This article was written by Spadika Jayraj (Batch of 2016) and Radhika Goyal (2019).
Every year, at NLSIU’s Convocation, a gold medal is handed out to the best graduating Girl Student of the year. This is in addition to the medals handed out to the top ranked students. This affirmative action medal is a vestige of a time when women were scarcely even seen on the rolls in higher education, let alone seen performing exceedingly well. While most avenues remain a ‘Man’s World’ even today, we thought it is worth asking – is academic performance at NLS still correlated to having the coveted Y chromosome?
The Hard Facts
A recent Census of the undergraduate population conducted by a team at NLS strongly indicates that it is not the case. The data indicates that women overwhelmingly outperform men in academics- 72% of all 6 pointers in NLS currently are women while almost 70% of all students with CGPA below 4 are men. These results are not surprising – in fact, studies conducted across the world, both among schools and college students are consistent in this observation. Women, who were not allowed an education some 100 years ago, are now doing better than men. Now even though this is finally a stereotype we can get behind, unlike ‘the wheels’ because we can’t drive, there is still a need to examine this connection especially in an Indian context where it has rarely been attempted before. So we did what Spadika does best. We did a survey.
We hypothesized that this polarization of grades is probably because women work harder for exams, submit projects on time and are more likely to be attentive and take notes in class. And the results seemed to suggest the same. Of the 145 undergraduate students (79 women and 66 men) who filled the survey, more than 70% of the women said they submit projects on time, while less than half of the men said they do the same. As one male student interviewed put it, “It’s one day after deadline and I’ve done zero words in both projects.” There were also zero women who said they submit projects on last-last day (compared to 10% of men). The same trend exists with studying for exams and taking notes in class where women display a lot more diligence than men. Moreover, this is something they’ve carried on from their school life, where a much larger number of women claim to have been toppers in school as well. So what drives them to work so hard and take academics more seriously?
Playing it safe
For many it’s just the way they’ve been brought up. As Ritika Ajitsaria, a third year student says, “Girls are just taught to be more careful and are less prone to taking risks because of the upbringing they have.” This is a common sentiment where women feel that they have more social pressure to be ‘proper’ and disciplined which contributes to their approach towards academics. Gopika Murthy, a top-ranked student from the fifth year says, “When girls are brought up being told that they must be responsible, sincere and think of the consequences of all of their actions, it seeps into all aspects, including academics. I learnt early on that I was better at academics more than in other things, and to remain good at it, I work hard.” This pressure to perform is not just self-imposed; parents tend to place greater importance on the academic performance of girls as well. On a scale of 1-5, a significantly higher number of women claimed that academic performance is highly (4-5) important to their parents. These results appear counter-intuitive, because one would expect that in a patriarchal society, the academic performance of future baby-makers should not matter much. Perhaps, for parents whose children are studying at an infamously ‘liberal’ university far away from home, expecting academic performance is merely another form of making their children conform and ‘behave’.
However, an even more telling reason behind the difference in grades seems to be the tendency for women to be risk averse. Studies conducted all over the world have been conclusive in showing that women are generally less likely to take risks, probably due to the consequences being much worse for them. And the opposite also rings true. A student, who does not wish to be named, attributes his taking such risks for the adrenaline rush that he gets when he knows that he needs to submit a project in the next three hours. Certainly, upbringing has a lot to do with this, but it also suggests that there is generally more at stake for women for them to give everything up for a shot of adrenaline. For many women, maybe more so in India, a higher education might still not be an entitlement, and they still have to fight to get here. “I’ve definitely had to face more obstacles to come here,” says Ritika, “In terms of leaving the city, going to places to give entrance exams, going to coaching centers.” This is reiterated by an observation made by Mohnish Mathew, a second year student, who recalls, how some brilliant girls in his batch back in school were all sent to a particular college in the same city because their parents didn’t want them to leave even though quite a few of them were from affluent families. “They could have done excellent things at places like Shriram (SRCC), they got the percentage, they got the 98, but their parents didn’t really encourage them.” So for women who do make it, college might not be something they can take for granted.
For other women, this need to prove themselves goes into fighting societal expectations. Madhavi Singh, the designated note taker for nearly two years in a row now, acknowledges that somewhere in the back of her mind she wants to ensure that ten-fifteen years down the line, her husband should not be in the position to tell her to give up her job to take care of a baby. In society, there are still skewed expectations from women to sacrifice their careers for their children, a pressure it is safe to say no man faces. “I don’t want to be in a position where I’m working harder than most people in my batch and fifteen years later in an alumni meet they are ahead of me because I was busy for three years taking care of my children.” She admits to wondering sometimes why she’s working so hard if at the end of the day she’s expected to give up her career after marriage. “It’s my nightmare,” she adds. She’s not alone in harbouring this fear. For other women, it might be the desire to establish themselves before they are expected to settle-down, or to ensure that they are doing well enough that marriage is not the only alternative available to them.
What Madhavi also seems to imply is that it is much easier for men to build successful careers than it is for women. As one student puts it, “Guys have male role models in college and outside who have succeeded despite being bad at academics.” An anonymous fifth year student says, “I grew up with the firm belief that there are no limits on what I can achieve, and this is something I still believe. Perhaps this contributes to me slacking off with respect to projects and exams more than others.” Interestingly, this student is a woman which makes it clear that women aren’t immune to developing such a sense of entitlement and it has more to do with how one has been socialized. However, as things stand now, a variety of reasons stand in the way of women in general feeling as entitled to success as men, such as expectations imposed by families,the presence of the glass ceiling and fewer career interruptions for men.
Chill scenes in MHOR
Does this sense of entitlement translate only to slacking off in the realm of academics? The data seems to suggest so. On average, more men than women participate in moots and debates and sports. Moreover, a casual glance at the Debate Noticeboard Facebook group reveals that men spend more time practicing their debating than women. We see more men than women wanting to practice a few days before project submissions or a week before exams. Of the people surveyed, more men also claim to privilege extra curricular activities even at the expense of academics. Therefore, clearly, for more men it is not aversion to hard work in general but just towards academics.
Several respondents were also of the opinion that the environment in the MHOR needs to be taken into account. On a scale of 5, a significantly higher number of the women surveyed rated their hostel’s conduciveness to studying at 4 or 5 as compared to men. This is not just due to the higher access to a variety of ‘distractions’ but also to attitudes passed down through seniors and peers creating the pervasive notion of Chill. Chill, which has been described as a “garbage virtue which will destroy the species” requires you to be laid back, not care too much about stuff lest you look uncool, and start your projects as late as you can so you can boast about it later. Perhaps such attitudes are also found among women, but for women, as the data indicates there is also higher peer pressure to perform well in academics which perhaps functions as the opposite of Chill.
Before you say “Not all men…,” we will say it ourselves: Not all men submit projects on last last day (almost 50% of our male respondents said they submit on time), not all men start studying the night before the exam (the only respondent who said he started studying more than 14 days before the exam was male), not all men subscribe to the ideal of Chill. We also acknowledge that our conclusions can possibly be disproved with more data. However, looking at the worldwide trend of women outperforming men in academics, we appeal to the Vice-Chancellor to institute a Best Male Student award because in the academic rat race, men are the real victims.