After scoring a perfect 100% in psychology, Shivain Vaidialingam couldn't apply to Delhi University (DU) to study the subject further. While several reputed women's colleges offered the subject, the only co-ed institutes that had a psychology department did not feature in any DU list of reckoning for a student of his academic calibre. Shivain had to either leave the city or give up his dream. Well, he is now a lawyer.
Stereotypes damage men as well as women. Even as we fight them in society and professional set-ups in a deliberate manner, are our universities perpetuating them—even in 2017?
[T]he first step is for our reputed public universities to stop coming in the way of young men choosing to study psychology or any other "feminised" courses like nursing or home science.
Delhi University received 71,247 applications for psychology honours this year. However, only 462 seats are on offer across 10 colleges, of which seven admit only women. If boys want to pursue this subject in a college of good standing, they must give up their aspiration of studying at DU. A couple of private universities offer alternatives now, but why is Delhi's public university system so bound by stereotypes? Or are we, in fact, victims of a larger epidemic?
In the United States, until the 1970s, women made up just over 20% of PhD recipients in psychology, according to the National Research Council. In 2005, however, this number rose to 72% (APA). Similar trends can be observed in nursing, public administration and education. What might explain this substantial skew?
The first and most obvious reason, perhaps, is the relatively lower salaries associated with these professions. Men on the lookout for lucrative careers abandoned psychology as an area of study, and women started to fill this gap. Our familiarity with the gender wage gap i.e. the trend where women are paid 25% less than their men counterparts, tells us that over a period of time, salaries would have dipped even further in psychology-related professions—the proverbial vicious circle. This makes the field even less "appropriate" for men, in turn leading to situations like the one in Delhi University.
The second ties in to the nature versus nurture debate. Do women sign up for psychology because they see themselves as more empathetic and hence more suited to the profession? Is demand from women driving the university supply?
Finally, do women choose this profession because it provides flexibility in terms of work hours and pressure? The belief that women are the only ones looking for flexibility in their professional lives plays into yet another stereotype.
The benefits of diversity are as critical in the classroom as they are in the workplace. In areas influenced by psychology, the absence of men brings along even more exaggerated risks.
For young men like Shivain, this is but an unfortunate event in their life. But is that all it is, or is it something larger—perhaps a matter for decision-makers to worry about?
We believe it is. Because, whatever be the reasons, we as a society stand to lose. The benefits of diversity are as critical in the classroom as they are in the workplace. In areas influenced by psychology, the absence of men brings along even more exaggerated risks.
Perhaps the first step is for our reputed public universities to stop coming in the way of young men choosing to study psychology or any other "feminised" courses like nursing or home science. It is, after all, 2017.
For those of us determined to smash stereotypes, if this isn't a problem to be solved immediately, we don't know what is.
Anuradha Das Mathur with Mohini Gupta
Anuradha is the Founding Dean of the Vedica Scholars Programme for Women. A Yale Greenberg World Fellow 2016, she was recognised as one of India's 100 women achievers by the President of India.
Mohini is Programme Lead at the Vedica Scholars Programme for Women. Both authors are committed to creating a cadre of highly successful women professionals for the 21st century through their unique, all-women's post-graduate programme in management practice.