animal and I can pet and I can sit them for the rest of my life.

 

Manasvi

Wonderful. Great. OK. So coming into more serious questions. So tell me, where did you study? What do you think a safe educational space looks like? And what was your experience like with safety in those spaces?

 

Interviewee 2

So in an educational setting, I have studied in two schools, I’ve changed two schools, I’ve studied in one university and I have done a lot of small classes here and there, no dance classes, vocational activities, co-curricular activities, all of those things. So all of these spaces I consider, as you know, educational spaces that I’ve been part of here in Ahmedabad where I live. A safe education space, something that I imagine would be like “Taare Zameen Par” where Ram, Professor Ram is, you know, teaching students and taking each and every case individually rather than seeing them as a group. And you know, being really involved would be would be an ideal space like I would be, I would love to be a student.

 

Interviewee 2

My educational spaces have been, have been both safe and unsafe at times. I was definitely bullied in the second school I attended. But then when I joined college, it was exactly the opposite. Everyone was welcoming, everyone came from a diverse background and everyone was, you know, nice to each other and it was the wonderful space. School was very difficult. In my dance classes, I’ve seen the teacher being irritated when someone does not pick up things very fast as per two other students like they are disappointed in the people who are…they show disappointment and they project it on the students when they don’t learn it at the speed everyone else does, which is which kind of seems very unfair. So I think safety is to do with not just your classmates, batchmates, your colleagues, but also you know how the teacher treats you and how how they take you on the journey of learning

 

Manasvi

Interesting. So I think that naturally comes to my next question which is we believe we often talk about this, that safety sure is a huge responsibility of the teacher to ensure, but also it’s everyone in the space. So what do you think are some practices that we as individuals can adopt, either if we are a learner or a teacher in whatever spaces. What do you think are some practices we can adopt to ensure that it’s a safe space?

 

Interviewee 2

So again, I would emphasize on like it’s the perfect example of how a good learning environment would be, which is “Taare Zameen Par” and Amir’s classroom that is the ideal place of learning and it’s not just learning art or whatever subject that they are teaching you but real life skills are are the real base that you can maneuver through life. One way to do this should be treating young people not as, you know, stupid, but treating young people as people who are there for dousing their curiosity.

 

Interviewee 2

Young people who are there to learn. Young people who are dependent on a teacher to gain the perspective that they need to go through life, learn how to be curious, learn critical thinking, learn not to be afraid of asking questions and being different and also no surrounding, well, friends are supporting each other. They are providing solidarity rather than competition would be, I think, a safe space, not in the aspect of only learning, but also, you know, other fun times in college and school where you, you know, hang around with them and they provide you a genuine companionship rather than just, you know, something else.

 

Manasvi

Thank you. Thank you so much for such honest answers.

 

Interviewee 2

No problem.

 

Manasvi

Yeah. Bye.

 

Interviewee 2

Bye.

 

Srishti

Well, I think we’ll just begin with some introductory lines about yourself. So maybe you could just tell us in two words how you would, how you identify or what you identify yourself as and whether you’re a cat or a dog person. Because we truly believe that’s or whether you’re like neither, because that really tells us things about people.

 

Interviewee 3

Yes, there are two words in which I can describe myself. One of them is as a student because I think I only like to sit in a classroom, and the other is a friend because I like to sit in a classroom with my friends. So to the next question. I am as cat a person as a cat person can be. So yes, I’m a cat person and whatever that says about my personality,

 

Srishti

Interesting, very interesting. Yeah, we’ll just move on to like a few specific questions as well. But maybe you could start with where have you studied or where are you currently studying. Our, the topic of like this podcast is also like centering around what safety means in educational spaces. So maybe you could also describe, like your experience of perhaps what you perceive safety to be as in a classroom or an educational institution, and whether you’ve had any experiences of like safety or unsafety in these cases.

