Recently the principal of the government polytechnic institute in Mumbai shared her theory on what causes a common hormonal imbalance disorder in girls: “I have heard theories on why girls suffer from PCODs (Poly Cystic Ovarian Diseases) at an early age. When they dress like men, they start thinking or behaving like them. There is a gender role reversal in their head. Due to this, the natural urge to reproduce diminishes right from a young age and therefore they suffer from problems like PCODs,” she told the Times of India.
Science wise, there is baffling nonsense in this statement – and it doesn’t come from the mouth of an uneducated propagandist but from the headmistress of a higher education institute of scientific application.
Her words suggest ignominious blindness to the fact that gender roles which mandate ‘appropriate behavior for a woman’ and gender norms like form of dress are constructed by societies (usually not in a very fair manner) and are not ordained biologically. To impose either is archaic, stifling and regressive. She makes wild, unscientific connections between PCOD, a variedly manifesting hormonal problem affecting 12-18% of women of reproductive age and the kind of a personality, role and profession they choose for themselves.
A simple Google search would have served her better than relying on absurdity that she “heard” and propagated in a public statement. Yet, this is the justification provided to segregate the male and female students in the college canteen – a poorly conceived shortcut to ‘protect’ girls – and to trade the unisex uniforms of trousers with shirts for salwar kameez for the girls. This would instill them with ‘femininity’ that would ostensibly keep their thinking undistorted for future reproductive performance. This, in spite of the concern raised that the loose and flowy outfit would be more susceptible to lab accidents.
Perhaps, the lack of simple fact check and critical thinking is also how regressive notions still find their way into secondary and graduate level textbooks. Recently a Maharashtra State textbook informed students that “ugly” and “handicapped” girls may need more dowry to be married, followed by no attempt to question the posited thought. BA Sociology textbooks still unflinchingly state that the primary goal of Hindu marriage is putraprapti, or reproduction of sons. The nation is supposedly trying to do away with these social ills – and yet these outdated ideas are propagated unquestioned, with textbook dignity afforded to them. Students memorize and reproduce them in exams. These follies are compounded by the fact that questioning is still relatively discouraged in classrooms.
Unscientific, uninterrogated thought propagates social ills and a false sense of righteousness in archaic ideologies and narratives. It enfeebles real progressive development. Yet, this is a behavior that even national leaders like the Prime Minister seem reluctant to eschew completely when they claim in rhetorical passion that ancient Indians pioneered technologies like aviation. As if it will not enough to further the tradition of rigorous scientific thought displayed by ancient luminaries like Aryabhatta to late President Abdul Kalam, that we need to call upon a literally storied past.