Grade twelve is full of difficult choices. As a barely eighteen-year old teenager, decisions about the future are nothing short of scaling a mountain. Despite the enormity of the task, the choice was simple for me. I had already opted for the humanities stream, and with the humanities stream I would continue. The support from my parents buoyed me up and strengthened my resolve in the course of action I had decided upon. But doubt crept in through the confusion on people’s faces when I told them of the future I had mapped for myself. There was surprise at the notion of a so-called smart student going down the humanities drain.
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The construct of intelligence is very closely associated with gender. This came as revelation to me in the tenth grade when we had to choose to devote ourselves to science, commerce or arts for the next two years. The boys shied away from the humanities and ventured into the other two options. Being good at mathematics, physics and chemistry were considered the epitome of one’s mental ability. People argue that these disciplines are intellectually rigorous than the social sciences wherein information, apparently, is provided to the researcher on a platter. What they fail to recognise is the gendering of disciplines itself (let alone intelligence).
What they fail to recognize is the gendering of disciplines itself
Systematically, the fields that women have been historically good at have been edged out of educational frameworks. Sewing, cooking, painting have been closely associated with women because of their affinity to the home. These words conjure up images of idyllic Victorian women whiling away time. But changing this scenario up a tiny bit, and changing the gender of the doer, a shift in perceptions is visible.
If Christian Dior tailors, it is art. If Gordon Ramsay cooks, it is art. At the same time, the stigma attached with men pursuing these fields is strong. I know for a fact that the ‘Fashion Designing’ course in my secondary school had zero male takers. My classroom in grade eleven and twelve had eight boys and forty-two girls. Who in their right frame mind would consider the humanities appropriate for only those who score less when the highest cut-off in Delhi University this year was for a Humanities subject released by a women’s college?
Ranking first in my school in twelfth grade came with accolades and praise. But from the nameless peers from other streams who surrounded me wafted an obvious feeling of incredulity of an arts student making the cut. On the other hand some also believed that it was ‘easy’ to score in humanities (a stream that only entertains subjective interpretations and discursive answers). In school there was a constant attempt to defend humanities as a demanding stream. Now as a Sociology student, I have to grapple with people who don’t even know what the subject entails. The ignorance that has been bred in the wake of the humanities’ step-motherly treatment is not going to help break stereotypes surrounding the stream.
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The humanities are considered soft subjects that appeal to the emotionality of women. After mulling over the perceptions surrounding the humanities, I realised that the stream can act as a metaphor for the position of women in society itself – hidden but essential. History, geography, civics, psychology, and political science are considered useless because they don’t further scientific temperaments. They focus on the people of this earth and not its materiality. They attempt t o understand life and then improve it. There is none of the superiority and utilitarianism that accompanies science.
Science is the bully on the playground, with its institutionalised power and universal importance. Masculinity is so closely associated with science because of the objectivity of the discipline. It is blasphemous if a researcher cares about how their finding is going to affect lives. It is also inappropriate to think about mundane variables of life such as religion or democracy when one could be making the next nuclear weapon. Juxtaposing science and masculinity, I witness the same entitlement in both.
Juxtaposing science and masculinity, I witness the same entitlement in both.
But I do think that the pull-factor that lures men into science can be redeemed by the expectations society attaches to men themselves. The pressure to be the primary earner of their family pushes boys into science or commerce. The world has ordered itself in such a way that most high paying jobs are in the financial, IT, medical or R&D sectors. Salaries are almost as polarised as the streams they belong to.
The humanities are considered a pit stop on the way to greater things. Not only is humanities ‘easy’ but it is also a ‘simple degree’ for women to get since they would inevitably get married after university (and its not like humanities can get one a job anyways). To get rid of such erroneous and problematic perceptions, the education system is what must be reconstructed. The gendered education that is meted out to us must be called out for humanities to rear its head again.
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