 

Interviewee 3

OK, so I studied in a convent school and then I studied in Delhi University. I studied Psychology at Lady Shri Ram College, and right now I’m pursuing my Master’s in Sociology. I think in terms of like, what is a safe classroom or a safe education institution. The word I would use for that is actually stable or something that’s not static. So probably stable or evolving because that’s the distinction that I make in something being safe and unsafe. Because I truly believe that being like anything, being safe, be it a classroom or a person or a situation is about the process of how you create security and flexibility in that situation. And that’s also how I look at an educational institution, talking about perhaps what’s the popular understanding of safety. I think one is that it doesn’t have to look at safety as an end goal, but as a process, which means that you always have to doubt whether the space is safe enough or whether it’s safe enough for everyone. Whether like that safety is something that you redefine at different points in time. So it’s a process because at all points there will be more categories of people, if you would want to call it that way. There will be more opinions, there will be, there will be contradictions to norms that existed before.

 

Interviewee 3

Do you have that flexibility to incorporate normative changes and changes for people’s needs, is what makes like an education institute safe for me? I think the second thing that makes it safe is that the, I mean we all know that all education, like all institutions are going to have some form of hierarchy, some form of structure. But what separates like an education institution, or probably makes it better, is that the kind of authority and hierarchy you see there has to be diverse. Like it has to be different from what you’ve seen in your house. Because as a first place you come to post your house and it can’t replicate the hierarchy that you have at your home. Which is why even though there will be a replication of community structure and stratas, it has to be in a way where at least this much you understand that community stratas can change. So if it can change from your house to your school, it can change across the world as well.

 

Interviewee 3

So the kind of hierarchy you see is something that has to be, I would say more egalitarian, but also in terms of like the the kind of authority that you say has to be different from what a parental authority has to be and that’s what makes it a community, that’s what makes it more democratic because that’s how you move towards it. The third thing would be that a safe space has to have space for disruption and anger and mistakes and hurt because without them you don’t really, you don’t really incorporate the possibility of dealing with insecure things. So yeah.

 

Srishti

Just a follow up on that as well. If you think that anger and like some sort of audacity and the space to exercise that audacity and express it is what makes a space or like an educational institution safe, do you think do you think like that’s ever possible in an institution? And if it is, what practices do you think can be accommodated within a system to allow for them?

 

Interviewee 3

So yeah, like I said, I don’t think that safety is an end product or a tangible thing or like a model of how educational institutes can work. I think it’s only a process, so it’s never ending. So I don’t think you can ever look at an institution be like now it’s safe enough. I think the question in itself is something and that becomes the one of the practices that you do, that you never stop asking that question. And that’s a question that’s constantly being answered by different people. It’s being answered by people that you are trying to make it safe for. For example, maybe in, like a lot of years ago, we were talking about education institutes being more safe for women. Right now, woman is probably not going to be the only social category that you talk about. Right now you’re redefining what womanhood in itself means. So who are these women that you’re talking about? What are the different, like stratas within women as a community and as a society that you’re talking about? And now who do you go to to redefine safety again? So that becomes one of the practices.

 

Interviewee 3

The other is that, like I I mean, of course there can be very tangible and negotiative practices to deal with things like anger and mistakes. But what I’m saying is not anger management. What I’m saying is finding utility in that anger in, say, any stakeholder, right? It could be teachers, it could be students, it could also be people in in higher, in higher like positions, right? Because I think anger says a lot about how that system is working because anger kind of tells you what is failing in that system. And most of all it has to be people not feeling safe or people not feeling secure. So you create a mechanism where anger firstly is devoid of its negative connotation and mistakes are devoid of the negative connotation. But you look at disruption and you look at having to rebuild things. You look at having like, like after a devastating incidence, You look at it and you take from it the things that it tells you about the social fabric of that institution.

