Opinion: (Wo)Men in Power

The year 2018 proudly claimed much feministic progress when Aafreen Mody and Ankitha Hansda were elected as the President and Vice President of St. Joseph’s College (Autonomous), Bangalore. It was lauded as the first step. Fast forward to college student council elections for 2020, we have a majority of female office holders and one male as the Treasurer of the college. Students and teachers have been applauded for making such a progressive decision.

Only one question remains – How progressive is the newly elected female majority council?

Before any college candidate rises to power, there is one test that voters can use to determine their eligibility – How they lead their campaigning team.

So while our female candidates stood in front, being the face, who ran all the backhand operations? The men.

College elections, for the most part, tend to be very male oriented. Men take the decisions, form the strategies, even if it is a woman contesting. “Perhaps it’s just the things that they’re able to do, the things that they’re willing to do, you know, the men- crafty strategies, the tactics- these do play a significant role in any election, big or small, and it’s something that I’ve not seen any woman come up with. Perhaps it’s that they’ve not had the right amount of experience, but the women have done quite a bit too, to help out in campaigning, that shouldn’t be taken as insignificant.” Says Shruti Lal, 2020-21 President of the SJC Student council.

Angeline Katherina, also a current member of the Student council seems to agree with the view, “If I look at my election process, that statement is true in a way. Partially because most of the people I knew and who I thought could help me more than the others were predominantly male. Our elections require a lot of strategies and planning. Though I had made a lot of decisions…a lot of advice was given by a lot of my male friends, since they had participated in the elections before and knew how to go about it.”

The belief that women can’t do as much seems to have become a legitimate justification, which eventually makes ‘lack of experience’ seem like an accepted explanation. How will women get any experience, if the women who make it to the top don’t give them a chance? There is no glass ceiling here, because there seems to be no entry into the building to begin with, there is just a toxic loop of sorts.

“Women tend to assume that men do better solely because they’re more represented in the political front. But it’s far from true. Women should be given the opportunity to state their strategies. Unfortunately due to the bias against their capabilities, it is assumed that women wouldn’t want to help out or ‘there’s no point in asking help from someone who’s not active in the field’ and are shunned further” says Maha Aslam, who was actively involved in planning campaigns for Shruti Lal.

Few argue, that there was no such gender bias, that the current office bearers did seek advice from female office bearers of previous years who were still in Bangalore. Further conversation revealed that the questions asked were only regarding clothing, and the advice received was to go ‘traditional’ as it is more ‘appealing’.

Why is this issue not spoken of more often? Because it is systemic. Women working at the back end are always encouraged to come up with ideas for campaigning. This, to them, is empowerment enough. They are convinced that they have a voice. The disparity only discloses itself when they approach their candidate with their ideas and the reply heard is, “I will ask xyz (a senior male) and let you know.” There is some unspoken hierarchy, where even if the woman is given power, they prefer to run their decisions by a male. Whereas men for the most part, have complete authority and make their own decisions.

If the woman in power does not believe in her own authority, how will others acknowledge it? Once people are convinced that she is powerless, she will no longer command respect. Thus the vicious chain of, ‘women can’t be leaders’ restarts.

Over the years, our college has seen a handful of women, who ran their own campaigns, and a few who managed campaigns for others. Satyajeet Patra, a third year BA IES student, who takes active part in elections and helping candidates every year, tells me about Tejaswini, who was the General Secretary 2016-17 and the Vice President 2017-18. He also remembers Ashlin, who handled the campaign of two candidates in 2016-17. “In my 4 years of college I have seen a lot of female candidates and supporters who have played a major role in the elections” but is two or three women really that many? It is only a start.  

So is this success really the success of women? The women in power don’t believe in the power of women, so how will they rely on each other? How will they act together and pass unanimous decisions? Will they depend on the one man present?

Should the current union be lauded due to its female majority? Perhaps. But more than anything, this is proof that our alleged feminism needs further polishing- it cannot be restricted to mere tokenism.