Editor’s Note: This month, that is August 2020, FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth is Campus Experiences, where we invite various articles to highlight the diverse range of encounters we often confront when we are a part of any educational institution or space for learning be it schools, universities, colleges, tuitions and home. If you’d like to share your article, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“India’s cream” as they say, IITs are reputed to host India’s top engineering students, the brightest minds in the country, the potential future leaders of the nation!
For almost 17 years, our mannerisms and appearances were not entirely of our choosing but governed by our parents and the society in general. This has been an indispensable part of our upbringing. Our suffering even when caused by someone else, was analysed, twisted, and presented to us as our own fault. We were labeled as victims and this ‘victimisation’ was conveniently paraded out in every discussion; yet we never received the empathy one should show towards a ‘victim’.
Being a woman is already difficult enough in this world, with society scrutinising your every action, judging you for your every decision. After all of this, we expected college to be different, or better. We wanted it to be a safe space where we could discover ourselves and realise our dreams. This is definitely not an unrealistic expectation to have from a group of logical, intelligent, and rational adults of our generation. But we were severely mistaken here. College, turns out, is just the same, or worse, with all the hate concentrated on the 11% female population here.
If she gets good marks, it’s because she is a ‘girl’. If she is confident, it is because she receives a lot of attention from the guys and that too only because the gender ratio here is skewed. Otherwise, in the real world, she would be begging for validation. If she gets an internship, it is because she is a girl. If she gets into a society, it is because she is a girl. If she gets 3 rasgullas, again because she is a girl. Rain doesn’t fall over her—girl. Butterflies dodge flowers to get to her—girl.
These are some of the things which aren’t uncommon to hear on the campus on a regular basis. Words like ‘Feminism‘ have either of the two effects here—they make people uncomfortable and extremely aware of their surroundings and what they say, or they present a golden opportunity to let out all the frustration(?) in the form of jokes which have to be accepted as amusing or laughable, and if you fail to do so, it will make you the uncool one. It is not rocket science to understand that you need to treat everyone with respect. If Feminism is too heavy a concept for your sad little minds to comprehend, why don’t you try zipping it once in a while?
Recently, a guy put out a post on a meme group criticising one particular person (a girl, obviously!) for being a feminist and a hypocrite (notice that these two words were strung together so as to use them as insults.) These people feel the need to ‘call out’ the feminists as if they are accused of a grievous crime. The F-word is used everywhere and anywhere. It has absolutely zero value and the meaning of it is long lost. It is now being used to describe a girl who does something, anything, that the larger group does not agree with. Being outspoken as a boy is considered to be confident and brave. But as a girl, well, she is just being a ‘bitch’.
Sexualising girls and talking trash about them is a common ritual that people practice behind closed doors or even very openly sometimes. During Inter IIT Sports’ Meet, the guys who come to cheer for the girls’ sports team, prefer to trash talk the other girls rather than cheer their own team. And although this is a commonly seen sporting technique, these guys shout out lewd comments on the other girls’ appearances asking them for photos and phone numbers, which is unacceptable.
Every girl here has multiple stories of sexism to tell you. We were asked to take it with a pinch of salt first, to sad react and move on, but now it is so blatant and ubiquitous that it needs to be called out.
Here are a few of our seniors and alumni describing some of their encounters (there were many!) with sexism in the campus:
Spandana, the General Secretary, Sports for the year 2016-17 was the third girl to hold this position since the inception of IIT Kharagpur. Contesting for elections is a very brave decision and requires a lot of strength and determination for everyone. But she found herself facing many more problems than her fellow candidates. The idea of a female Gsec Sports was shocking to people. They wanted their candidate to win and did not see how a girl could beat her competition.
After her candidature was registered, she went campaigning from hall to hall during hall days, as is the tradition in Kgp. There, the questions she was asked weren’t related to her proposals, or her vision for sports in Kgp, unlike her peers. People repeatedly questioned her capability to work among guys if elected, or the questions were related to her managing the position “as a girl”. She was constantly discouraged by a myriad number of people.