 

Sanskriti

To our listeners, thank you for joining us and listening in today. We’ll end the podcast by questioning the integral practice of hierarchy. Who is a learner? Who is a teacher? Whose responsibility is it to ensure safety? Could feminist leadership be the answer? Values like respectful feedback, accountable collaboration, love, and empathy are at the center of feminist leadership. And I personally believe, and I think all of us would agree, that these ideas and others could definitely help us move towards, if not completely achieve, safety and educational spaces.

 

Manasvi

We really appreciate your support. If you liked this episode, please follow us on Instagram and Facebook @OneFutureCollective and at onefuture_india on Twitter.

 

Sanskriti

And keep an eye out for future episodes of “Explorations on Feminist Leadership by #OneFutureFellows2022”. Please leave your questions, comments or feedback for us on Anchor or in our Dms. We look forward to hearing your thoughts. Until next time, take care of yourself and we hope that we can explore more together.

 

Srishti

Bye, bye. 

 

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Mapping and negotiating power

Uncuff India Episode 10: Dimensions of conflict and peace: visioning a utopian world

Uncuff India Episode 9: Civic space and dissent: A pathway to social justice

Explorations on Feminist Leadership | S1: Episode 6

Episode 6: Parenting in Popular Culture

The first social conditioning children receive is from their parents and this helps them to build their very first sense of identity within this world. With the dawn of mass media, pop culture is present everywhere. Since we consume it all the time, it is crucial to scrutinise it for the various political undertones it carries, to analyse gender subordination and identify the underlying causes of gender oppression. Anjali, Sahil and Poornima share their observations, personal experiences and understanding of parenting with regards to pop culture and how it has shaped their lived experiences.

About the hosts

Anjali Ramesh is a psychology graduate with a keen interest in gender studies, education, mental health and issues of social justice. She believes in the role one’s experiences play in developing a social consciousness. A former Young India Fellow from Ashoka University, she is exploring different opportunities that connect her to education, feminism, mental health and more importantly, her love for storytelling and community building. Besides these, she pursues music, journaling and her passion for sketching and visual art.

Sahil Pradhan is a queer, fat, and neuro-diverse human being who is an avid K-Pop and K-Drama fan. They are currently pursuing their Bachelor’s degree at Delhi University and consistently work in the field of queer activism and policy change, for which they have been selected as a Civics Unplugged Fellow (2022), Counter Speech Fellow (2021), Youth Ki Awaaz Justicemaker (2022), Young Researcher for Social Impact (2022) and Global Citizen Year Academy (2022).

Poornima, a dedicated woman in the impact sector, is driven to empower women from diverse backgrounds. Her love for cooking, dancing, and art is matched by her passion for thought-provoking conversations. She envisions a world where everyone has the resources and freedom to become their best selves.

Content warning: Parental Abuse, Sexism, Enforcing Traditional Gender Roles and Gendered Stereotypes, Queermisia, Marital Abuse, Body Dysmorphia, Childhood Trauma

Transcript

Anjali

Hello and welcome to our podcast on “Explorations on Feminist leadership by #OneFutureFellows2022”, a podcast by the 2022 cohort of the One Future Fellows, where we discuss, examine, and learn about all things feminist leadership. First off, let us introduce ourselves as your hosts for this episode.

 

Anjali

I am Anjali. I go by the pronouns she/her.

 

Sahil

I’m Sahil and I go by the pronouns they/them

 

Poornima

and I’m Poornima and I use the pronouns she/her 

 

Anjali

We are all curious and perpetually questioning intersectional feminists who strongly believe in and are on a quest to understand feminist leadership. We are here to discuss a very interesting topic today, parenting and pop culture. Needless to say, because of our lived experiences and a lifetime of consuming pop culture, exploring this topic came very effortlessly to us.

 

Poornima

So true Anjali. It is actually definitely an undeniable fact that the first and foremost social conditioning which we all receive are from our parents during our childhood. Therefore, there is a huge significance of parenting or the lack of it in our life and this helps us build a very first sense of identity into this world. In this relationship, you can say traditionally parents have immense power and responsibility and unsurprisingly, the quintessential parent-child relationship is therefore a breeding ground for interpersonal oppressions.  This, I think, already justifies the necessity of exploring parenting better, and one way of exploring concepts is through the representation in pop culture.  So basically, what is pop culture? 

