Why didn’t you take up Arts?

Yesterday, a colleague had dropped in to my office. Not to discuss work, but to talk about this blog of mine. She had recently come across my blog and to my surprise, had actually gone through each one of them ! Over a cup of tea, she offered some comments and suggestions, and then out of the blue asked me, “Sudha, why did you study science? Why didn’t you take up Arts?”

That one question was enough to transport me back to January 1992, a time when I was doing my M.Sc. in Geology. The first semester results has just been declared then and I was feeling quite pleased with myself as I had done very well. It was also the time to choose our optional subjects for the coming year. In my Department, a dissertation was an optional module in lieu of 4 papers, something that was preferred by most students. But since I was rather keen on a research experience, a dissertation it was for me, which meant that I had to find a teacher willing to guide me and supervise my work.

So off I went to Prof. A, who was a good teacher and seemed like someone who could be a good guide too. Prof. A first heard out my desire to do a dissertation and have him as my guide. Then he gave me a lecture on the rigours of field work, the dangers for a girl like me to be out in the field alone, how I would be better off opting for the 4 extra papers rather than doing research, how I had all the time in the world to do research, etc. He cited examples of women students who had left their research halfway unable to cope with field work and the problems it created later. He sent me off after telling me to think about what he had said.

I thought over it and next day, I went back to him more determined than ever before to do a dissertation. The same conversation ensued and this ping-pong game lasted for a few days till Prof. A burst out with impatience and irritation, ‘Why didn’t you take up Arts? Why Science and why Geology, in particular? Geology is not for girls.’ After ranting in a similar vein for some time, Prof. A finally refused to guide my dissertation.

Though very disappointed, I did not lose heart and approached the other professors in my department. All of them refused.

Their reason: My gender.

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