This post is written as the second part of a series of blog posts starting with: “The Not-so-Golden Ratio: Where are they?”
I’m never one to mince my words so I would like to state it directly. The 1:7 (F:M) ratio is obviously going to create some supply-demand issues. Lets make it more (brutally) clear. There is an oversupply, under-demand of men and overdemand, under-supply of women. This creates some interesting unhealthy power imbalances. Add the cultural baggage of history and society and we are basically set up for failure, welcome Havoc.
This imbalance starts playing out in the first few weeks itself at BITS Pilani during “interactions”. Every department, club and group, at least on the face of it tries to boost its “gender diversity”. The motivations for this are not very straight forward though as there is another factor at play here.
On any given day, dating and sex are loaded issues that many different kinds of societies/demographics struggle to handle in any meaningful way. One of the outcomes of this in India is that we never discuss these topics much in schools and homes. A young person has to resort to picking up and deciphering implicit cues from parents, teachers, religion, media (and each other!) to make up their own minds.
Naturally, we also pick up on the hypocritical censorship of sexual relationships. What does that mean? It is apparently ridicule-worthy enough to simply express interest in another person for dating purposes. You have to do it opaquely, through a long drawn flirtatious dance which starts with creating “natural” situations where you are in proximity of the opposite gender. Cue all the undue “attention” flowing from demand to supply during “interactions” and recruitments and everywhere else where it is misplaced.
Mind you, this is just “attention”.
And mind you, this creates a problem for everyone. People who fail at doing it usually find it easier to fall into the “girls-have-it-easy” chant. People who do succeed at it mostly create more problems than make things better for anyone in the long run. And the target of such attention, girls have some amazing reactions to it. These range from distraction, insecurity, overestimating the meaning and importance of it to downright adult versions of princess-prince syndrome. (*1)
So, it usually sucks.
At this point it would be tempting to say “Oh, just chill out, this is the natural cycle of life and mating, why you so serious?”. (Some might even add, “You were a girl right, didn’t you enjoy all the attention?”)
Well, I wouldn’t be “so serious” and possibly “enjoy” something except that I have been at the receiving end of this unhealthy attention quagmire and I think it has some serious implications.
Let me start with a trivial example. In my first year we had this course called ‘Workshop I’, which was an assortment of tasks related to carpentry, CNC machines etc. Even before we started the course, the word on the street was that “girls have it easy” because they can get away with some tasks after throwing around a few smiles. I didn’t really understand this until I actually entered the workshop. Some maintenance dude at the workshop was willing to help out the girls a little more than usual with the carpentry task. Needless to say I didn’t really enjoy this weird interaction with this dude where some girlish behavior was expected from me, failed spectacularly at the task and came out of the whole experience quite unsettled. For the next 4 years I watched batch after batch perpetuating this ‘word on the street’. It still amazes me that for all the IQ and so-called intelligence that BITS is supposed to filter for, not one, let me repeat that, not a single male peer in my 4 years ever wondered, “Hey Aaksha, did that guy ever creep you out?”. Not one guy considered the possibility that this throwing-around-a-smile business could have been unwanted and creepy for the girl.
In the larger scheme of things (i.e. even outside the BITSian context), it still amazes me to this day how easily people accept this narrative. That it is the onus on the girl to be attractive. And that if she is receiving a perceived freebie, she should be both morally responsible and at fault for it.
The media discourse and social media echo chambers’ coverage of sexual assault allegations, lawsuits, divorce settlements etc. may have us believe that the public sympathizes with the woman. However, with the exception of ‘extreme’ cases, the discourse in our homes, schools, temples, and other cultural spaces of society i.e. when no one is looking, is very different. I could write another 1000 words on navigating this bullshit but I will keep that for another day. I do not want to digress.
Coming back, this will play out subtly in most aspects of BITSian life. As I have already written a bit about how to navigate the web of departments and clubs in Extracurricular:
Groups which are formed around hobbies or interests (like ‘Clubs’ in the BITSianverse) have better anchors for their vetting process. Groups (like ‘Departments’/college fest organizing teams) which don’t have such clearly defined needs are more subjective.