 

Poornima

Pop culture is a collection of ideas, perspectives, attitudes, images, and other phenomena that are within the mainstream of a given culture, especially the Western culture.  This collection of ideas both permeates and reflects the everyday life of the society and everything central to the human experience.  Since we consume it so often, it is therefore crucial and important to scrutinise it for the various political undertones it carries. 

 

Anjali

Yeah, absolutely. So when we talk about representation and pop culture, there are two things pop culture does, right? One is that it shows us what is, that is, it represents reality, and two, it shows us what things can be. So it allows us to reimagine new possibilities. In today’s episode, we’re gonna speak about both of these things, what parenting is in pop culture, and how pop culture has taken on some responsibility in showing us how parenting can be more insightful, more empathetic, and less rooted in just normative notions of how parenting works. And yeah, that is that…we wanna explore feminist parenting in a truly feminist manner.

 

Sahil

That’s so true for us too, right? Our triad comprises people from different age groups, because of which we felt it would be interesting to hear what our observations, personal experiences, and understanding of parenting has been with pop culture and how has it affected our lived experiences. More importantly, we have hope that we can re-write scripts of what a feminist world can look like and that’s what our podcast is, a small hope that discussing about parenting and pop culture will lead to someone, anyone, distinct and feeling a shift, tiny as it may be. So let’s get started.

 

Poornima

Yes, so let’s get started.  So I think one of the prominent stereotypical notions and consequences of parenting is around how our social conditioning has made us see parenting as an ultimate life goal, and how the parents are seen as the ultimate provider or the decision maker of their children for like forever. If you think about it, not only does this rob people of their own choice, but it also forces many people down this path, which is questionable given that everyone may not want these things and more importantly, not be equipped to handle the responsibilities that come with marriage and also ultimately parenting. 

 

Poornima

I think what this subconsciously also creates in our head is the role of parents as the ultimate decision maker/providers who simply cannot go wrong ever with things they ask from us for all the sacrifices they have made for their child.  You know, it is often seen as the duty of the child to listen and do things that a parent expects from them.  Now, as disturbing as this can be for the child, this also puts parents on pedestals and they start to be viewed as people who know it all.  What we need to understand here is that just like everything, parenting is an ever learning trial and error process.  This actually reminds me of the movie ‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham’.  Now for those of you who have watched this epic movie can never forget the very strict father played by Amitabh Bachchan. He imposed his ideas of who would be an ideal partner for his adopted son, Shahrukh Khan. 

 

Anjali

Yeah, Poornima. Funny you mention it, because it’s one of my favourite movies and I remember that the character, Shahrukh Khan, wasn’t left with a choice at all and this was seen as the norm and the way it should be. Even though Shahrukh Khan decided to marry the girl of his choice, he was ousted from his family for not being ‘the good son’ because he simply wanted to have a partner and a life of his own choosing. Parents are seen as God figures who can never go wrong and even though they end up ousting you from their lives, they are infallible. The devotion, it just makes no sense and ironically, the tagline of this movie is that it’s all about loving your parents. So, love your parents despite anything that they do to you.

 

Poornima

Right.  Also, does everybody remember the stone-hearted ‘Baldev’ who was played by Amrish Puri from ‘Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge’? Believe me, for the longest time of my life I was so scared, what would happen to me if I ever got in a similar position like that of Shahrukh Khan and Kajol in these films, you know? This, this thought that, you know what if I also end up doing something you know “wrong”, kept haunting me forever. 