Elections are already an extremely stressful time for the candidates, imagine having to deal with people trying to pull you down without even knowing you, based solely on your gender. During her tenure, everyone preferred approaching the other member of the sports team for any work they had, as they just assumed that she would not be able to carry out her duties. Some members of her team too, would not report to her, they did not consider her equal or worthy enough of the position.
Even after winning in the elections fair and square, she had to constantly and repeatedly prove herself. She was always treated as the “girl” Gsec, and the sports for which a female team did not exist were regarded to not be in her domain. At the Inter IIT Sports’ Meet that year, everyone felt the need to point her gender out, this as Spandana describes, was the most hurtful moment of all.
Snigdha, who got an opportunity to intern at Goldman Sachs last year, faced a lot of vilifying comments. This is what she had to say. “Everyone assumed that I made it to GS because the company hired more women compared to men. We as students, cannot decide how a company hires interns, it is their policy and decision and they have been trying to improve the skewed ratio.”
On being asked how she dealt with it, this is what she said, “Women, in general, suffer from a syndrome, where we tend to over-analyse and criticise ourselves that we do not deserve the achievements we worked hard for. I am one of these women and I tackled it by just bearing with the sexist remarks. Yes, sexism exists even at such an institution that is supposed to represent the best minds in the country. It exists everywhere, women role models at a higher pedestal is something we do not see.”
Remee, was the Inter IIT Basketball captain two years ago. She has been playing basketball at the Inter IIT level from her second year. Even after investing number of hours into practice every day, she had to deal with comments like, “It is very easy for girls to get into an Inter IIT team, all they have to do is go to the court for 10 days.” After giving the sport your all, time, sweat, and tears, having to hear comments like these is heartbreaking. Under her captainship, the team won a silver medal, but this too, was not proof enough that the girls had gone above and beyond their normal practice schedules and strategised and worked hard for the well-deserved award.
Their toil and struggle did not receive the appreciation it deserved. We are aware that it is extremely difficult for boys to get into the Inter IIT team even as a probable. The population of girls is 10 times less than that of boys, and this obviously makes it comparatively easier for us to get a spot in the team. Even with these numbers, we manage and create a competition among us and try to reach our best. We do get opportunities easier than boys, but we work really hard for it too, and nobody has the right to belittle anyone’s achievements or tussle without knowing the entire situation.
These were just a few instances of sexism which is prevalent in the campus. There are thousands more. It escapes me how, a shout out to feminism or calling out misogyny is accompanied by some boys ridiculing or just quoting other instances the person did not speak of earlier. This is not a fight of girls vs. guys. We are all in this together. We, as girls, are trying our very best to make the most of the opportunities we get, and working extremely hard for what we do not get. The same as boys. If you cannot support us, do not shoot us down either.
Here is a very simple guide for guys in IITs to follow if you wish to be better humans,
- This may come as a surprise, you should probably be sitting down for it, but being sexist or misogynistic is not funny and memes with such content are NOT dank.
- Feminism is not a cheap word that you fling into a losing argument to ridicule a person.
- You do not need to display your desperation or sexual frustration on confession pages.
- “Didi” in many languages is what you respectfully call an older woman. Using this word multiple times, along with insolent remarks is plain demeaning and derogatory.
- Sexualising, or objectifying girls is not the “hip” thing to do. If you find your friends doing it, speak up!
Add this, with some respect and compassion, and you are good to go!
College is a tough phase for all students. If you cannot lift people up, please do not be the reason for someone to question their own capabilities and achievements.
Saloni Kirdak is an Editor at The Scholars’ Avenue and a fourth-year student of IIT Kharagpur, pursuing her B.Tech and M.Tech in Biotechnology and Biochemical Engineering. She is a voracious reader and a particularly ardent admirer of Jane Austen inspired literature. She is a vehement believer that equality in all aspects can be achieved by instilling a sense of respect for people who you perceive to be different from you, and that words can help bring about such revolutions. She likes to write, play basketball, and cook occasionally. You can find her on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.
Featured Image Source: The Financial Express