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A Female In A Male Dominated Contact Zone

aayzahmirza's picture


In my first paper, I talked about the discrimination I faced in my high school on the basis of gender and how that had stripped me of various co-curricular opportunities. Though the facts remain the same, I have gained a deeper insight into the situation after reading Mary Louise Pratt’s ‘Arts of the Contact Zone’.  

My concept of school as a place where every student was deemed equal was tarnished when my school’s administration prevented female pupils from attending inter school co curricular events. Appalled at the blatant propagation of this illogical notion, I had questioned the authority figures time and time again, requesting any semblance of reason behind their preposterous ban. My questions were met not with answers but with condescending views reiterating that it was not appropriate for female students to attend such events, and not once was I told why it was not “appropriate”.  

Soon, every sense of that ‘imagined community’ was gone, and I began to perceive the environment as a battle ground between the sexes. We had been made to stand on opposing ends, and I knew, no matter how much I struggled, I would never be able to get to the other side. Though my male counterpoints had not asked for it, they were prescribed power, will, and supremacy. They could decide their own fate, in however meager a way, while ours had been spelled out for us. With faculty members standing guard over us at all times, even conversation between people on the other side was impossible, despite it being a ‘co-educational’ school. The rule was as unambiguous as could be: there was to be no interaction between the male and female students. This eliminated even the chance of vicarious participation in any event, and more so it eradicated understanding between the two genders, which could have led, at least, to collective protest, or maybe only to the discovery that our peers were empathic. Thus this was a contact zone without much literal contact, and consequently, without much promise of resolution in the future. 

Along with this passive animosity between students on different ends of the gender spectrum, there were also negative feelings in the hearts of the female students for administrators of their own gender. I had always thought people we had more in common with, would be more understanding towards us, owing to similarity between our experiences. However, women always seemed to be the ones enforcing the ban and I always found it extremely impossible to comprehend how they could not only be unsympathetic, but also oppressive towards their people of their own gender. The ethos of my school seemed to me like that of a colony, in which, certain locals would side with the invaders against people of their own community, to protect their selfish interests. In the presence of a male principal and an all male board of directors, these female administrators had jobs they desired to hold on to, and careers to advance, which were more important to them than those of the female student body.  

Yet, individual differences existed among them too; there was variation in action as even though part of one sub community, they belonged from different backgrounds. So, though none of these women ever went against the grain and stood up to the administration, some of them at least listened to us, and told us how wrong what was happening to us was, and in that moment, that was enough to placate us. There were also discrepancies between female students.  Yes, we had all accepted our fate in that school, but there were always a few of us who never stopped questioning the authority and others, who had given up after the initial fight. 

So, even though my school never changed its policy, some of us, like me, changed the course of our lives, leaving the contact zone that was that institution and entering other ones in which power imbalances though present, were negotiable.