“Why are you joining a Feminazi hot-spot?”
As much as some of us women enjoy sitting in circles, throwing in creative jibes at men, we wouldn’t establish a college to do so.
The purpose of this article is to outline the contemporary relevance of women’s colleges and why these institutes have nothing to do with men yet everything to do with them too.
The announcement of my joining a women’s college was received with a juxtaposed reaction- snarky yet glazed-in-pity comments from my friends and sighs of relief from distant family. Both of these, judgements borne of a stereotypical understanding of women’s colleges.
Having studied in a co-ed institute all my life, this decision came equally as a surprise to me as it was to people who know me. Many of my friends couldn’t fathom why I would travel as far as Delhi, from Bombay, to study in a women’s college which is off-campus, when I had the option of leading an unsupervised life of unlimited depravity in an equally good co-ed college in the north campus. I must say, that prospect did seem rather enticing for a bit, but as soon as I entered the campus, I shed every shred of doubt.
The sight of ambitious women, with keen, intelligent faces, empathetic smiles and a stubbornness to be unconquered- it was simply electric.
Women’s colleges are evolving from conservative grooming and breeding grounds that set rules for women, to increasingly liberal gardens where seeds of equality and solidarity are sown, and women set rules through democracy and dissent. The social, political and economic context of our life plays a very powerful role in shaping it. Each aspect of the identity of an individual may alter an experience and we often take for granted the privilege associated with our identity.
The journey of a woman and the way she navigates through school, college and so on is often rather different from that of a man. When we add another layer to the identity of the person, let’s say a woman from the North-east, the experience may be altered yet again. Sexism and misogyny, so deeply embedded in our social and political institutions therefore often make journeys of women a thorny path and so does casteism, transphobia, homophobia and Islamophobia among many other prejudices against marginalized identities. Individuals of each of these identities show immense grit and work double or triple as hard to prove their worth.
The point to note here is this- marginalized identities, in this context,- women do not want to be glorified for making it through the thorny path, neither should they have to take a complicated path by virtue of their gender, or any aspect of their identity.
This is not to say that all men have it easy. They don’t. But they are spared of institutionalized oppression specifically owing to their gender. This is also not to say that women’s colleges are absolutely egalitarian spaces. Trans women are not given their rightful space. It’s a rather convenient and typical to look the other way when it comes to the self-determination of trans individuals, isn’t it? Discrimination in the campus on the basis of caste, class and religion have been well preserved across decades, just as these red brick walls.
Surprisingly, removing men from the equation doesn’t solve all the problems. The purpose of these institutions is not to wage war against men, maybe to instil a sense of self-dependency and a space to thrive as a woman, but no, not to wage war.
“I feel that personally, before coming to college, I was living in a world where I was majorly dependent on older men in my family or outside. The power and responsibilities were in their hands and so, learning was derived from them. After being in a women’s college (LSR), it has given me an environment where I got to know what a world would look like if there were no men in them and women in my college, specifically the seniors, showed me how I could get that learning from women and this actually helped me break a lot of structures in my mind”, says Aishwarya Singh, a third-year student from Lady Shri Ram College.
Leadership opportunities, a learning environment where women are in charge, freedom to explore without any inhibitions. That is the purpose of a women’s college.
To have and become role models, currently a concept which is dominated by cisgender men. To ensure they derive purpose from themselves and not a man. To establish free will and a right to self-determination. To dissent freely against injustice. To wear a sweater with bikini bottoms if I please.
The article was first published here.