A couple of days ago, while wrapping up work, I scrolled through my Twitter timeline and chanced upon a tweet advertising a quiz. I retweeted that, casually mentioning how quizzes exclude women – and predictably enough spent the next few hours defending myself and discussing patriarchy.
While some tweeters were rude and dismissive, there were also enough people who were supportive of my perspective, and wanted to engage on this point. Over the last few days, such conversations have continued and there have been many discussions about whether the largely middle-class, urbanised, anglicised Indian quizzing scene really has a toxic culture problem.
It’s obvious to anyone who quizzes in India, at any level, that there are overwhelmingly more male than female participants. Quizmasters are also predominantly male, and I can’t recall a single famous female quizmaster off the top of my head. Predictably, the last few years of some of India’s largest quizzes have had all-male finals, including the quizmaster (some images of the finals at the Landmark quiz from 2013 and 2014 serve to buttress this point). To any observer, this state of affairs begs the question “Why aren’t there more women who quiz” and “If there’s something (culture/logistics) keeping them out, how can we fix it?”
Despite numerous women quizzers making the point that they had been subject to condescension, discomfort and bad behaviour at quizzes, it was difficult to readily find takers for the point of view that quizzing had a culture problem. The conversation largely remained stuck on the issue of whether there really was any culture problem at all, and if yes, then why should quizzing be held responsible instead of patriarchy generally. Here’s a sample of some of the responses received:
Quizzing NEVER specifically excluded women.
Dont blame quizzing, blame patriarchy.
Quizzing doesn’t interest women because they don’t have enough leisure time /because they care more about feminine activities.
Quizzing is also dominated by the upper-caste, why don’t you ask how many Dalits quiz?
Quizzers are not sexist.
Quizzing is neutral, and so you can’t call the activity patriarchal.
I know women quizzers - they don’t think its sexist.
I’m a woman quizzer and women in my college were too busy studying or chasing men to quiz.
What about cooking/ballet dancing, men are not dominant in those areas, would you still say that’s an issue too?
Most of these
responses missed the emphasis on understanding why women don’t participate in
quizzing. If most forms of group activity borrow from dominant cultural norms,
then to the extent they exclude non-dominant groups, we should be able to agree
that there are structural issues which need to be dismantled to promote
diversity. This logic should apply equally to quizzing – whose culture and
participants contribute to such exclusion. Further, we’re well beyond talking
about why manels, or all-male panels, are problematic, and why diversity is
always better, so it makes little sense to have a first-principles discussion
on the way in which the patriarchy works to endorse and legitimise heteronormativity.
In my opinion, there are three reasons why quizzing has a pipeline (not enough entrants) as well as a trapdoor problem (exit where others continue).
1. No ready access to a network: Most women, including myself, have talked about how it’s difficult to find teammates – men team up with other men quite easily, while the number of women who continue to quiz as they move from school to college dwindles. Mixed teams remain a rarity, either because of restrictions from admin, or because societal norms make it likely that one sticks to one’s own gender. As a result, fewer women have access to a network that passes on questions, information, and makes quizzing such a social and fun activity.
2. No robust effort to increase diversity: Despite the near-complete absence of female participants, quizzes continue to resist making robust efforts to increase diversity. Simply calling for more female participants, or inviting them isn’t helpful, as the few women who do show up find it stressful and bewildering and are condescended to, hit on, or dismissed. Most rarely have any fun as a result.
3. No consideration for logistics and atmosphere: Questions in quizzes can be inappropriate and insensitive to female participants, especially when images used tend to reinforce gendered stereotypes of women’s bodies. Also, many quizzers point out that events held late in the day, with little consideration for transport, lighting or safety have an impact on reducing participation.
To fix some of these issues, organisers can begin by setting targets for diversity, encouraging female quizmasters, and inviting and helping women find teammates. From mandating mixed teams, to ensuring no-harassment codes are adopted at quizzes, to gender-auditing questions there are numerous other ways in which quizzes can improve their diversity.
It was disappointing that except two quizmasters who said they would gender-audit their questions, none of the quizmasters or quizzers who engaged on these issues made any actual pledges to take action. I’m calling on the quiz groups and quizmasters in India to take note, and begin conversations on these issues. Enough of them definitely care about making quizzes an exciting, fun and safe space for all genders, so let’s get the culture-diversity connect right.