Thinking like a feminist

Ardra Manasi May 27, 2011

Image Credit Flickr @ seeminglee


Ever since my childhood days, I have been grappling with the idea of ‘gender.’ Why was my ‘coming of age’ celebrated with so much pomp and show when in reality it brought only embarrassment to me as a little girl? Why did my grandma ask me to speak softly when my brother was granted all rights to shrill and rejoice? Why did she ask me to dress modestly to avert ‘unwanted looks from men’? These were perhaps the essential ingredients of a strict gender socialisation that I underwent and I began to reconcile with the fact that it was common to any girl of my age to go through the same travail.As an ardent student of Bharatanatyam, the Indian classical dance form, I was curious to why femininity was always represented in terms of "longing, hesitation, sorrow, loneliness, anxiety, or fear.”Why couldn’t the nayika act more courageously in facing the death of her husband or her lover’s parting ?I often used to feel proud about the fact that I came from a matrilineal community called Nairs in Kerala where the ‘rule of the mother’ is supposed to dominate. But I still wonder how as a woman from such a community, I was more empowered than girls of any other castes in my locality. My liberal minded dad taught me that I need to be assertive and could never be ready for any compromises when it came to education. Even my well educated and employed mom (to strictly speak in terms of proxies for women’s empowerment) used to lament at times about what my plight would had been if my father/grandfather was opposed to the idea of sending me to another state, where I supposedly received the best of education. All this perhaps propelled in me an inclination towards the field of gender studies and I dream of a research career in the same.

Four years of college life at a premier institute in India. The air of being addressed now as a ‘young lady.’ A stark reminder that I am no more a ‘girl.’ During light hearted conversations in coffee shops and restaurants which bear the latent potential to ignite discussions ranging from anything personal to political over a cup of tea or coffee, I find my friends addressing me a ‘feminist.’ I find myself raising my eye-brows half-believingly and then skilfully refuting and evading the same with a shrewd answer- “For me, feminism is a fluid idea.” I move in and out of it anytime I wish to. Let me elucidate it here.

On careful retrospection, I found myself to be constantly engaging in the politics of feminism but it was mainly through the medium of writing (which I was comfortable with). The news reports on gross human right violations against women in the armed conflict zones of Sri Lanka and Rwanda, the injustice meted out to poor, unwed mothers in the tribal land of Attapady where I worked as an intern or a case of child marriage in Natham, Tamil Nadu where I worked as a student volunteer from IIT Madras stirred me. I constantly tried engaging with these issues through my writings. It was rather the product of my helplessness in having to bring about a change in the lives of the victims. Conference papers and few snippets of creative writing were born. I am not an avaricious writer. Neither am I sure about what impact or ‘statistical significance’ my writings could make. Still, I was happy that I engaged with the same, though on a micro scale.

I am someone who adheres to the view that there should be a schism between private and public life (unlike a radical feminist view which may equate personal to political).At times, I tend to derive a mysterious, sacrificial joy from submissiveness and dependence before a few so called male cult figures I have encountered in my life, be it my father, brother or a dear friend. It has often proved to be an emotionally satiating exercise as I knew that they always acted in my interest and the underlying force was affection, care or concern. One can perhaps argue that by internalising such norms of male authority and dependence (though occasionally), I am engaging in the art of ‘Patriarchal Bargain.’ These of course present a contradictory scenario but can undoubtedly explain what I termed as fluidity when it came to my idea of feminism. But another paradox still persists. Even while I think and write like a feminist, I can sense my strong antipathy towards the sheer title of a ‘feminist.’ I was pondering over it when I accidentally came across a well written article by renowned writer C.S. Chandrika in Mathrubhumi. It was pertaining to women’s mobility and related feminist discourses in Kerala. She spoke about how women activists in Kerala who raise women’s issues today often take refuge under the anticipatory bail of initially stating that they are not feminists. She traces an answer for this tendency by throwing light on the rise of feminist movement in Kerala during 1980s .The feminists in 1980s were given abominable labels like ‘unfeminine’, ‘anti-men’, ‘whores’ and ‘immoral’ and these were bestowed by men. Did these stereotypes which constitute ‘good’ and ‘bad’ woman unconsciously seep into my perception of feminism? Societal censure and ostracism is often a strong dictating force in one’s life. This takes me back to a train journey this New Year. I was traveling alone from Kerala to Tamil Nadu for a new semester at IIT after the brief luxury of my winter vacation. That was a rare phenomenon in my case as I always had a bunch of friends who accompanied me during the to and fro journeys. Apart from the unadulterated privacy that may dwindle upon me, it is ‘practically unsafe for a woman’ to precisely quote my friend, who proudly addresses himself as a ‘Male Chauvinist.’ I could feel the coercion and monotony of having to tolerate a humid, sweaty, cigarette filled ambience in a crowded compartment. My arrival at the Chennai Central Station at around 4 AM brought forth a new set of observations. For a second, I longed for traces of sindoor in the parting of my hair. Will it have the potential to attenuate the intensity of desirous looks emanating from male gazes all around me? May be or may not be. A feeling of insecurity crept in. I had to wait till about 7 A.M in the station as advised my overprotective parents and friends as travelling alone in the wee hours when it is still dark can make me prone to an act of sexual violence. What made me long for those traces of Sindoor? Was it a product of my gender socialisation under the patronage of a patriarchal society which taught me that sindoor guaranteed security?

