Being in a women’s college was once a decision made on the basis of cut-offs and convenience, however, it ended up being a transforming life experience.
One of the greatest gifts I stumbled upon in life, was the opportunity to study in a women’s only institution. At the risk of being stereotyped as an angry misandrist, I would say that merely experiencing a space that is free from men is important. Women’s colleges, especially in the University of Delhi (DU), are starkly different from their coeducational counterparts. Women’s only colleges are fundamentally non-political and more academically driven spaces, with fewer opportunities to channel youthful angst. However, the mere existence of women’s colleges gives us the opportunity to step away from what can almost always be the inescapable presence of men. This is not to say that we are running from them, it is to emphasise that the heteronormative spaces that accommodate both the genders can often be stifling because of the overpowering presence of men.
Without the active presence of men, all roles including the roles of a goon, the angry ambitious student politician, the bully, the guide, the mentor are all taken up by women. Women in co-educational set-ups are usually allocated dainty little spaces with cookie cutter edges, all the while carrying the Sisyphean burden of being wise, compassionate, and forgiving. The luxury of failing, losing one’s calm, being selfish, is exclusively reserved for men. The emotional toll of merely existing as a woman is no secret. Being the bigger person in a conflict, staying out of conflict or controversy, or being the peacemaker, is draining to those of us who are not peacemakers at heart.
This does not imply that the patriarchy does not seep into women’s colleges. Indecent curfew timings, the kind that assumes women are delicate flowers in need of protection, are controlling and unquestioned. Women’s colleges and the problem of how to accommodate transgender students within their ambit is a question that remains unanswered. The varsity is now operating on two extremes, on one end are girls colleges: apolitical and academic, the ones that win it laurels. On the other end of the spectrum, are co-educational colleges: angsty and troublesome, inciting chaos. It is almost as though the varsity is a parental figure and girls colleges are demure daughters, while co-educational colleges are trouble-stirring sons.
I do not imply that men are toxic, and do not claim to be victimised by their mere presence either. But the set-up of a women’s only college is not normal, it is not representative of the real structure of society. Therefore, the gender roles that are well-established in society, to the point that we do not even question them, do not accompany us inside the walls of these institutions. Instead, realisation about the extent and impact of the patriarchy,
can sometimes be felt by moving into segregated spaces, since the alternative offers us no respite from the status quo.
Being in a space exclusively reserved for women has been revolutionary because it has helped me grasp the extent to which the patriarchy influences us, it has helped me understand and un-learn problematic behaviour that Is internalised. Gloria Steinem said, “The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn.” A women’s college has helped me un-learn that only men lift heavy desks across corridors. From physically scaling walls to tie up election banners to manually guarding barricades on the celebrity performance during the college fest, I’ve seen women do it all. It isn’t merely limited to the physically challenging aspect of it. Emotionally, it has been a liberating experience that has allowed me to enjoy female friendship and finally understand, that it is irreplaceable and most relevant in order to understand and experience the beauty of
being a woman.
To know and bask in the presence of women who are smarter, kinder, more resilient, and compassionate than me has been an opportunity of a
lifetime. “Unlearning” what the patriarchy has conditioned me to believe would be a lifelong journey, but I am glad I got a head-start in my
alma mater, surrounded by women who inspired me for a lifetime.
Feature Image Credits: Kartik Kakar for DU Beat