The higher the subjectivity, the more chance that you will be able to recruit and are being recruited for something other than your abilities or passion. Some will do it to create the aforementioned natural proximity. And further, some others will have the audacity to call it “lowering-the-bar”(*2). It is tempting to argue that all of this is inconsequential but this kind of behavior has long term repercussions.
In my final year, two aspiring BITSian male comedians created a web series of satirical videos on the BITSian life. One such video depicts a placement (job) interview. A guy goes in for a coding interview. He is asked several programming questions. Next, a well-dressed petite girl goes in. The male interviewer starts smiling, tries to make small talk, asks her about her hobbies, likes and dislikes. At the end of the day placement results reveal that it was the girl who got the job, not the guy. The video implies that it was enough for the girl to be cute to get the job.
The one person the video, the camera angle and dialogs don’t focus on is the interviewer. What exactly was the interviewer’s moral standing when he did a professional “favor” for a young woman to curry a potential sexual return in the future. How come this whole incident is interpreted less often as “whats-up-with-desperate guys” and more often as “girls-have-it-easy”?
You see, because this symbolic interviewer was at some point a student like you and me. Whose behavior was not even worth a little bit of ridicule and considered normal even after going through several years of so called ‘education’.
It is easy to project one’s sexual frustrations on the other gender but the seeds for why you find yourself in this situation were sown by many who came before you, much before you.
The Timelessness of Incorrigibility
Here’s a series of mental animations that I noticed started playing out in my mind every time I met a young closeted male chauvinist and was expected to put up with their not-so-casual sexism with a smile. Their hair became whiter, a few wrinkles and a paunch started to emerge. They started resembling some of the older men I have met who have expected me to put up with their not-so-casual sexism with a smile. Similarly when I was standing in the company of these older men, another set of mental animations played out. They acquired darker hair, became slimmer, leaner, plump cheeks, healthy skin with jovial faces. I imagined what “jokes” that older man might have shared with his friends when he was younger. The sexism that years of life experiences had augmented/reinforced to culminate in the exact sexist statements I had the misfortune of listening to. I wonder what opinions the younger man might share with his colleagues in the future unchanged by his life’s successes and blows when he is older.
Because you see, ultimately it is the same kind of incorrigible person, unable to think outside the convention of his/her times. In the past it was the same person who told your mother that she belonged to the kitchen and exists primarily for child-bearing. In the future it will be the same kind of person who will tell your daughter that she can’t do X because she is a girl. Substitute X with any number of things needed for her self actualization.
“Locker room Talk”
If the situation wasn’t so dire, I would laugh at the inability of young men to see how much they are losing out because of patriarchy . If you don’t have enough options to date and you are doing stupid things because of that, its not because girls didn’t make it to your schools and within your “natural proximity”. Its because a generation of men and women before you didn’t let their daughters, wives and sisters make it to your school. I personally don’t enjoy crass simplifications of social issues but if Facebook, Sacred Games, GoT etc. have taught me anything, it is this: provocation apparently works. Instead of objectifying and making fun of girls’ body parts in the proverbial locker room talk, here’s a version of the locker room talk that would be more appropriate for our realities:
“Khud toh tharki line marta phirta tha, abhi social media par ‘rational arguments’ deneka hai usko against ‘feminazis’”
“Baap dada, 18 main shaadi karaadi maa ki, padhaya bhi nahi, head of the family samajhtein hai apne aap ko”
“Haan bey, meri behen ko toh bachpan main hi bol diya, 22 ke baad idhar se kat lena”
“Haan yaar meri dadi ne jo meri maa ka tel nikala hai, woh saala cricket match dekhne main busy rehta tha”
“Kya kanjus tha be, ek plate bhi idhar se udhar rakha nahi kabhi, aur maa ko bolta hai, roti-kapda-makaan dene ke liye, meri puja kar”
“Mereko toh bada kiya nahi, upar se bola, mera naam laga naam ke peeche”
Pardon my fantasy flight here, I got a little carried away. But hey, isn’t that the excuse thrown about for locker room talk, boys-will-be-boys and actions of mobs when they come together? I’d like to emphasize, I don’t derive any pleasure whatsoever from this locker room talk but I do want to highlight something. You see, you may be feeling like shutting me down which many peers have done for me on online forums. But before shutting me down, could you spend a moment thinking back to how many times have you stopped that friend who was willing to do anything for a girl, like anything to get into her pants and enlightened him on his debauchery. How many times have you shut down a friend indulging in Trump-esque-grab-em-by-the-pussy locker room talk vs. shut down a female friend who just couldn’t be ‘rational’ and ‘reasonable’ when expressing her frustrations with her life experiences, with the same ferocity and derision.
