The first step in solving any problem is acknowledging its existence. To that effect, T5E attempts to document the various aspects of our campus culture that bother female students, by engaging some of them in a group discussion.
All names have been changed on request.
The fairer minority
In his book ‘The IITians’, Sandipan Deb dedicated an entire chapter for girls in IIT. But the chapter accounted for a negligible fraction of the book’s content. Such is the nature of the female community on campus – they exist as a separate entity which is too small to be accounted for in generalisation, yet too significant to be denied a mention. The fewer numbers however, leads to the underrepresentation of girls in our student community. While Shaastra 2013 had one female core group member, Saarang 2013 had none. Nobody remembers the last time a girl contested an election against a boy for an institute secretary post. Even in other positions of responsibility, girls tend to be kept out of the loop. “Often, the meetings happen in boys’ hostels at night. It’s convenient for guys, but the girls are left out of the decision making process due to this,” says Sita. Shaili says, “We also suffer when it comes to relaying information. The boys communicate well with each other about announcements, and many times nobody bothers to inform us, probably because we constitute an insignificant fraction of the class.”
Equality or Formality?
“Three of my friends came up with a new event for Shaastra last year. The core team insisted that one of them drop out to make space for a guy in the team, and refused to let the event happen without a boy coordinator, because of their lack of confidence in girls. Finally, the event happened with four coordinators,” says Ragini. Jenny too has a similar experience to share. “I volunteered for a Saarang event this year,” she says, “and my coordinators totally ignored my existence. Most of the work was done by the male volunteers. It wasn’t anything that required physical effort, yet I was left out. The other female volunteer for the same event was subjected to similar treatment.” Namrata agrees, and tries to reason this behaviour. “Perhaps they are trying to be chivalrous, or maybe because they are too shy to talk to us to delegate the work, or they simply don’t think we are capable of doing it.”
“Girls have it easy”
Shaili complains that many of her colleagues undermine her achievements just because they think she was favoured due to her gender. From academics to extra-curricular activities, there seems to exist a common perception that the rules are often bent to the girls’ advantage. “We have to work really hard to prove ourselves. We are labelled ‘incompetent’ and ‘undeserving’ unless proven otherwise,” says Namrata. Ragini also points out that the leniency towards girls in Schroeter, which although is in the spirit of fun, leads to girls being thought of as unfairly advantaged.
All That Attention
Shrutika says she feels very uncomfortable going to places crowded with boys. She adds, “There’s always some nervousness, paranoia, and discomfort.” Namrata jokes about how she can “literally feel the eyes following her”, when she goes to Gurunath. Raji narrates how her freshie-nite experience wasn’t a very memorable one. “Our coordinators said that we didn’t have to practice so hard, because the seniors would come to see us, not our dance. That was rather demoralising.” Shaili talks about the pseudo-celebrity status, saying, “It’s creepy how people who I haven’t even met know so much about me. I guess girls are discussed a lot in the corridors of the boys’ hostels.” Jenny too has never been comfortable in crowded gatherings and events: “You know they’re discussing you, objectifying you. There is open hooting, sniggering and staring, and they know they can get away with it.” Pooja however feels that this is an exaggeration. “Most boys do not resort to such behaviour; only a few do, and that is disturbing.”
“If Pampa loses a TechSoc event, people say that Pampa lacks a TechSoc culture. But when Sharavati doesn’t fare well, they say all girls are bad at tech” exclaims Raji. Sita points out that when a girl scores well in a quiz, people steal her thunder by saying “all girls are ‘muggus’ by default. They have nothing else to do but sit in their rooms and mug.” Namrata adds, “If a girl dates three guys during her stay in insti, she is labelled a slut. If a guy does the same, he is a stud. But this sexist attitude is common and not limited to the campus. Yet, we feel it more on campus because we are a closed community where everyone knows everything.” Pooja too agrees that guys tend to judge a girl if she has been in multiple relationships.
Boys, Men and Gentlemen
“Majority of the guys in my class have never talked to me,” jokes Pooja, adding, “and the ones who do make sure they clean up their language before talking.” She feels that most boys are too shy to interact in person, and some overcome this by online interaction. But online interaction is another issue, according to many. “Whenever I go online, I get pinged by many boys, irrespective of whether I am busy or not,” says Namrata. The quality of interaction is questionable too, according to her. “I have felt that some guys talk to me only because it is considered cool to talk to a girl, so that they can brag about it to their friends. One also needs to be cautious when interacting with the guys, because most of them are led on very easily. We notice this immediately and friendzone them as a precaution,” she explains. “One can never be sure when a guy is being friendly just because he wants to be friends, or because he’s hitting on you,” according to Sita. Ragini agrees, and says that boys often indulge in bad-mouthing and spreading rumours about girls who do not reciprocate their advances.
The Bright Side
“Girls have more freedom to dress how they want to in campus, compared to outside,” according to Sita. Pooja says, “The boys need to grow up, but they are pretty alright otherwise.” Everyone agreed that the campus is very safe for women. “The extra attention is sometimes flattering. Sometimes, not always” chuckles Namrata. Purnima, a PG student opines, “Yes, the situation is almost the same for PGs, but it’s not as bad as the UG scene. Actually in PG, people don’t bother much. Maybe because PGs are expected to be more grown up.”
Conclusion: improve our quantity, their quality
According to the students present in the discussion, almost all the problems faced by female students can be attributed to their small numbers. The problems will be automatically solved if there are as many girls as there are boys in the campus. They also feel that the boys need to be sensitised about their attitude towards girls. One way would be to put themselves in the shoes of a girl, to gauge the magnitude and range of the problems. A mature male population goes a long way in facilitating healthy interaction between the genders, which is crucial in shaping our personalities.
Part II – Those were the days
Prof. Preeti Aghalayam, who graduated with a B.Tech in Chemical Engineering from the campus in 1995, shares her insights on the issue. (Her name has not been changed!)
It was tough being part of a minority back in my UG days as well (and it still is, to some extent!). A lot of information about events, homework assignments etc. never reached our ears (we didn’t have the internet or mobile phones either, so imagine!). We managed to find our way around this – by the end of the four years, we had our network well set, and it was not so bad. We all participated quite enthusiastically in the elections and campaigned for candidates that we favoured, though none of us actually contested in them. Several of us were also co-ordinators during Mardi Gras (Saarang to you!), for singing and other events. To some extent it was difficult to get ‘big ticket event’ co-ordinatorships, but I didn’t feel that it was impossible.