Gender bias is palpable across many professional fields from politics to education to even creative art. History is testimony to great male leaders and subordinate female leaders, in fact, most female leaders are referred to as intimidating, controlling and conniving but none are known as exemplary leaders. Most often female leadership is not credited to their hard work but to something or someone else, in all likelhood, another man. Cleopatra was said to use her beauty, Indira Gandhi was linked to nepotism and Margaret Thatcher was the ‘Iron’ Lady because it’s so difficult to see a strong woman in charge. Apart from politics, creative fields such as acting too is largely male dominated, where female actors are treated as subordinates, and reduced to their ‘pretty faces’. The number of women in politics across the world too is very less. The only take away from all of these fields is the under representation of women.
One of the least discussed fields in terms of gender bias is that of academia. We have many female scholars in our country and the world but they hardly receive the space they deserve. The area of research and writing scholarly texts, unfortunately, is still overwhelmingly dominated by men.
Plato, Aristotle, Socrates and many other philosophers were men adept in politics, philosophy, mathematics and various other subjects. Alexander the Great was taught by Aristotle, however, it was his mother Olympia, who taught Alexander the ways of leadership, ignited in him the thirst for power and built his strong character. Most people would remember Aristotle as his teacher and Philip II as his father but somewhere in the pages of history, the real force behind creating ‘Alexander the Great’ is lost, his mother.
We live in a land where ancient literature is very rich, whether it’s Kalidasa’s beautiful plays or hefty religious texts like the Upanishads, Vedas and epics like Ramayana. We have heard about the play Shakuntala by Kalidasa, we have heard of Valmiki writing the Ramayana, and Ved Vyasa calling Lord Ganesha himself to pen down the Mahabharata. We hardly have any women scholars/philosophers, except maybe Gargi and Maitreyi, but they aren’t very well known.
In the last decade alone, issues like sexual harassment, the wage gap, gender-based discrimination in the workplace are being discussed. Glass ceilings are getting shattered or are they?
While I studied the social sciences, one of the first things we were taught were the classical theories, about the thinkers and philosophers who created social sciences in the very first place. Sociology, for instance, has many dimensions that can be explored for studying the society.
We have the structural-functional approach pioneered by Emile Durkheim; the theory explains the macro aspects of the society and relates them to collective human thought. His work on suicide is considered to be an example of this. The conflict theory pioneered by Karl Marx, where he mostly talks about the class system, the perils of capitalism and how eventually the society will become communist. Along with co-scholar Fredrick Engels, he talks about the conflict between the bourgeoisie and the proletariats, and how the capitalist system will see its end just like the feudal system did. The third theory is that of symbolic interactionism, which talks about the micro aspects of society and focuses on subjective experiences. Dramaturgy is one of the major works under this particular study. Key people associated with the theory are Erving Goffman, Howard Garfinkel and Herbert Becker.
It’s important to understand the sheer male dominance in these approaches. One can safely say that the foundation of the subject of sociology is based on the ideas and thoughts of men.
However, there is one approach, the feminist approach that has appeared as late as the 20th century. The feminist approach helps us understand the society in terms of existing power structures and how it contributes to gender inequality. The feminist approach wants us to take a conscious step towards studying society; there are various categories under the approach such as liberal feminism, radical feminism, Marxist feminism, and so on. The feminist approach talks about gender roles, rape culture, gender bias and various other issues. Most of the work on patriarchy is attributed to the feminist approach. Dorothy Smith is a pioneer in the approach.
Hence the status of academia, with regards to representation of gender is extremely poor.
India has various central universities, 47 to be exact, and only five of them have women vice-chancellors. In fact, many of these central universities have never had even one single vice-chancellor in their entire history, including Jawaharlal Nehru University.
According to a study conducted by the British Council in 2010-11, there were 6,66,971 academics in India out of which 64.3% were males and 35.7% females. An analysis and study of the states and union territories showed Kerala, Meghalaya and Chandigarh to have marginally more than 50% women academics in their states. The lowest percentage was recorded in Bihar with only 15% women academics.
The study also did a comparative analysis of the various academic positions in colleges and universities. For professor and equivalent positions, men occupied 74.5% seats while women occupied a mere 25.5%. For the positions of a reader and associate professorship, men occupied 68.9% seats while women occupied a mere 31.1%. Lastly, for the positions of a lecturer and assistant professorship, men occupied 61.6% of all seats.
These statistics show a staggering disparity in the spaces men and women occupy in academia, the representation is poor and in dire need of improvement.
Statistics aside, one should also focus on the curriculum that students have been studying in universities. It is astounding to notice that most of the papers taught under a subject are written by Hindu upper caste men.
M.N Srinivas, Ramachandra Guha, G.S. Ghurye, etc. are some of the well-established and eminent academics of the country. However, they are all high-caste Hindu men. In fact, while studying the paper ‘Sociology of India’ one would come across many articles and academic texts that have been authored and put together by these men. Women don’t have a lot of space in this particular paper except Iravati Karve and Patricia Uberoi, their works on marriage and kinship is noteworthy.
While there are very few women in academia in India, the eminent ones are even fewer. In sociology, all classical thinkers are men except for feminist studies. Indian female academicians are mostly seen in the studies of kinship, marriage, family and gender. Leela Dube, Rajni Palriwala, Bina Agarwal and Chandra Mohanty are a few examples.
Most women in their careers face the glass ceiling and academia is not spared here. There have been instances when women have not been allowed to rise above junior positions, men have been preferred for senior positions, and in general, in a country, like India, high caste Hindu men take away the cake.
Chanana (2003) conducted two small-scale studies and the figures were released by British Council that shed light on how women academics and teachers differed in their positioning with respect to their male counterparts. For example, women are less likely to occupy leadership positions when there’s open selection than when the recruitment procedure functions on nominations (47.4% men, 26.2% women). Women had more frequent job changes; 26% of women started in lower grade positions such as teachers, assistant teachers, demonstrators, and guest lecturers. 26% of women also reported career interruptions. Most women married and the demands of their husbands’ career led to some of these disruptions.
In a later study, Chanana (2012) focussed mainly on female student participation in HE (higher education), where women’s absence in higher education management was also highlighted.
The study by Chanana documented by the British Council is an eye opener about the various hurdles faced by women in institutions of higher education in a non-student capacity. Recent cases of alleged harassment at Jawaharlal Nehru University, namely by Atul Johri and Ganga Sahay Meena are a testimony to how these obstacles threaten a woman’s identity, threaten her to not pursue her career, and to not grow as an academic.
Our patriarchal mindset, as a society is also responsible, for many families even today do not want their daughters to study ‘too much’. There is also an inherent mentality that women should rather be teachers in schools than go for ‘prestigious’ academic positions.
Women have been speaking up in large numbers today. Even though conditions are getting better, but better is not good enough. There needs to be more representation of women in academia besides gender and women’s study, classical theories in various subjects need to be revisited.
There are various women thinkers of all times, maybe it is time they are made popular. It is time we understand a different perspective. Hannah Arendt, Hypatia of Alexandria, Lady Conway and so many more, the list is long and extensive if one tries to dive in.