The Independent Student Newspaper of Ashoka University

Representation of Women in Ashokan Faculty and Beyond

By Sonal Rana (Batch of 2020) and Priya Sanyal (Batch of 2021)

Recently, President of Wellesley College, Paula Johnson, visited Ashoka with several of her colleagues, Wellesley faculty and its alumni. She emphasised upon the necessity of equal gender representation within and across the faculty at universities, at Ashoka in particular. She presented the example of her own institution where there exists a mandatory “50/50” distributive principle — it is ensured that no single department at Wellesley is solely dominated by individuals of only one gender, both males and females have a chance to occupy an explicit, sameness of professional space.

Ashoka University, like several others lacks equitable representation of women in its faculty

We, on the other hand, still have a long way to go. Ashoka University has a noticeably skewed representation of gender in its departmental make-up. Take, for one, the Mathematics Department, which has a total of ten faculty members, inclusive of both visiting and permanent faculty, and only two women. Such an unequal, and arguably ‘unfair’, representation is reflected in the Philosophy and Political Science departments as well. Adding to this, the stereotypically ‘male’ disciplines of Computer Science and Physics do not have even one woman as a member of their faculty. Even when one considers the overall gender make-up of the faculty at Ashoka, one finds that only 39 percent of the faculty at Ashoka is female. So, the problem is not just of unequal gendered presence within traditionally ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ departments but also of the overarching skewed gender presence in the faculty body.

There’s a consequent gender-divide caused by this evident model of bias between the humanities and the non-humanities cohorts within Ashokan professionalism. There is a heavy onus, especially on Liberal Arts institutions like Ashoka, to undertake a progressive, administrative movement towards an egalitarian representation of gender in institutional faculties. Hopefully, this first step, will be followed by many other colleges and will go towards a social endeavour of shaping a new order of gender equality in the sphere of academia.

Now, it’s easy enough to question the very need for a balanced of both sexes in the Ashokan faculty — why does it matter? After all, professors are chosen for their merit, experience and candidature, crying ‘sexism’ for everything might not always be ‘right’. However, it is undeniable that this is a gendered world, an incredibly sexist country. The unwritten, seemingly universal socio-political dictum that governs a woman’s professional trajectory is hostile to say the very least. Every professional domain is so deeply ingrained with gender bias to an extent that it is difficult to distinguish, especially in a nuanced career field such as academia, when and where patriarchy comes into effect. Is it because of inherent sexism in the education industry that women and men opt for certain academic fields? Or is it because men and women opt for certain fields that a sexist narrative develops over time, causing a massive internalisation of gender roles? Either ways, it is undeniable that gender based discrimination is felt: gender is almost a subconscious determinant of who gets the job, where and of what.

Even though innate talent and disciplinary grasp are definitely paramount factors in qualifying an individual’s career application as successful, gender too often stands in the way as a barrier. For instance, women are associated with English more than with Mathematics. Or men find themselves affiliated more with economics than with home science. It is evident that gender creates academic fissures that induce further gender biases. Owing to the imposition of a heteronormative masculine narrative, men find themselves aiming for engineering colleges, as opposed to honing their literary skills. Women, on the other hand, are, one could say, as absent from engineering colleges as they are present in colleges offering humanities.

The academic divide is so prominent that, again, it becomes difficult to separate cause and effect from each other. Do women choose humanities while men gravitate towards science as their career field because they have been internalised to develop an affinity towards it? Or is it the other way around? As far as we know, it could be both.

Gender based stereotypes are inculcated in students’ minds from the time they become a part of the education system, that is, when they enter schools. For example, one of the most reiterated gender based trope is that ‘boys are good at mathematics while girls work hard to be better at it’. It’s these preconceived notions of a collective third societal eye that cements the stereotype of English, the Arts and History, for example — being more culturally-oriented, requiring an artistic sense and so, expected to be a woman’s forte in academia; Sciences, Mathematics are the former’s opposite, belonging to the category of the mind’s cold rationality, its logical half — automatically, associated to a man’s capability and not a woman’s.

This, of course reinforces the age-old, retrograde belief system of a female being sentimental, ruled by her heart and often, dismissed as ‘foolish’ whereas the man is perceived as being logical and consequently, is responsible for fleshing out and establishing a structure for a functional community.

The pursuit of a career in a discipline that isn’t typically considered ‘feminine’ is a choice that demands immense hard-work in that one not only has to resist the confining rubric of talent and capacity that the society has imposed but also deal with the repercussions of an ‘unconventional’ career path. This is to say that, when a student aspires to contribute towards an academic field of her or her own choice, their gender should not be the factor stopping them.

Equal distribution of faculty members in terms of gender ensures that a student has the proof of a well-functioning teaching body which makes a statement of its own in claiming a lens arguably free of gender bias. It’s never looked at closely as a pressing problem of the collegiate ethos of the faculty, but this evident absence of women in the ‘male’ disciplines leaves little to no room for her professional progress and limits her career’s experiential trajectory in its otherwise possible, wider opportunity. She shouldn’t be held back from receiving her well-deserved recognition, simply because of a cross-generational, transposed bias against women in career, academia and its disciplines — it’s not right and it’s certainly not true. Let’s remember that.

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