 

Sahil

I mean, maybe you also say more like apart from this, you know “children” concept, parents, I mean, especially mothers are often expected to sacrifice a lot of their own desires and shun aside other things that make them human. As it is shown in ‘English Vinglish’, Sridevi’s movie, and in return expect complete complicity from children in terms of their identity and you know academic and personal achievements and the obedience are subservience to parents. It creates a toxic culture surrounding the concept of parenthood itself and dehumanises everyone involved, to be honest. It also serves a feeling down for a lot of conflict and resentment which unfortunately itself is familiar to a lot of us and many, many, all of us almost.

 

Poornima

That’s true, Sahil. Like, you know, honestly, the sad part about all of this is somehow the fact that parents and children both actually start to see themselves as failures or not being good enough, if they try and do something out of their own choice and not follow, you know, the social protocol. If this is not unresolved trauma, I seriously don’t know what is. 

 

Anjali

While we are on the topic of unresolved trauma, let’s talk about the unresolved trauma infected by our age, gender roles and heteronormative parenting. So parenting and marriage have both always been largely heteronormative institutions and roles for different parents have been written and reinforced time and again. Fathers are financial providers, never really present. Mothers are caregivers and women responsible for the household with no voice in that very household, be it about that child’s education.

 

Anjali

Take the example of ‘Taare Zameen Par.’ The mother, of course, wants the very best for our child, and at the same time is very reluctant about sending him away to boarding school. The ultimate decision, though, is made by the father because he believes that is the best thing for the child. And oh, I’m sure everybody’s heard of ‘Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi,’ the soap that never ended. This never-ending saga had the rules of women very clearly written as that of being perfect bahu, perfect beti, perfect everything. It’s a bit pressurising though.

 

Poornima

Actually, now that you talk about this, you know Anjali, pop culture icons are actually subject to all of this. We all have witnessed interviewers, journalists, asking specifically female actors when they would get married or get pregnant or rather, you know, settle down.  These questions are never asked to a male counterpart and this kind of makes me really angry sometimes, because not only are these limiting for the parents, but also for the children who can all seek to make the relationship so much more holistic.

 

Poornima

Maybe fathers want to be more involved, nurturing, warm and maybe mothers actually want to seek financial freedom and career growth. But these stories again and again reinforce these narratives, repeatedly restricting people’s imaginations of what can be. Lastly, they also limit the idea of families to amatonormative and heteronormative ideas and fail to represent how poor families and chosen families operate. And if institutions are not inclusive, one could always argue that the very foundations are not feminist to even begin with. 

 

Sahil

I guess there’s also a light of hope in all of this representation, I guess. It’s about the radical imaginations and the re-imaginations of parenting, that we’re recently seeing almost growing. One of them is queer inclusive parenting and you know, inclusion of queer and chosen families in, let’s say movies or dramas. I discussed earlier that parenting is largely portrayed as a very heteronormative structure. However, the feminist movement gaining most parents’ support, the presentation of queer and chosen families have also started featuring in mainstream pop culture.

 

Sahil

Families with queer parents, their children and chosen families with friends or even other communities like say in the TV series of ‘Pose’ have all featured in pop culture albeit in small numbers and often harsh representation too. ‘Modern Family’, ‘Full House’, ‘The Grandsons’, ‘Made in Heaven’ are some of the examples of mainstream pop culture that have showcased diversity of experiences one can have as a parent and also as a family. These talk about how adoption or surrogacy or even other methods of having kids are not freely available to queer people, about how same sex couples India can be married in the future as a family and focuses the reality that can come with being queer in a world that spreads queermisia so often. It also helps in understanding and accepting different forms of parenting available to us, available inside the world and outside of it. Single parents, same sex parents, adoption, surrogacy. Therefore, there is of course an immensely long way to go, but it is encouraging that the conversation has started and work to re-write the scripts has already begun.

 

Anjali

Yeah, you’re right  Sahil, it’s so important to acknowledge that the work has begun. And one more thing that I think needs rewriting is the idea of sharing power and unconditional acceptance. So sharing of power and inclusion should be one of the most important values of parenting, which we really hardly see in pop culture.

