Convent schools propagate certain ideas about morality, sexuality, womanhood etc. that might be problematic.
I’ve prayed in the morning assembly; I’ve prayed after lunch and I’ve prayed before going home from school. I’ve prayed with my eyes closed and hands joined and head bowed down because if not, I would be called out either by nuns or teachers or class monitors. I have been trained to call out little girls to do the same when I was the student representative because atheists are never born but made. Well, I am a product of an all-girls convent school, polished there for fourteen years. Now that it is not compulsory to pray three times a day, I think if I’m an agnostic after all. I would never ever have the courage to stop praying completely; it would take a massive amount of unlearning!
I rarely consider how different I might have been if I had not entered a convent, because questioning norms is not something I was taught. What a traitor I sound while writing this, but to say my school has been nothing but kind to us would be a lie. Yes, it has given me a lot, sometimes too much, and sometimes things I didn’t need at all. The convent school where I studied was the best in town, and it was said that the ‘young ladies’ of that institution could be recognized from a distance. Obviously, I believed that we possessed an element, a smidgeon of something that other girls lacked. Maybe they were making us the ‘graceful’ woman among the rebels.
Convent schools propagate a certain idea of a woman. It is our conditioning in that idea that has shaped us into the people we are today. When we were in class II, my friend, Mitali, wore a very pretty Magenta coloured top to school on her birthday, which had sleeves but were short, and her mother was called to school to bring another set of clothes because this was unacceptable to the institution. Obviously, this is not the only time that young girls as young as 11 or 12 have been shamed for wearing certain clothes.
Studying in a Convent was a bitter-sweet experience. It was a place of severe moral policing. The utterance of the word ‘sex’ was prohibited because it is not something we are supposed to know/indulge in before our spiritual reunion via marriage.Himasweeta, a second-year student at Hindu College.
Eventually, in secondary school, I, a proper convent school girl, and the other ‘proper’ girls were made student representatives to slam those who didn’t tie their hair, wore their uniforms slightly above the knee, wore fancy earrings, or talked loudly in class. After two years of being out of school, I feel like a hypocrite for having done these things when I now consider myself a feminist.
In practice it is only perpetuating and reinforcing the socio-cultural ideologies that subjugate Indian women. I further argue that the “empowerment” that the Convent claims to be equipping young women with is superficial, in that it seeks to provide women with a degree for economic advantage without preparing them to challenge and transform the larger social customs and beliefs pervasive in Indian society.Sneha Pandey in ‘Identity Issues of Girls from Single-Sex Convent Schools in India’
We mocked our ‘different’ classmates while praising the academic standouts, as if none of us possessed any other talents worth recognizing. Convent schools, like ours, have been churning out these stereotyped ladies into the world, best in individuality and pathetic team workers. What an irony that the women they fashion are deprived of their sexuality and femininity. Chastity (followed by the nuns) and modesty are deeply ingrained. It is not platonic for a girl to hold another girl’s hand in class or in the corridors. Public displays of affection were frowned upon, and we were taught to keep our identities hidden. It might sound a paltry cost to pay for quality education but it is totally unacceptable to me that they have created misogynists in process of imbibing “good moral values”.
To appreciate and love my body is something I am learning. Coming to college has been such a cultural shift because I am learning to embrace my sexuality. I am learning to speak my heart without apologies afterwards. I am learning that women are not their gender’s worst enemies. I am also unlearning and relearning to look at other women without judgements rendered by the convent. They have taught me to be a good human being who does charity and has empathy but now, I am learning how to be a good human being to myself by listening to the woman they have subjugated.
Featured Image Credits: Immaculate Conception