You may have ‘schooled’ a female in real life or on social media , and got a million likes from your male friends, giving you the delusion that ‘Oh see, I am so right, I know how to think straight, that other female is just a feminazi who fails to see the big picture and can’t think outside her I-am-a-victim mentality’. Because while you may blame a so called feminazi who can’t think outside her I-am-a-victim mentality, you might just be displaying ‘I-am-too-entitled’ mentality.
It is going to be exhausting to have any kind of rational perspective on this issue because of the attention deficit staring in your face and playing out everyday in your life. Remember that exhaustion. As I described in “Where are they?” This is the legacy we have been given, the baggage passed onto us by older dysfunctional systems.
The Weight of History
When you finally realize the weight of history in front of your eyes, messing with your sexual cravings, that the complicated, twisted gender imbalances in society are very much your problem, and that most likely you are going to be a part of the problem and not the solution, unless you have any capacity for courage and independence of thought (left after an education system that actively attempts to thwart both), you will feel helpless. In my experience, it is one of the hardest, most exhausting ideas to keep in your head. Most people can’t and won’t. It is simply easier, just like your father and his father and his mother and the ones who came before him to generalize. It is just easier to think to yourself: “Oh this human being is born with a few different body parts, there has to be something intellectually, emotionally, inherently problematic with them. Religion and culture are on my side anyway”. You get an ego bump as a side bonus.
I was sitting in London in my final year of BITS coding away in a friend’s apartment when he balked at his screen. His face spelt horror so I asked him, “whats up?” He managed to mumble something about the Nirbhaya rape case. This rape case caught India’s imagination over the next few days. There were a lot of protests and some soul searching. The national conversation was awash with questions about the physical safety of women. I remember being in one such discussion where a younger male colleague cried out in exasperation, “really is it THAT unsafe for you?” This question took me by surprise and it dawned on me how separated my reality was from the other gender. Things that I could never take for granted like what time to leave a party, how many people were there around me in a room, bus or train or how far I was from a safe space etc. were not even factors for another half of humanity.
Periodically such atrocious incidents capture the national imagination. (They happen far more often though IRL). Most people seem to be confused about why these “random” acts of violence take place. Thank god for the ‘MeToo’ movement which set the record straight a little bit at least. (Yours truly being very much a victim of such an assault). Which is to say that these acts are not really ‘random’. They are very much the outcome of our cultural subjugation of women. We like to sleep at night thinking that we caught the specific perpetrators of these acts and solved the problem somewhat. However clearly the problem is nowhere close to being solved. It allows some people, especially the intellectual and cultural male guardians of our times to set a low bar and avoid the issue of ‘psychological safety’ of women completely. I’ll take a page out of Noam Chomsky’s timeless exposition on ‘The Responsibility of Intellectuals’: “As for those of us who stood by in silence and apathy as this catastrophe slowly took shape over the past dozen years—on what page of history do we find our proper place? Only the most insensible can escape these questions.”
I would like to end with this. You are not obligated to think about the other gender. You are not obligated to think or care about anybody. (Which way you choose, whether to care or not is going to however determine the quality of your life and future). Still there is one entity in your life that you must think about and for whom I do not believe that I need to make a case(*3). That entity is your mother. Do yourself a favor and run through this thought exercise. Imagine her when she was your age standing at the edge of her youth and prime. What was being told to her? What messages had society given to her about her life and what she should do with it vs. what you have been given? Did she stand a chance at self actualization? How did that shape her choices, life and freedoms (or lack thereof).
