Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Mixed nuts!

as a boyfriend-starved college student, I knew one thing for a fact: the dreary Sahara desert of my lovelife was made more wretched by the fact that I had grown up going to an all-girls’ school. Boys were exotic creatures for us. We only met them inside the pages of books. In college, where they appeared in human form, we had no idea what to say to them.

While the co-educated girls seemed to make male friends easily, our little gang of girls-schooled late-bloomers found ourselves in fairly splendid isolation. We weren’t sad about it, of course, but we did conclude eventually that all-girls’ and all-boys’ schools were the earthly representations of hell. It was weird, because unlike the co-ed girls, we were actually very uninhibited, we laughed loudly, talked a lot; were witty, uncensored and hilarious. What we were not able to do, though, was have normal, relaxed friendships with boys. We swayed from being arch and flirtatious to completely stern and reproving.

My little girl goes to a mixed-sex or a co-ed school. One day, in Senior KG, she came home and told me that a boy had put his head on her lap and kissed her. Images flashed through my mind: Silsila. Rekha’s head on Amitabh’s lap. Mist. Flowers touching. Bees buzzing. Major coochie-cooing. I sat up with a start and asked my husband if I should go talk to the teacher about this Emraan-Hashmi-in-the-making. ‘No!’ replied the co-ed schooled man, ‘You’ll just traumatise the poor boy!’

Feeling traumatised myself I remembered my mother’s utter terror of co-eds and her dire warnings against sending her granddaughter to one. Mom went to a convent school and then studied engineering while staying in a girls’ hostel run by nuns. The Mother Superior there often warned them with these wise — and rather poetic — Malayalam words: ‘Whether a thorn falls on a grape, or a grape falls on a thorn, the grape is the one that gets hurt. So STAY AWAY from college boys.’ The story usually sent me into peals of laughter, but that day the thought of soft fruits and sharp objects terrified me.

Post that, there have been no romantic adventures so far and we have reached Class 2 without any need for major hysterics on my part. But I’m slowly beginning to wonder if mixed-sex education is the solution to the world’s ills that I had imagined it to be.

Studies show that co-education makes children conform to gender stereotypes — in the UK, for instance, girls in same-sex schools did better in Maths and Science, just as boys in same-sex schools did better in Languages. I personally feel that same-sex schools allow you to grow up without being sexualised too early.

We live in fairly frenzied times. The films and adverts our kids see are full of highly sexualised images of picture-perfect girls and women. Even on children’s channels, ads talk about milky, age-defying skin and tangle-free hair. I fear — perhaps without reason — that when you grow up in a co-ed, there’s going to be the added peer pressure of always appearing attractive to the opposite sex. Can you be yourself, gender-unstereotyped and, perhaps, un-cool?

Once when my daughter complained about a boy hitting her in class, I told her that I went to a school with no boys in it. Her eyes widened. ‘Reallllly??’ she squealed, ‘But WHY?’ Umm. Just. Then I asked her if she’d like to go to a school with only girls in it. Wouldn’t it be nice? No, she shook her head vehemently. ‘Boys are fun. Only girls would be boring.’ Interestingly, many studies show that overall, children in co-eds are under a lot less stress than their counterparts in same-sex schools. That must explain the ‘fun’ bit!

Less stress for the kids, no doubt, but probably much more for the parents! I know what I’m going to do for the next 10 years: sit in a corner, close my eyes and hold my breath till my kid finishes her ‘co-education’. Wake me up when it’s all over, dude.

This article appeared in the DNA of Sunday, Jan 15, 2012.