 

Anjali

So in the movie ‘Dil Dhadakne Do’, though, we see Anil Kapoor, the father figure, initially snubbing his daughter really harshly when she expresses that she wants a divorce and to leave this loveless marriage and her abusive, controlling husband. But he listened and he learned, and he does eventually support her in the way she needs to be supported. Another really heartening example of feminist parenting is in the show ‘This Is Us’, which I absolutely love. The daughter of one of the lead couples, Tess, that’s the name of the character, is a lesbian character. While the parents had trouble grappling with her queerness initially, you know, people are just conditioned differently and because of a general lack of understanding of queerness that permeates the world, the parents took on the responsibility to learn to be better and to do better to support her.

 

Anjali

And their growth as feminist parents is so heartwarming to see. For the last season, Tess is shown to be very uncomfortable in a bridesmaid dress at a wedding, and her mother goes and asks her, you know, what’s wrong? She says “It doesn’t really feel like me” because she just feels a little dysmorphic while looking at herself in the dress. And she says, you know, “I didn’t want to disappoint anybody.” And her mom looks her in the eye really steadily and says “You will never disappoint me.” And believe me when I say I started crying because to hear that unconditionality that was in those words was just incredible. To be shown parents who unconditionally accept their children as they are, obviously not in the context of toxic behaviour or problematic behaviour. It’s just really remarkable to see that, and it showed me what I could and what I should expect from my parents. And hopefully, parents watching can see how powerful and empowering parenting can be, right?

 

Poornima

Yeah, I think that’s very true. I think all these examples that we spoke of does give us some hope, right, that it is a powerful and empowering process, but I think it’s also very important to kind of also understand and acknowledge the challenges or even negotiations that parents actually face because of pop culture, you know, especially in today’s generation.  New or would-be parents who are more, you know, maybe feminist in their approach often worry about how to stop or protect kids from consuming today’s pop culture, which often promotes systemic gendered stereotypes. 

 

Poornima

I mean, pop culture is not just entertainment, right? But also it is an access to information or knowledge and therefore being concerned with it is a very important responsibility that parents take.  For example, there are several series or let’s say animated cartoons on YouTube and even video games which are deeply problematic to say the least.  And sadly, the list of such content is just endless because of the freely accessible Internet culture that we have now.  And let’s be honest here, pop culture is not the same as it was 20 years ago, which was problematic in different ways, as we have discussed sometime back. And our generation currently is now dealing with a host of issues that my parents never really encountered.  I was having a conversation with my friend once where we discussed how, coming from a feminist perspective, we’re constantly challenged by new pop culture phenomena that don’t seem to be the best choices for our children or, you know, the future generation in general. But because we don’t live under a rock, they are still going to be exposed to them. So what do we do then? 

 

Anjali

Yeah, I completely agree. As a former educator, I also really faced this issue sometimes because on one hand, we can’t really control what children see because it’ll just distance them from us, and at the same time, we want to be trusted adults in their life who they come and talk to. And at the same time, what do you do about wanting to protect your children from all these horrors of the Internet and pop culture? It’s really tricky and I think we really need to acknowledge like how much hard work it takes to be a feminist parent.

 

Sahil

And it’s so true. This also reminds me of the series I have watched recently. I was watching, I hope everyone knows now, ‘Victor’, and the parenting concept that parenting a queer child can be very tough in some cultures is so well, well written there. The ‘father’ figure is accepting of Victor’s sexuality. But the ‘mother’ figure, because she’s a Catholic and ardent Catholic, she has a very difficult time understanding these things and she’s taking her time to understand these concepts and try to rebuild her imagination of what queerness is. And that is so beautifully done, especially also in a cultural perspective.

 

Sahil

The same post for another series I was, which was ‘Ladybird’, another movie which was beautifully done, especially the mother-daughter relationship, which can be tricky to understand, you know. I guess feminist parenting or even parenting in general, in a, let’s say in a world which ardently urges for us to be feminist in some ways or the other, is a very hard work, as we’ve all mentioned. But the question arises right, is feminist pop culture the answer to all of our parenting problems?

