Disillusioned rant on Education.

Much has been said and done about the hurried implementation of the FYUP which censured criticism and participation at various levels of its design. The dangers of unilateral decision making which isn’t rights’ based can be legitimately critiqued at many levels. But lately, what I’ve found most disturbing is what I’m being taught, the everyday classroom and the power dynamics of age which get played out in the classroom. This is especially true of the Indian Education System where sycophancy for a little extra credit is alright, where criticizing teachers is being “too big for our boots”.

Just a few months ago I wrote this following a deeply disturbing class. Thought I’d put this piece up, seeing that it was a product of slightly incoherent, but hurried and impassioned writing of 10 minutes. Suffice to say, no good came off it. But that’s a story for another time.

I think I was pretty disillusioned by the emphasis on objectivity and linearity in our department. It’s safe to say that it reached a new peak today when I attended the CAD (Child and Adolescent Development)  lecture on Gender and Identities.

The class got me thinking as to what we are teaching our students and justifying in the name of “research evidence”. It is extremely important to recognize that psychology can and is one of the fundamental forces that do not recognize people who do not fit into neat little boxes that are easy to acknowledge. I find it disenchanting, I find it disturbing, and I feel deeply sad that I have been studying in this department which perpetuates these values.

In today’s class, 40 young women were taught that if not enough androgens are produced; you “aren’t enough of a man”. It was also taught that “not conforming by your sex identity, leads to suicide. You should not question biology.” Further, it was said that when we’re filling formal documentation forms, it is important to fill “sex” instead of “gender” as gender is socially constructed. I am of the opinion that that is precisely why we should put in gender- to reclaim and label your own personal identity in an empowering way.

I find it scary that this piece of information was given out to 40 women as “facts”. I find it even more disturbing that when I raised my hand to question these, I was not heard. This is not why I joined this department. I thought that the department of Psychology at LSR prided itself on inculcating values of diversity, choice and critical thinking and where research evidence is to be questioned, not used as an excuse to perpetuate discrimination and violence.

In an educational set up, making such statements leads to pushing people who might already be facing such issues viz. a viz. their identities. You are creating an environment where being different is not okay and promoting hatred for people who aren’t “normal”. The whole point of education is creating safe spaces where young people can explore dilemmas about their identities. I do not think LSR is a safe space to do this anymore.

Evidence-based, non-judgemental curricula are the key to empowering young women who go out and question these values in the outside space. By teaching this, you are creating violent societies where people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities face violence in many forms.

I believe this is not just an issue of one class. I think the department has given me a lot and it is also important to question this. I think we have excellent faculty who are mindful of these politics.

My aim is also not to offer a critique of the discipline as whole. I do not assume to know enough to do this. But I strongly believe that this is not a question of one class and a few lines loosely spoken. I would urge the faculty to look into how curricula are structured and taught and how this impacts young people. I would urge the faculty to take a follow-up class to present the alternate views on the issue as well.

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On Why The Internet Is Not An Engendered Space.

The internet is hardly an equal space. Nor is it apolitical. The internet has opinions. The sheer variety of these might lull you into thinking that diversity here might actually be considered desirable. However, the fact is, everything on the internet is governed by normative notions of acceptable information and conduct. One only needs to type in “sex work” or “porn” on Google search to find that the suggestions will mysteriously cease to appear.

The internet is sexist. It discriminates. It perpetuates stereotypes. That it uses censorship as a means to perpetuate normative notions which are invariably patriarchal is clear. The editors on Wikipedia for instance, had moved women, from the “American Novelists” category to the “American Women Novelists” subcategory. According to Amanda Filipacchi, who first broke this story; the intention was to “…to create a list of “American Novelists” on Wikipedia that is made up almost entirely of men.”  Following this, Deanna Zandt brought up crucial pitfalls of labelling spaces like Wikipedia as sexist as they can be edited by anyone. She wrote an impassioned article titled “Yes Wikipedia is sexist—that’s why it needs you” which urges people to warm up to technology and gives out neat little guidelines on how-to-edit on Wikipedia.

