The Roles of Gender and Sexuality in India and China

I concluded our school's International Day of the Girl assembly. I touched on all the common misconceptions people assume about feminism. (photo credit: Lexie Clinton)
I concluded our school’s International Day of the Girl assembly. I touched on all the common misconceptions people assume about feminism and how we must work to dispel these stereotypes. (photo credit: Lexie Clinton)

 

As a member of my high school feminism class, I’ve learned multiple definitions that the term feminism holds and the many ways feminism speaks to different people.

We’ve had many different guest speakers come to our class. One speaker was a Padmini Iyer, who called in from London via Skype. Our class had read Padmini’s research on gender and sexuality in schools in New Delhi, India. Her research had an impact on me because it was not only well-written and easy to understand, but it left me wanting to know more. Her work left me with many questions that would help me further understand global feminism.

Although Padmini’s research is not available online, here is a short clip of her talking about her research that she conducted in New Delhi.

(Source: University of Sussex)

I could relate to Padmini because we had both come into learning about feminism to get rid of ignorant misconceptions that were already ingrained in our minds about feminism. She had learned about Indian feminism through her time in college and now considers herself a feminist. All it took was learning and gaining the knowledge that many people don’t make the time to seek out.

Based on reading her research based on interviews of students in three schools in New Delhi, I discovered that “teachers went through great lengths to prevent any potential sexual interactions, and essentially segregated the girls and boys” because teachers and other administrators believe their friendships would lead to a romantic relationship.

I’m concerned that these schools prevented the girls from even talking to the boys outside of class time. I personally think it’s odd that students cannot talk to other students outside of class unless they are of the same sex.

Some schools separate girls and boys either in the classroom or common areas for students. The first thing that comes to mind is what if these students were members of the LGBTQI community? Wouldn’t teachers be putting queer students with the sex that they are attracted to? What if there was a girl friendship that turned into a romantic relationship? Not to say LGBTQI relationships shouldn’t be occurring within the school, but I got the sense that some teachers in Indian schools are not very accepting of students in the LGBTQ community, this being based off what I learned from the Tagore International School’s Breaking Barriers work on LGBT issues in their school and Padmini’s research.

Another piece of research that also struck me was how students would participate in after-school activities, such as sports teams or clubs, because those spaces “provided sexual opportunity.” This was saddening to me because what it seemed as if students would join an after-school activity just to interact with those of the opposite sex.  What if some students really don’t like being a part of that activity, and only join for the social interaction?

Students shouldn’t have to feel as if they need to work outside the classroom just to create friendships. I understand that the classroom is a serious environment, but I think that segregating by gender is something of the past. If members of the opposite sex are not allowed to converse with each other, especially in class, how will these students learn new perspectives?

Towards the end of her essay, Iyer touches on the idea that young girls in high school who are around the ages of 14-17, aren’t ready for interactions with males, however right at the age of 18, a girl is ready to start planning for her wedding with a groom she may not even know. A few of the girls in Iyer’s research interviews caught on to this contradiction and thought that this was a foolish “concept.”

How are girls who aren’t allowed contact with males until the age of 18 supposed to be a good companion and wife to a man they have never met? Arranged marriages have been a tradition in many cultures, including mine, which is Chinese, however, it’s a crazy expectation for these women because they are not allowed to interact with boys and men until marriage.

While she was Skyping with the class, I got a chance to comment on this piece of the research and she brought up the fact that arranged marriages allow the parents to control a woman’s sexuality. This statement is the sad truth because the only person who should be in charge of one’s sexuality is oneself.

Before taking this class and reading this research, I was completely unaware of how gender and sexuality played out in India. I was inspired to to now learn about my own culture outside of America and transition into how are issues of gender and sexuality treated in China.

I took the time to do a little additional research on China’s culture dealing with gender and sexuality. I was unable to find any articles relating to Padmini’s research on female and male student interactions, but found an article titled, “Confronting Sexuality and Identity in China.” This article discusses the life of Ms. Kikuchi, her journey as a drag queen living in China, and living with other Chinese drag queens.

Drag queens in the mirror. Beijing. 2007.  (Caption and Photo Credit: Tomoko Kikuchi)
Drag queens in the mirror. Beijing. 2007.
(Caption and Photo Credit: Tomoko Kikuchi)

This article talks about how the awareness of sexuality “changed completely” due to technology, such as the internet.

Kikuchi talks about what “could not be published in books began appearing online — including the very notion that there are different ways to express sexuality. People also began connecting on social-networking platforms.”

China is known to be a very traditional country where time-honored values and goals are praised. To learn that more people in China feel confident and free to express their sexuality is refreshing because for me, I wouldn’t think being a drag queen was a very “traditional” occupation.

I am very grateful that this class took the time to recognize global feminism, and hope that more people will be interested to know not just the strides or declines in feminism in the U.S, but globally as well.

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