I began to wonder what Sindoor(Vermillion worn in the parting of the hair by married woman in India) signified in the life of a woman. To my mom, it signified a’ good natured and chaste woman.’ For the old, dark skinned lady who ran a flower shop by the street side in Chennai, it was the ‘celebration of true womanhood.’ For few married, women researcher scholars at IIT, it signified the’ feeling of security’ and censure from ‘unwanted, desirous looks from strangers or their male counterparts.’ To the sophisticated, English speaking girl of the IT park, it ‘was more of tradition’ which intervened with modernity, disadvantaging her and pushing her into precincts of institutionalised norms of gender. In most of these cases, it is a clear cut instance of ‘sexualising safety.’ The women tend to feel more protected in the eyes of both family as well as community but the underlying presupposition is that ‘women’s sexuality is something which needs to be tamed and controlled.’ But I was wondering as to what it signified for the woman from the red street who sold her flesh to feed her children. It was perhaps a bargain between livelihood and societal censure.

Coming back to the original premises, I believe that feminism has a politics of its own, especially for achieving the egalitarian goals of rights and justice. The existing state of women’s marginalisation in various domains of public and private life can act as the right substratum for engendering an awakening towards individual or collective mobilisation. I have often seen people bringing the argument for equality into the picture. Will equality always help? Men and Women are different. Their needs are different. I may demand equality with respect to the right to vote but what about the right to health? It is equity or rather fairness which matters there. For example, men and women in their respective reproductive age groups may have distinct health and nutritional needs. Thus, it is ridiculous to bring in the equality argument here. These are of course clichéd ideas that you can locate in any theoretical discourses on gender. Though I am not opposed to the feminist agenda of raising demands and the act of ‘petition politics’ in itself, I believe that it should never become their obsession. Why always romanticise a woman’s weakness and incapability? Why not celebrate her strengths? I believe in this celebration of womanhood. Her resilience and protective enrichness still mesmerize me.


Ardra Manasi is doing her MA in Development Studies at IIT Madras.

Equality, Feminism, Gender politics, Indian women, Gender, Note, Struggles Share this Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported

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Nicely written :) Although, I

Nicely written :) Although, I did not totally get your last paragraph. "Though I am not opposed to the feminist agenda of raising demands and the act of ‘petition politics’ in itself, I believe that it should never become their obsession. Why always romanticise a woman’s weakness and incapability? Why not celebrate her strengths?"

Are you responding to what Chandrika wrote about radical feminism as such? Well, in that article, what caught my attention the most was her call to feminists that, instead of asking for a woman security officer in the ladies compartment, a group of feminists should have just travelled day and night in the general compartment without ticket.

Very often, people are disgusted with radical feminism, but we should not forget the benefits that it has had. Then, radical feminism need not be the aggressive kind alone, my boss says. She gives me the example of the "Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mothers_of_the_Plaza_de_Mayo who were radical in a very different way. Radical with peace, that the state had to respond. So, I understand Chandrika's anguish against petition feminism and along with her, wish that atleast some of us have the guts to be radical too. Feminism has space for that, as well.

Lovely piece of writing :)

Thanks for the comments

Thanks for the comments Preethi and thanks for the extra info on radical feminism :). By making a reference to 'petition politics' and the need for celebrating the strengths of women rather than their mere vulnerabilities, I was in a way resonating Chandrika's arguments. Though I wasn't totally opposed to the idea of 'petition politics', I just wanted to make it clear that it should be substantiated with a retrospection into the strengths of womanhood as well.

fenism go to hell

radical feminists go to hell... think about past and what men contributed to the soceity.

Preethi, ne oru katta

Preethi, ne oru katta feminist aanennu thonnunnu...

