Before we start with our big words, we ask readers to make a mental note of how many tasks from the following list they could perform by themselves when they turned eighteen years old (we note that some options might be irrelevant for our older readers):
- Cleaning a toilet/unclogging a drain
- Doing your own online shopping
- Applying for a Visa
- Fixing a lightbulb
- E-banking/ budgeting/ balancing a chequebook
- Driving/ changing a tyre
- Doing your make-up/skin-related self-care
- Filing an FIR/registering for a voter’s identity card
- Setting up a bank account
- Repairing a garment
- Writing a letter of recommendation/personal statement
- Finding and signing a rental accommodation agreement
- Buying furniture
- Investing your money
- Doing your laundry
Unfortunately, there is no answer key to demonstrate your competence with ordinary chores on a spectrum. However, we do present a point for reflection: That there is a reason why you don’t know some of the above tasks, despite an understanding that you probably should know them. We argue that within a specific social context, identity shapes social learning, and specifically, adulting.
Time to “Grow up”
“Adulting” is surprisingly defined by the Oxford English Dictionary; It is the practice of behaving in a way characteristic of a responsible adult, especially the accomplishment of mundane but necessary tasks. For many, the first experiences of “adulting” come with starting college and/or leaving one’s hometown for the first time. The transition is undoubtedly difficult. The adjustments are marked by struggles to set up a bank account, negotiate with a landlord in a strange city, maintain financial security, manage relationships and new friends, get a driver’s license, and dreadfully fail to cook for one.
While we can’t speak for all those who went through these struggles, we hope that our readers can relate when we claim that a lot of us really wished someone (often a parent) had taught us how to change a tyre. Our initial list includes similar mundane, simple and often low-stakes tasks, albeit necessary in the sense that they augment your ability to function self-reliantly. Presumably, these tasks signal a level of high functioning (an adult, if we may) and independence. Yet, the skills or knowledge involved to perform these tasks as effortlessly as possible are largely absent from school curriculum and child socialisation. Moreover, even if one is interested in learning such skills at a later stage in their life, combating ageism takes an equal amount of toll along with their quest for learning.
Here’s where we add some nuance. There’s bias involved in teaching or spreading knowledge, over trivial it may seem. This is not to say that folks don’t experientially learn. We hope to elicit a reflection on why knowledge gaps on life skills exist. In many cases, one is not socially incentivised to learn such “survival skills” due to their social position and identities.
To illustrate, upper caste/class status is likely to feed into the fact that one does not know how to clean their toilets and home. One explanation might be notions of “dirty” work ascribed to lower-castes, whom they can afford to pay to do it and other domestic work. Similarly, class divides feature among inequalities in digital literacy, which might be essential for the ever-digitising economy and education sector. Gender-based social learning is a prevalent reason for why one might not know how to drive on mountainous terrain or why they struggle with/deem self-care as unimportant. In the same vein, disability makes learning some skills inaccessible due to ableist civic and social infrastructures.
All these factors, age, caste, gender, class, disability, the ability to speak and read English, resource and time-constraints, and at times religion, greatly influence how you learn “adulting”. Clearly, social learning comes with its own baggage.
What Are The Implications Of Biased Social Learning?
With the aforementioned introspection and observations, it becomes fairly evident that some skills that we might hone, as well as their processes of learning, might in an actual sense, be quite biased. Such biases inherently predispose individuals to certain ascribed psychological and social experiences that are linked to their ‘identity’ and the manner in which it is defined by our Indian society.
Firstly, we need to understand the skewed ways by which the optics of ‘work’ carried out by certain social groups is determined or rather ‘undervalued’. Household chores such as cooking, cleaning, washing are often seen as ‘women’s work’ and hence there is a lack of incentivisation—mainly for men—to learn such skills. In professional spheres too, while tech-savvy jobs involving digital skills are considered superior and heavily paid, such pre-described women’s work is compensated for extremely inadequately. As a result, lack of remunerations deter the financial independence of most women even today.
Similarly, in the very context of the Indian society, occupational segregation is the undercurrent and basis of the caste hierarchy. While the work of the higher castes is considered ‘sacred’, the work to which the marginalised castes are ‘subjected to’—such as that of sanitation, manual scavenging—is considered ‘dirty’; thus, such a social structure degrades the dignity of labour carried out by them. Hence one can say that forms of manual work carry caste connotations and are mainly carried out by deprived communities.
Lack of access to skills such as digital proficiency and other foundational knowledge that ensures economic and social mobility, forces many children from oppressed communities into their ancestral jobs, while simultaneously also widening the gap between the privileged and the marginalised. In addition to this, wide generational knowledge gaps that exist in such communitiesresult into a slower pace towards social and economic upliftment.
In this very light, it is also important to understand as to how biased social learning endorses gender conformity with respect to professional choices. Even today, most domestic workers are likely to be women and that too those who belong to marginalised caste communities in India.
Similarly, women remain underrepresented in STEM careers because of the lack of exposure to science, tech gadgets for women in their early as well as the inherent masculine nature of the tech industry. Thus, biased adulting skills sustain a ‘lack of choice’ while also paving the way for forced gendered experiences and behaviours in the future.
In addition to this, lack of infrastructural and institutional backing hinders, or rather discourages the marginalised to make use of their abilities or practise their interests. For instance, most women are restricted from working late at night due to the absence of sufficient street lighting or safe public transportation. Similarly, female attrition rates in schools are propelled by the inaccess of safe menstrual hygiene management opportunities due to less political will and regressive norms. When Dalits and Adivasis experience upward social mobility, they continue to be looked down upon, discriminated against and hence are made to bear the brunt of social scrutiny.
On thinking of the unfounded grounds on which biases in learning are legitimised, one might deduce that transitions are slow. However, before we can explore the terms of this transformation, we would like to imagine what solutions look like:
- Promoting and practising unbiased skill-development and learning in homes and educational institutions.
- Social Sensitisation on educational campuses on forms of discrimination
- Eliminating the marginalisation of older people and bridging the existing knowledge gap between individuals of varying ages—mainly by introducing possible opportunities to ensure access to skill development for older people just as it is done for younger people.
- Opening up opportunities for basic and diverse part-time jobs (with sufficient remunerations) when in school/college while aiming to strike a balance between blind-hiring and affirmative action to ensure equitable workspaces for the marginalised and equal skill development across gendered identities.
All of this makes us reflect upon the reasoning behind why and how socialisation based on identity carries immense weight upon an individual’s growth trajectory of which ‘adulting’ forms an important phase.
Nevertheless, it is not too late to pick up on our interests and passions that might have been forgone due to multiple societal bindings. In this process, however, it also becomes important for us to gauge the level of privilege that we might enjoy in being able to be an “adult” in the first place.
Featured Image by Nidhi Singh