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Woe Is Me! “The Sexism at My College Is Impacting My Mental Health. How Do I Navigate This?”

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Apr 10, 2022

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Image Credit: Johny Mera Naam (1970)

Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.


I study in an engineering college where girls and boys speaking to each other is seen as a “sin” one should refrain from committing. Those goons in the name of floor supervisors still continue to call out girls in public for talking to boys. The worst part is they don’t call out the boys; they always call out the girls — even if all we are discussing with our male classmates is academics. Plus, sexism is so rampant that this one time the bus drivers refused to drop off girls a few stops ahead, or even earlier, than the stipulated destination. At other times, supervisors stand at the gate and call on girls who wear leggings to college. I know this might sound very silly and petty, but this sexism has impacted my mental health a lot. I am not able to recover from it.”

— Lessons on Misogyny

RN: This is unfortunately a problem that plagues most Indian universities — it’s exhausting and wears more people down in the name of protection. But if you have kindred spirits facing the same kind of weariness, maybe it’s time to figure out strategies to fight this collectively. It’s happened before and it has worked — where holding town halls, discussions, inviting experts, or simply protesting when all else fails has moved university administrators to change at least some of their draconian policies. Instituting a committee to air these issues out and making a case to administrators for more freedom is another strategy. You can try connecting with other university students to see how they did it and exchange ideas — even if the fight is difficult, it may feel empowering to just try anyway, sticking it to the man and all. Good luck! 

AS: I am feeling frustrated just reading this, so I can’t imagine just how annoying this reality must be to live in. And also, I don’t think this is silly or petty AT ALL, so please don’t let anyone trivialize it for you. One thing that might help is talking to other women in your college, since they might also be on the receiving end of this sexism. Speaking to them might help you find a group of like-minded individuals with whom you can vent (and organize your resistance!) By the sound of things, I don’t think there’s much hope in approaching your university to correct stuff from their end. But if you think there is, maybe you could reach out to your administration with a complaint or letter, voicing your concerns. If this doesn’t work (which I doubt it will), you could consider taking things to the internet — start a campaign page, or a Twitter storm, perhaps? All this applies only if you feel charged and driven enough to rebel openly. Know that solving sexism, and teaching others a ‘lesson’ is not your burden or crusade, especially if it takes a toll on your mental health. I think it is also perfectly okay to do nothing but find a mechanism for the time being, get your degree and get the hell out. 

PB: Hey, hi, hello! I’m sure this must be very difficult — it’s not silly or petty at all. As you grow up you realize the world is much worse than we think it is — there’s subtle sexism, misogyny, and ridiculous stereotypes everywhere. However, colleges and educational institutions do it in such a blatant way that always affects you more — they’re not even ashamed of it. They present it as a fact of life, and always say “women must get used to this, this is how life is” — while simultaneously doing nothing to create spaces that prevent it from happening. They forget that a college is supposed to be a safe haven from the cruelties of the world, a place of enlightenment that is supposed to teach people to overthrow these systems, not perpetuate them.

There are two ways you could try to navigate this — both difficult in different ways. You could either try to bring the women of your college together, and try to petition and protest for real change — a change that holds your faculty and administration accountable. Now that’s a TALL task, but I’ve seen people bring change through grit and determination. 

The other way is to keep your head down and survive. People might call this the “coward’s option,” but not everyone has the societal or cultural option to protest. Family pressure, peer pressure, academic pressure — these are real pushbacks that can hurt a person’s mental health and desire to bring about change. I urge you to consider all of this if you choose the first option.

I’m afraid I have only platitudes to give on the mental health side of it — but I have seen the world get better, through stories and memories. I have decided to be optimistic and hope — hope for a better tomorrow. The tortoise that is society will catch up one day. Until then, I guess, the hare must not take a break.

DR: I’m so sorry to hear this is the reality you’re being forced to navigate everyday — it’s cruel, unfair, and neither you nor your female batchmates deserve to be treated this way. But, unfortunately, what you’ve voiced is the plight of millions of college students across the country. That doesn’t, of course, mean you should learn to live with it. It, however, means that bringing change is not going to be a quick, easy process.

If you can find equally livid comrades among your college-mates, then civil, in-person protests would be an option to achieve that end. A social media exposé of your college’s sexist regime is yet another option — one that might force them to act on the face of imminent threat to their reputation. However, before you embark on the route to being a changemaker, know that it can take a toll on your mental health too — and make an informed choice about how you want to proceed.

Remember: if you don’t have the resources to actively tackle the beast of sexism plaguing your college, passive resistance is an option too — because, above all, what you do owe yourself is self-preservation. I want to just wish this away for you, but since that’s impossible, all I can hope for is that you’re able to decide what’s best for you.

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Written By The Swaddle Team

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