Don’t do it as a favor. Don’t do it for charity. Don’t do it even to be ethical(what does that mean anyway?). Do it because you for better or worse have acquired the label of being ‘intelligent’. Do it for survival. Do it because if you cannot even think from the perspective of your mother, stand in her shoes for a minute, you will not be able to discern how you are yourself being taken for a ride by the educational, financial, religious and media systems surrounding you. Do it to get better at the game of life.
One month into BITS Pilani, I had joined or been recruited to some groups. There was this senior guy in one of these groups who decided that it was completely valid for him to force me to eat from the same plate as him in a group dinner. He sat next to me at the beginning of dinner, a few minutes later slid my plate away as food arrived. And then proceeded to serve himself large helpings of food, presumably for both of us. For sometime he kept asking me to take a bite from this common plate. It took me a while to process what was happening, and at first I was just surprised at the audacity of the whole thing. I started defying the situation by trying to make conversation with other people and ignoring this guy, not having a bite ever throughout the whole episode. As dinner progressed and other people’s jokes and conversations settled down, this guy’s nudges became louder and clearer. My appetite long gone, by now I was frantically running calculations of good ways to quietly slip away from the situation without being noticed. Unfortunately, this was close to the center of the table. This nonsense went on for some more time. Finally, this ordeal of a dinner was over and I walked back to my cycle. And sped off in the opposite direction as soon as everyone was out of sight.
I was quite disturbed by the situation. To this day I wonder what went on in other people’s minds as they saw this whole thing play out. The questions that raced through my mind were: “Is this the modus operandi here?”, “Why did that guy think he had the right to display such unabashed coercion?”, “Why exactly was I recruited to this group?”
After some consideration, I decided that I would let my actions speak for me. I decided that if I overcompensated by focusing on the group’s work over the semester, it would send the right signal and such future advances would be discouraged. Of course it wasn’t that simple. Over the next few months I watched in horror as such advances were attempted at other girls in the group and some even seemed to enjoy it. Meanwhile my own personal journey got harder and harder because a pretty and petite frame such as mine and the cultural stereotype that comes along with it was quite at odds with the goals I had set for myself. As the advances did not stop, I kept becoming sterner, quieter and less open as a person. I put in many sleepless nights working towards the keynote event of this group. After the event we had a review session during which many people doubled down on me criticizing many aspects of my efforts. However some girls who enjoyed the former kind of ‘attention’ continued to be a welcome part of the group and (without ever raising a finger for any stated work goals of the group) accumulated more ‘social capital’ than I ever could have . I can only imagine that many guys in my cohort observed the same thing. In this situation it would be understandable if some of them concluded that ‘girls have it easy’. It is disappointing though that so many of them don’t consider that these situations are not easy for a lot of girls and that these kinds of modus operandi further discourage girls who could break such vicious behavior.
Anyway, personally that review session was the last straw. Something broke inside me and I found it hard to trust most people at BITS Pilani moving forward. It took a lot of effort to get over this with the help of some amazing people (interestingly mostly men) I met later on in life .
I do believe that everyone would have been better off if people could be more straight forward about their intentions and did not have to resort to this kind of bullshit to find dates. And I still wonder what stops the same men from doing the same thing as they step out into real life with people who may someday in the future report to them? (Or does it?). I wonder if the stringent harassment policies that men’s rights activists have such a problem with, have a role to play in stopping such behavior?
*1- Of course there is the occasional fairy tale here and there but we’ll leave that under the category of exceptions or good marketing 😛
*2- There is a more problematic context in which this concept exists and I talk about it here.
*3- Because if I have to make a case even for this, I am pretty sure such a reader did not survive this far into the post and/or our basic premises in life are so different that most of what I have said would be lost or futile to that reader’s mind
Worth a read: The Story Behind BITS Pilani’s Girls’ Hostel Curfew Removal