 

Poornima

Well, Sahil, I think the question is rhetorical here. I think because I think it’s clear as day that it is not, you know, parenting is hard work, as you rightly said. And it takes truly, I think, courageous people to take on the responsibility to raise responsible people. I mean, looking at pop culture to understand narratives and to reflect is very necessary, but one also needs to look beyond and look inwards and to communities. Which is why I feel trying to follow feminist leadership principles and placing them at the foundation of one’s parenting is, I think, probably a good start. So you know, maybe starting by being a little bit more self aware, creating a safe environment for the parents and the children, caring for oneself and others, committing to learning and unlearning, active listening, using power responsibly and maybe more transparently, also taking accountability when mistakes are made.  I think, you know, this is something which we all have struggled, I think, with parents. But I think some of these things could go miles in rewriting the future of parenting. And parents can manage to retain even humaneness as well as demonstrate leadership through care and also most importantly by setting an example

 

Sahil

So true, I guess what we can say is that I guess the representation of pop culture is widely now diverse and also very, very rapidly changing and even I would say in a better way because now we’re seeing more and more queer characters, queer parenting and not just one shade characters, right. I mean already platforms like Netflix or Amazon Prime, let’s say, have opened the avenues to showcase gems of wholesome and even layered characters, which was not available in the 90s or let’s say the 80s of one-layered woman and binary characters.

 

Sahil

Like I remember this movie called ‘Tribhanga’ of Kajol. Like the irony, right? We were talking about Kajol being restricted by the hero norm- and now she’s free I guess. The film tells a story about three generations of women navigating the messy imperfections of parenting and how hard it can be, you know, on how to suppress one’s desire and not to let it go and destroy a child I guess, showcasing how it’s OK to learn in the process and maybe even unlearn your own things. Another series which is very controversial I would say ‘Bombay Begums’. I remember the whole Twitter blowing up after this. It shows the reality of how women, you know are forced to choose between career and parenting, which should not be the case. And that somehow men can manage both. Or can’t. That’s funny, I would say. Lastly, I guess I’ll mention this recent series ‘Masaba Masaba’. It has been a huge favourite of mine, I would say. I guess I’m rooting for Neena Ji the most in the series.

 

Poornima

True. true. 

 

Sahil

Sure. And it’s very core, you know, it shows Neena Gupta as a very layered character with imperfections, perfections, her whole. It’s so wholesome to watch her as a layered character and not as one shade, you know, like ‘maa ki aanchal mein dhaka hua’ thing. And you know it’s so warm to see that you know, my mother is also the same. All our parents are so layered and we can view them as that, as humans who are very layered. I guess they have their own stories to tell and their lives to fill with colours.

 

Anjali

Yeah, yeah, true. You’ve said it. We say this is all easier said than done, of course. And parenting really is just hard, hard work, man. So good luck to all of us, those with parents, those planning to be parents, those who already are toh all the more. And I hope we manage decently and can get through life without being or causing collateral damage because of the way parenting traditionally is. And that we all have the courage to rewrite what kind and radically different parenting can look like.

 

Poornima

Yes. 

 

Anjali

So to our listeners, thank you for joining us and listening in today. We really appreciate your support.

 

Anjali

If you like this episode, please follow us on Instagram and Facebook @OneFutureCollective and at onefuture_india on Twitter. And keep an eye out for future episodes of “Explorations on Feminist Leadership by #OneFutureFellows2022”. Please leave your feedback, questions, comments on Anchored or in our DMs. We look forward to hearing your thoughts. Until next time, take care of yourself and we hope that we can explore more together. 

 

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End of transcript

Mapping and negotiating power

Uncuff India Episode 10: Dimensions of conflict and peace: visioning a utopian world

Uncuff India Episode 9: Civic space and dissent: A pathway to social justice