Teaching a core language course at a university one comes across students from diverse educational backgrounds. It was not a revelation that the Intermediate students mostly stumbled in the subject as compared to their A-level counterparts. Not only are the Intermediate background students less proficient in language, but they are also guilty of holding stereotypical mindsets.
Out of sheer exasperation and determination to unearth the reasons for such a predicament, I searched the Punjab English Intermediate Textbook Board curriculum. As I scrolled down the contents of the four Intermediate English textbooks, I gasped with dismay! Though it had been more than two decades since I sat for my Intermediate English exam, the scenario of these crucial career deciding examinations and its curriculum had not altered.
The Punjab Intermediate Textbook Board has maintained the status quo and the curriculum has been guilty of propagating gender stereotypes. Once these gendered identities are instilled, they leave an indelible impression on the young minds of the students. Eventually, they become guilty of perpetuating and practising sexism or, even graver consequences, indulge in molestation of their female counterparts.
According to the Asian Human Rights Commission, each day 12 women suffer rape in Pakistan. Though these heinous crimes receive nationwide condemnation and endeavours have been made to unearth the main causes of these inhumane acts, one of its causes is the instilling of the patriarchal setup through our curriculum.
In order to validate the propagation of gender stereotyping through the English Intermediate curriculum, a research on the constructions of gender stereotypes was conducted by Malaysian researchers Jayakaran Mukundan and Vahid Nimechisalem. The research categorised stereotyping into various forms of sexism: invisibility: fewer females than males; occupational stereotyping: females in fewer and more menial occupational roles; relationship stereotyping: women more in relation with men than men with women; personal characteristics stereotyping: women portrayed as emotional and timid; dispowering discourse roles: more males talking first or voicing their opinions more than females; degrading and blatant sexism to the point of misogyny.
These categories were set as indicators of the corpus analysis in detecting the construction of gender identities and the results established that there is an absolute construction of gender typecasting through the four Intermediate English compulsory textbooks. The language employed in the textbooks has been instrumental in propagating the stereotypes by marginalising the females and uplifting the male counterparts. Females are mostly invisible in the text and the limited number of appearances has been stereotyped in typical roles of housewives, mostly engaged in childrearing or seeking approval of their male family members. Females have been portrayed in sub-ordinated roles and have been deprived of the right to decide for themselves, depicting blatant sexism and hegemonic masculinity.
There is a dire need to break free of the masculinity and femininity predetermined by the male hegemony. This could be established through deconstruction of these gender stereotypical images and roles by redefining them. The corpus analysed painted a picture in which females were underrepresented, marginalised and invisible, whereas male heroes and icons were predominantly selected. This kind of discrimination only depicts that female icons are not worthy enough to be a part of the corpus.
Gender deconstruction will not only be inspirational for young female learners, but it will also be instrumental in shaping the outlook of the male counterparts towards them. Hence, female national icons like Benazir Bhutto, Fatima Jinnah, Rana Liaquat Ali Khan, Nida Tariq or Samina Baig could be included in the syllabus. International female figures such as Mother Teresa, Margaret Thatcher or Sheikh Hasina Wajid could become excellent content for reading.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 23rd, 2017.