Two must-read pieces on what is often ranked as India's best college, in response to the recent news that the St. Stephen's principal had come up with "an unusual proposal" to reserve 40 per cent of the seats for male students.
First, Saba Dewan in Kafila recalled her undergraduate years during 1982-85: Of chick charts, hen charts and other such women’s stories
As regularly as the boys could manage, a chart rating the 10 top ‘chicks’ in college on the basis of their physical attributes would be brought out and publicly circulated to bring cheer to our otherwise dreary lives. Each ‘chick’ would be rated and either cheered or booed on the basis of her assemblage of body parts, butt, breasts, legs, mouth. Much awaited, the ‘chick chart’ would generate excitement and controversy amongst our male peers – did the chart do justice to all the chicks on it? Had some deserving chicks been left out? Was it as funny as the previous one? Notwithstanding such minor quibbling, chick charts were generally seen as ‘good fun’, part of a boys’ tradition that made the college so special. Even the college administration seemed to think so since it allowed chick charts to be displayed on its official notice board.
And then Nilanjana S. Roy joined in the ongoing conversation, going much beyond the sexism at St. Stephens: What I learned from "The Patriarchy":
Institutions that are deeply, profoundly unfair often do not look the way you expect them to; it may take some time to recognize that you’re living in an unjust system. Logical corollary: an unjust system often co-opts otherwise good, kind, ethical people. Nice people are also part of a functioning patriarchy.
(This is just as true of families as it is of institutions.)...
...Patriarchal institutions are not necessarily unequal in other respects--as a friend pointed out, you can have a boy's club that is also staunchly not casteist or classist. But often enough the failure to address deeprooted gender bias can make it easier for an institution, even a highly respected one, to overlook other kinds of prejudice.
...As a corollary from the previous point—patriarchy in action is every bit as damaging to men as to women, trapping men into a constant and often exhausting struggle for power, and relies on a constant erasure of its own past in order to thrive...
Perhaps what Dewan has started with her piece on Kafila will lead to a reconstruction not just of Stephens’ history, but of all of our private histories. Once you start filling in the gaps and the silences, it becomes so much easier to see your history for what it really is.