On 18th November, I facilitated a workshop titled ‘Out of the Box’ with students from grades 7 to 10 at the One Up Library, Bookstudio and Learning Lab in Delhi. My objective was to get participants to envision an alternative future where society has evolved from seeing reality in terms of opposites such as boy versus girl, masculine versus feminine, and straight versus gay.
They worked in groups of four to weave stories around the following prompts I assigned:
- There was a boy who loved wearing bangles.
2. There was a girl who wanted to grow a moustache.
3. There was a boy who wanted to get married to another boy because they loved each other.
I had them do a few warm up activities around the theme of gender before this exercise. The narration of stories by each group was followed by peer feedback and a circle of sharing. The post-storytelling discussion revolved mainly around gender stereotyping, homophobia in schools, and bullying of young people who do not conform.
The circle was guided by a bunch of questions I wrote down on chits. Each participant was invited to pick up a chit, read aloud the text written on it, and share their response with the whole group. Once they had their say, others in the circle could either build on or contradict the initial points made. Here are the questions that I offered them for reflection, being listed here in no specific order:
- What are the qualities typically associated with men? Do you agree?
- What does it mean to dress up like a girl?
- What are the qualities typically associated with women? Do you agree?
- What is sexual orientation? Why are some people not allowed to express their orientation freely and proudly?
- Why do we have gender stereotypes? In what way are they beneficial or harmful?
- Can we get rid of gender stereotypes? How?
- Why are people afraid to step out of the box?
- Is it possible to identify oneself as neither man nor woman?
- What are the things you can do to accept people as they are?
I was struck by the participants’ engagement with ideas, their awareness of the battle against Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code which used to criminalize same-sex love, and their empathy for the characters in their stories who challenged heteronormative constructs. This workshop reinforced my belief that students do rise up to the challenge of engaging deeply in such conversations if adults drop the idea that they need to ‘come down to the level of kids’.