As an outstation student living in New Delhi for more than a decade now, I have lived in my fair share of hostels. As a PhD scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), I was allotted a single-seater room in my final year. However, I decided to stay on in my double seater room. One of the reasons behind my decision was the fact that if I had taken up the single-seater room, I would have had to live alone and be left with no one to talk to. As much as I love the university and hostel space, it would never be the same without my roommate, who I knew as somebody I could share my emotions and feelings with; someone who would listen.
It was this safe space and comfort that I would have missed if I had opted for a single-seater. But it was not just my roommate, but also other friends who would be there when you need them. It is only public spaces like universities that can give us that, where people can co-inhabit. Before coming to Delhi and enrolling in an all girls college, I had done my schooling in co-educational institutions. So once I had decided to join a girls college, many people asked me if I would be able to enjoy college life and make ‘real friends’. The implication was familiar – that women could not be friends with each other.
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But very soon, I learnt that these are stereotypes and had no factual basis. Having spent three years in an all-girls college, where even most of my teachers were women, I can safely say that friendship is not gendered and women can form beautiful, sustainable and intimate friendships.
In fact, the discussion on locker rooms earlier this year made me realise that yes, women too, have these locker rooms. However, these are spaces where we talk, vent, and share our feelings and emotions. These are also spaces where we learn and develop our thoughts.
For instance, as a teenager from a non-metro city, when I came to New Delhi as an undergraduate student, I did not know what feminism was. Similarly, I believed homosexuality was wrong. But it were the many locker room talks and discussions that often stretched for hours that helped me radically change my views and attitude.
I believe women’s locker rooms are also a primary source of strength and care for women in hostels. They help us in overcoming personal troubles, relationship and health issues. And we, as women, use these spaces to negotiate the way we lead our lives. My friends and I would together go for long walks post-dinner, often waiting for each other to finish our work. Apart from the fact that we would use that time to talk, it was also a ‘strategic’ step, considering how it made us feel safer to walk through the university campus.
Although the JNU campus is generally seen as a safe space, as it would get late in the night, there would be times when we would have to think of our safety. Although rarely, sometimes there were men in speeding cars who would pass comments. There was also the fear of dogs as it would be night-time and they would roam in the campus in packs. Walking together, creating our own locker rooms in the process, therefore, was a good move – both strategically and emotionally.
One can argue that this is just a story of everyday life. Yes, it is mundane, but at the same time, it is extraordinary because our so-called locker room talks made our bonds more robust. It is through humdrum actions like these – listening, walking together – that these safe spaces are built. University campuses do not just teach us theories, but also help us re-evaluate our personhood, attitude and opinions. Ideas of care, fraternity, and mutuality are central to these spaces, our very own locker rooms. As much as universities are about teaching and learning, they are also about building these feelings of solidarity and collectiveness.
And perhaps these friendships are what I miss the most now that I have moved out of the hostel and living alone. As I made my way to the nearest ATM one day all alone, I had to walk through a deserted road. Although it was afternoon, the events of the day were playing on my mind. India had just lost yet another woman to the intersections between caste and patriarchy – the Dalit girl from Hathras who was raped and murdered by upper-caste men. It struck me how deserted and beautiful roads do not make women want to say ‘let me enjoy the walk’. It makes us afraid and fearful. And once again, in those moments, I missed my friends and their presence that made me feel safe and comfortable while walking together. Our very own abstract locker rooms that made each of us feel safe and assured.
But what was reassuring was the fact that when I safely returned to my apartment, I saw a text from a friend – ‘I wish I was there with you’. It also made me realise my privilege, the privilege of coming back home safely because many women do not return home alive and/or safe, and receiving that text.
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At the end of the day, it is only these locker rooms, spaces of solidarity and friendships, that sustain us as women. For many of us, colleges and universities are all about these friendships that we build. After all, female friendships are very much real and the idea that is sold in popular culture that ‘girls cannot be friends with each other’ is just a stereotype.
Rituparna Patgiri teaches Sociology in Indraprastha College for Women, University of Delhi. She is interested in issues of culture and gender and has earlier written for The Assam Tribune, The Sentinel, Youth ki Awaaz, Women’s Web, Caleidoscope, India Development Review, Indian Cultural Forum and Feminism in India. She is also a part of the team of the sociological blog called Doing Sociology. She can be found on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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