I Once Said “Why Do Women Need College”? I Now Know Better

Born into an upper caste, economically privileged, patriarchal Hindu family, studying gender has truly changed me.

3 min read

It has been almost a year and my MA programme in Gender is about to end. Many have asked, enquired and expressed curiosity about how this programme has changed me, what I have learnt and how it has influenced my actions.

I was born into an upper caste, economically privileged and patriarchally dominant Hindu family in India. I was no exception to its influence and grew up subconsciously internalising this mindset.

As recently as 2011, I have voiced biased statements without understanding my privileged position and the insensitivity it evoked. For instance, during a festive occasion in my community, I made a remark: “Why do women even need to attend college? They can happily marry a man and be happy,” which evoked outrage from my female friends. But as I was ignorant, I simply laughed and dismissed it.

My Studying Gender Was a Source of Scorn for Many

Hence, when I decided to specialise in Gender as a graduate programme, it came as a shock to many. Apart from my own personal ambitions around the discipline, a heterosexual man pursuing a discipline that was essentially dominated by women was a source of constant scorn and slight humiliation.

Apart from my keenness to “study” gender as an academic discipline, this MA is a political project that contains within it an aspiration of a young man to be a feminist warrior and that who can be seen as someone capable of challenging the status quo. I am driven by ambition to effect change by engaging in active participatory politics – and pursuing a course such as this has really equipped me to better understand the complex reality of patriarchy and its heinous objection to equality.

In my political aim, the MA programme has played a significant role. It was only while “experiencing” this programme that I learnt the various ways in which I could further the cause of gender and apply it to my work. I use the word “experience” rather than doing or completing, because indeed, this module has been an experience. After reflection and interrogation of my thoughts, feminist identity and privilege, I can say that I have become much more flexible and open to change as opposed to earlier, when I was too stubborn to accept any other worldview.

Before coming to the UK, I worked as a freelance writer for one and a half years wherein I reported and wrote extensively on social and policy issues for different media outlets. Being an expressive person, I strongly believe in the power of storytelling and leveraging social media to be a change agent and transforming the world.

Therefore, with social media being the common denominator, I will highlight my learning journey over the course of my MA programme and how it has shaped my feminist reflexivity.

Social media plays a role in ensuring justice, which is why I am a strong proponent and participant of this medium. It allows us to build enclaves through which we can voice our personal opinions, but also in the process offers us ways of understanding the multitude of opinions that people keep. During the past 10 months in Brighton, I have been able to deeply engage with gender issues in India only because of the internet. The recent protest #NotInMyName is an example of how we can leverage social media to build solidarity movements and fight against injustice.

I recently faced a rather controversial editorial policy from a feminist media publication, which impelled me to outrage – but more on that in my next post!

(Devanik Saha is an MA Gender & Development student at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, UK)

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