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Are girls less than equal to boys?

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Why, why, why do not girls fare well in entrance examinations? Why is there so insignificant representation of girls in premier institutions like the IIT?

When I raised this question to a group of young boys, pat came the answer:

“They are in the habit of learning by rote, or by-hearting or mugging up, whatever you call it. Therefore, they fare well in the +2 examination — but the same method will not see them through entrance examinations.”

“They can only sponge off a prescribed syllabus through extensive revisions and periodical examinations.”

One boy laughed and commented sarcastically, “O girls! Nobody occupies their upstairs. There is total power cut up there. They can rent out the portion to rats and bats.” (This boy can sure do with some load-shedding, I thought). No scientific study has concluded absolutely that boys are the sole possessor of grey matter.

But the fact remains that girls do not perform well in entrance examinations.

A century ago, Virginia Woolf reflected on why the Elizabethan age in England, the glorious age of English literature that inspired every other man to pen a song or sonnet, did not record a single female author?

In order to show that any woman born with a gift in the 16th century England would have gone crazy or shot herself or lived her life in isolation, Woolf created an imaginary sister for Shakespeare, equally talented and brilliant, with a taste for theatre. She conjured up a story of this adventurous woman who, like her brother, would have had to leave home and knock on the door of a drama company. But unlike as for her brother, the road to theatre and fame led this woman to disaster, the kind that would happen to any young woman running away from home, unescorted; and her life concluded ingloriously swinging at the end of a rope. Woolf championed a “room of one's own” that would give talented women the space and solitude to give expression to their art.

Nearly a century later, we can indeed brag about great female writers. But how about female scientists? We stand exactly where Woolf stood a hundred years ago. We can just count the names of female scientists on our fingers.

What must women have to make them great scientists?

It is certainly not due to a lack of intelligence. There was a time when there was no social sanction for women to proclaim their scientific discoveries or inventions. In the case of writers, there are numerous instances of women using male pseudonyms to get their work published. I would like to imagine, like Woolf, a Mrs. Archimedes:

One day, Archimedes returns home, spent, worried and desperate. His anxious wife asks him the reason. He tells her of the king's demand regarding the purity of gold. His wife asks him to leave the matter to her and catch up on his sleep. Relieved, Archimedes surrenders willingly to sleep. But the burden of anxiety weighs down on his wife. She resolves to take a long bath, as the bathroom is the only space she can call “a room of her own.” Suddenly, inspiration strikes her and the excited woman jumps out of her bathtub and runs out of the bathroom, shouting the famous words, “Eureka, Eureka...” Archimedes wakes up just in time to grab his wife and stop her from rushing out of the house in excitement. God forbid what would have ensued had she managed to do so. The wife bursts out her theory to her husband. Wishing to emulate the natural reaction to the solution, he strips and rushes out shouting. The rest is His-story.

Indeed, we can deconstruct many such science-related anecdotes and reinterpret the dictum, “the woman behind the man.”

But this still does not answer the question of entrance examinations.

Let me ask an uncomfortable question, I told the young boys. “Why are modern scientific initiatives and inspirations largely confined to the West, although we have a rich and vibrant tradition in the field?”

Pat came the reply: “That's because they have the space, fund, infrastructure, time, sanction, support....to focus on their work.”

Why not extend the same theory to girls! It is not enough for a girl aspiring to be a scientist to have a room of her own. What else does she require?

Let me take a verbal ride on Tagorian wings and sing:

Where the mind is without fear, where knowledge is free

Where academic disciplines are not attached with gender

Where social conventions do not plough down female aspirations

Where girls are not compelled to roost before sunset like fowl

Where free and healthy mingling of boys and girls are permitted

Where gender do not hinder exchange of ideas and discussions

Where girls are not buried in texts, guides and notes

Where family status and pride are also defined by girls

Into that kingdom, my mother, let the society arise!

Which reminds me of an anecdote associated with Nehru: When he was informed that he had a baby girl, Nehru, like all Indian fathers, was slightly crestfallen. But only for a minute. He quickly rose to the occasion, turned around, and exclaimed, “A tigress is born. I shall bring her up like a tigress.” Indeed, a tigress she became! If you choose to bring up your daughter like a donkey destined to bear the burden of outdated social conventions, she will grow up to be one!

(joyceejames@gmail.com)

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Printable version | Dec 15, 2019 12:40:31 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/are-girls-less-than-equal-to-boys/article3315385.ece

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