“Separate Is Never Equal”

A case study by universities in the UK has sparked opposition and a good deal of attention in social media sites. It explores gender segregation as a practice to accommodate speakers from ultra conservative religious groups. People are rightfully upset. I have been to a bunch of MSA events on campus and the people there segregate themselves based on gender as a matter of course. The behavior is so common that it is not questioned. Muslim men and women pray separately and tend to adhere to this separateness wherever possible. So I endorse all forms of bellyaching on this matter.

When my daughter was younger, she attended a summer program at the local mosque with my friend’s son. We carpooled so the kids would ride together. But the whole time they were at the mosque where the program was held, they were kept separated. Rows of strategically placed screens-on-wheels (because thats what they are) would keep the children segregated. If they did happen to catch a glimpse, they would ‘unsee’ the other.

‘Unseeing’ is an interesting thing. I came across the word in China Mieville’s “The City and the City,” and it was one of those words you ‘do’ but don’t have a name for. Like we ‘unsee’ homeless people whenever we can. A friend ‘unsaw’ a happy, naked guy running down a busy street in DC once. When I did hijab in my past life, I got unseen all the time. How many of us have walked into a high-end store and had the sales people pay us no mind? Unseeing is lazy, and it helps us stay lazy.

Many people create  fragile systems with which they order their worlds. Issues of identity and the attendant baggage one is bequeathed with can coagulate into some serious muck. This plus social, emotional stresses in one’s environment could make the world a complex place to navigate. So I get why people choose to ‘unsee’ what doesn’t fit. It tells me that we live pathetic, narrow lives and tend to be myopic and self-centered. Don’t get me wrong; unseeing happy, naked guy because you rather let him be — good. Unseeing happy, naked guy because spontaneous effusions of joy and nakedness embarass you — bad. Unseeing something because god doesn’t want you to compromise your purity / your good intentions / your single-minded pursuit of him / your clear mind, free of sexual preoccupations is creating an ‘other’ that is intrinsically inferior or ‘inferiorating’.

In a school cafeteria, students gravitate to their little cliques and circle of friends. How ridiculous if the principal were to walk in and tell the students they had permission to sit with their friends. Its like when I know my daughter is going to sneak her tablet to her bed and I bolster my parental authority by giving her permission to do it. Come on, parents do this sort of mind fuckery all the time. We are constantly negotiating a position of control in an ever-shrinking island of power and respect.

Yes, my angelic toddler, you may feed the DVD player pennies.

And you, teenaged child, may touch yourself if it cannot be helped.

Like god, sometimes, we too establish sovereignty by allowing the already. So the University goes —

Yes, you insipid patriarchs, you can sit where you are sitting and make others sit where you are making others sit. We say, this is how it shall be.

If someone’s conscience wants to grow out of the snares and traps of rigid ideology then it must now jump through hoops to get beyond the newly “okay” and “acceptable”.

I can see my kid in the cafeteria with her posse of friends; how they stare down the freshmen who dare encroach upon their sacred space. Not only would I never tell her that its okay to do that but I tell her every chance I get that creating discrete social watering holes is lazy and ill-mannered.

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