However, this is easier said than done because the problem has deeper roots. An important thing to consider is the misogyny rampant in social interaction on the internet. Like public spaces, some places on the internet are inarguably hostile towards women. This is manifested in humour, insults and even threats. A case in point is when the admin of a popular page on Facebook called “I fucking love science” faced an onslaught misogynistic slur when the followers found out she was a woman. The people who commented couldn’t believe that a woman could run an informational page on science! Many comments which are meant to be in jest betray a deep rooted culture of misogyny. For instance, on Troll Tennis- a humorous page about Tennis- pictures of Serena Williams are greeted with slurs of “Serena the man” or “Serena the eunuch”.

A study conducted by Plan (an international non-profit organization working to empower women and children) in 2010 also highlights the dark side of cyberspace. It argues that the internet currently is not a space for opportunity but exploitation for young girls. In the report “Because I am a Girl- The state of the world’s girls in 2010”, these exploitations are seen both as a result of interaction with strangers as well as peer to peer sexual harassment.

Stereotypically too, women are seen as being “techno-challenged” and technology is seen as something only men would be interested in or would be adept at.

A crucial question to ask then is- if the access to spaces on the internet is fundamentally unequal, then how can women embrace technology and view the internet as empowering?

An equally problematic practice is that of selective censorship. MotherWise parenting is a page on Facebook which is run by women who are mothers. It is a forum to discuss evidence-based parenting and the rights of children. When the admin of this page posted an anatomical diagram of genitals with the intention of disseminating information about women’s bodies, Facebook removed the content saying it was “objectionable”. In response to this, the admin wrote “An Open Letter to Facebook” where she cited the existence of many pages like ‘Big Boobs and sex’, ‘Sexy asses’ and said, “I am wondering why pictures of women stay up if it is visually stimulating to men, but a cartoon drawing that will help women empower themselves and gain knowledge is considered pornographic, and gets removed? I am asking you to please remove the ban from my profile. I do not feel that it violated any terms, and frankly I think you are being completely unreasonable and hypocritical.”

http://motherwiselife.org/2013/03/11/an-open-letter-to-facebook/

While the critique against sexual objectification need not be accepted without question, the larger issues of selective censorship remain perplexing. Is the internet not open to giving out scientific unbiased information about bodies which could potentially empower people? It seems not.

On the up-side, worth consideration is the increase in internet campaigns which question this gendered access to online spaces and turn it on its head by dramatically altering the nature and scope of internet and technology. For example, LinuxChix is a community for women who like Linux and for anyone who wants to support women in computing. Another, the Internet Democracy Project seeks to unearth both the changes wrought by technology to democracy-as-we-know-it and the implications of these changes. Tactical Technology collective is an organization dedicated to the use of information in activism by using data, design and technology in campaigning.

http://www.linuxchix.org/about-linuxchix.html

http://www.internetdemocracy.in/

https://www.tacticaltech.org/

Other examples of online activism include the hugely successful campaigns GotStared.At , Change.Org and LoveMatters. You can read more about them here:

https://www.facebook.com/gotstared?fref=ts

http://www.change.org/en-IN

http://www.lovematters.info/

These initiatives are doing the crucial job of rethinking and restructuring online spaces. But larger issues of unequal access to online spaces for women need to be raised and addressed both at an individual and the collective level. It begins by accepting that the internet isn’t as engendered a space as you might think.

Turning to blogging!

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It is the summer of 2013 and I’m starting out as a blogging novice.

I’m not a poet. I’m not an artist. But I do believe you don’t need to be either to appreciate windows and the views they have to offer. My window gives a specific view of trails, travel tales and exploring the world through the feminist lens.  The plain is to put out snapshots into issues and stories that I feel passionate about.

Who am I? I’m your average super-critical student who loves books. I’m a self-proclaimed activist. 😛

I think this little view from the window is going to eclectic. I hope its worth it.