Women’s Colleges– Empowering Rather Than Isolating

Any woman who has traveled by the Delhi Metro would have heard the men complaining that if women claim to be ‘equals’, then they need not have a separately reserved metro compartment, or reserved seats, and should be as willing to stand in the metro as men. Then there are other well-meaning people who opine that having a separate “reserved” compartment only further aggravates the problem by isolating women rather than them freely inhabiting the whole of the public space that they have equal right to, along with men.

A similar argument is advanced against women’s colleges. Eligible college applicants, especially in metropolitan cities often tend to keep women’s colleges as a later resort thinking it will keep them shielded and will not give them the same confidence for their “real world” dealings. Some (though, very few now days) male coworkers and colleagues tend to infantilize women’s colleges in their minds, judging women who spent three years in an all-women’s environment to be less confident or less capable of navigating workspaces that are not “pink-collared”.  And yet again, there are also people who massively generalize and stereotype all women’s college students to be “femi-nazis” (whatever that politically incorrect term means!).

Being a student of one of the top women’s colleges of the country, I want to debunk the myths surrounding women’s colleges; the experience of studying in one and the massive effectiveness of having women’s colleges to bridge the exclusionary gap in access and opportunity that women have faced from centuries.
Gender conventions and norms work in most insidious ways. They are always present in the social system. Normative standards of behavior on behaving “like a lady” (which in itself changes connotations every year) are morphing women’s behaviour without us even realizing it. As Hegel, Feuerbach and other dialectical theorists have opined, we cannot describe the ‘self’ without referring to an ‘other’. We cannot define ‘good’ without a mental image of ‘bad’. We cannot define ‘beauty’ without defining ‘ugly’. Similarly, we cannot define ‘feminine’ without the presence of the ‘masculine’. Contrary to the popular belief that women’s colleges make women “sissy”, without the presence of the ‘other’ gender, women stop performing their femininity in an all-women’s environment.

The psycho-social system of a girls’ college works in quite a successful way. Women have to do all the tasks from lifting things , organizing technological equipment, arranging infrastructure and going on academic and non-academic trips on their own. Invariably, in a co-ed environment, men do end up taking the forefront in most of such activities in college. This is not a speculation, but a fact. One need only make a list of the heads of student unions and societies in all co-ed colleges of Delhi University and see how many women are among them.

Being inside the gates of a women’s college gives you agency. It makes you feel like a human rather than a woman. The minute I step out of my college gates, I feel a sudden lack of agency. Yes, women’s colleges, and especially academically oriented ones with diverse student population are a Utopia of a kind. The indices of judgment, success and reward inside a women’s college are completely and utterly limited to academic capabilities and general work and moral ethic. In that all-women’s environment, somehow by the working of some strange BODMASS formula, all the stereotypically “feminine” characteristics which are common to all students cease to matter for the sole reason that among so many girls who look good, dress good and speak articulately, women are forced to become more than just women to differentiate themselves among women.

All women within a women’s college campus stop performing their gender. We are humans, students and academicians in the classroom, as opposed to a co-ed environment where we are “girls” and “boys”. We feel an equality which is required to bring out the best academician in us. The model of women’s colleges, women’s metro coaches, reserved seats for women in the government etc. is successful, because it gives women a chance to cover the lack of opportunities and the disadvantages women have faced in the public sphere before they can enter at an equal footing at the psychological level of “confidence” and the collective level of privilege. People trumpeting the “equals” and “merit” argument against reservation for women at different institutional levels need to see the more layered argument rather than the superficiality, and understand that reservation is  a mechanism to cover up matters of social exclusion, not superficial economic disadvantages.

Picture Credits : deccanchronicle

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