I trudged towards class in my chappal and the same t-shirt, hoodie and jeans I’d been wearing yesterday. Nobody has the time to “get dressed,” for just one class especially when you live on campus. This would be one of those days when people would ask me about my mental and physical health, because wearing makeup and being dressed to the nines does not warrant the same concern.
The teacher proved to be a few minutes late, which was perfectly fine for me; I was gulping down water as if it was about to run out. The first thing I noticed about him was the beard, thick and graying in places. He was dressed in the traditional salwar kameez and a really nice cross between a waistcoat and sleeveless bomber jacket.
For some odd reason, I thought back to the stereotypes attached to the headscarf and hijab that my friend had talked about; people often underestimated her competence, intellectual capabilities and skillset because of it. I wondered if the same could perhaps, be said about men with beards. My experience with bearded men had been limited to quite a bit of misogyny and hatred, but I recalled the few brilliant men who had taught me Islamic philosophy, and decided that today would be one more occasion to defeat the prejudices and stereotypes in my own head.
Having achieved that small victory, I chose to focus on the course, based upon theoretical perspectives. It was then that the crease(s) between my eyebrows deepened. Written on the white board were the names of a plethora of notable thinkers who had contributed much to the world through their findings, but even as the professor went on about the different perspectives, I found something terribly lacking. The thinkers consisted entirely of men.
“Sir,” I said, raising my hand, and waited for him to stop, “will we be studying the feminist perspectives?”
I felt the heads turn towards me before I saw them. The classroom which had been bustling with a mixture of suggestions and humor was now uncomfortably quiet. The teacher blinked at me and tilted his head before delving into an explanation.
“Well, it, um,” he tried collecting his thoughts, “it’ll be a little part but you know we have to focus on the major perspectives and we might be skipping a few things because feminism isn’t that import-”
I think he saw something in my face, stopping short of completing the sentence, when he suddenly became chipper than before.
“Why don’t you take it up in your presentations?” He smiled at me, “Why don’t we all learn from you?”
There wasn’t anything I could say to that, so I nodded in agreement. He fumbled with the marker before clearly writing feminism on the board among the theories we were meant to study. The word seemed odd in comparison to the rest of the things on the board, protruding and out of place. He quickly skipped over the topic but even now, not a single female thinker came up in the conversation.
Our curriculum isn’t just Eurocentric to the point most people aren’t even aware of indigenous literature and thought but also excludes female writers and philosophers. Most students enrolled in academic institutions have no clue of the existence of brilliant female writers and thinkers.
The problem with not studying female discourse, gender centric perspectives and especially the feminist ideologies is that whilst all sorts of academics may feel as if they can have a casual chat about the merits and demerits of feminism invading into their daily lives, they largely ignore the statistical chunks of data that might change their opinions and biases.
Whilst it is easy to shame feminists about protesting or demanding rights that many (men) claim were given to them with the dawn of religion, the data attesting to domestic abuse, intimate partner violence, child sexual abuse, wage gaps, literacy rates, etc. speak of an entirely different story.
Moreover, it is necessary for teachers to provide women the safety of academic space to discuss the problems they face as well as possible solutions which not only allows women some breathing room but educates the men on issues faced by their peers and how they can relieve some of the burdens they carry.