Chandrika de article

Chandrika de article vaayichathinu shesham, "Njan Feminist alla" enna kumbasaaram nirthi ;-) Athe, feminist aanu. Samshayam venda :)

very gud...what if i change

very gud...what if i change your gender now? ne pinneyum feminist aayi nilakollumo? is that passion for feminism comes straight out of ur mind, or with the feminine stuffs u received by birth?

What? Chodyam

What? Chodyam manasilaayilla..... Ellaa 'ism' neyum pole mind, heart okke chernnu thanneyaannu ee passion, ennaanu ente vishwaasam. Then about whether I would be a feminist if I were a man? I cannot deny that my experience as a woman has a lot to do with me being a feminist. But then, it is lesser about the "feminine stuff I was born with" and more to do with the "feminine stuff that I was exposed to" while growing up. Like how this article says, the experiences of "coming of age", the lectures on modesty and morality and all other stereotypes are out in the open for both men and women to see. Women experience it, and therefore may feel strongly about it. Having said that, there are quite a number of male feminists too. Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Subramania Bharati are all feminists in their own right. Dont think, we need to mix one's sex with one's notion of gender. Athinu, sensum, sensitivityum, sensibilityum okke mathi ;-)

mine was a question...i didnt

mine was a question...i didnt say that a man cannot be a feminist...i myself had feminine thoughts at various moments of my life...i will send one of my works to ye, to prove that... njaan ninnodu chodhichathinu artham , how did this kind of emotion/ thought-process came to ur mind ennu maathram aanu..ne pennaayi jenichillaayirunnenkil ee chinthakal okkae ninnil kaanumaayirunno ennum..., because a human when u analyse physiologically, has substance of male as well as female.. it varies from person to person...and at puberty one sheds off the characteristics of the opposite gender, but not fully...athaanu chilar okkae innum "chaanthupottayum" chila pennungal okkae parukkan shabdhathinu uamakalaayum avasheshikkunnathu..when i said 'Born as a female', obviously i meant the experiences of coming of age as a girl:) ..allaathae chumma sthraina lingangalumaayi piravi kondu ennullathalllaaa...anyways, i like the way u think...:) great going my frnd...

Jackson, sorry. For a moment,

Jackson, sorry. For a moment, I thought, maybe you were sarcastic or something! So, you dont have to prove anything! But feminism and feminine, randum randalle? And I doubt if feminism has its roots in the physiological aspects as much as in the sociological aspects of one's upbringing. So, when I said "coming of age", I did not mean the physical aspects of it, but rather society's response to my "coming of age" which consequently resulted in some of my responses. So, I dont think these emotions/thought processes are about me being a girl physically. Actually, my first influence, is a television programme known as Akathalam in Asianet.

i was sarcastic when i

i was sarcastic when i started..u got me straight :) but i didnt have any negative intentions.. feminism is always connected with the feminine nature...illenkil pinnae enthaanu ee "ism"-thintae oru prethyekatha...? society's response to ur coming of age is again related to ur physical aspects...if u were not growing with age, what the society's response wud have been? ellaam linked aanu kutti...and that program "akathalam"...i watched it a couple of times, i hated that show mainly due to that anchor...hate her a lot...

anyways, drop in ur thoughts..be a writer...i know, u have that skill...

I do not think feminism =

I do not think feminism = f(gender). Assuming the above relation to be correct, even if you change ones gender, he/she shall remain a feminist. Politics/ideas are a resultant of a persons experience and interaction with the physical world, and its interpretations. I do not think the formulation of such politics is in anyway related with gender.

Good work but yes can be highly improved.

Say, call ‘gender-constructedness/consciousness’ an ideology, then we can call it as a kind of structure deriving upon the Marxist idea that ideology is part of the superstructure, but at the same time we can link the structure of ideology to the idea of the unconscious ( am drawing ideas from Freud and Lacan as you must have understood). And this ideology works ‘unconsciously’. Like language ideology is a structure/system which we inhabit, which speaks ‘us’, but which gives us the illusion that we are in charge, that we freely choose the contents of the things we believe and we can find lots of reasons why we believe those things. This is exactly what happened to this article. While trying to be an attempt in a feminist discourse, the writer has at many places slipped into the usual pitfalls of being yet another mouth-piece of internalizing the very apparatuses she is trying to fight. We all know that the political dimension of feminist theory consists at the very least an awareness of the power imbalances enforced and upheld by the inequalities in the binary oppositions which structure how we think about and act in the world. Even more than just an ‘awareness’ of these imbalances and inequalities feminist theories provide analyses of how these inequalities evolved, how they operate and – perhaps most importantly and also most controversially- how they might, could, should be changed in order to create a more equitable agreement of social power and privilege. It is this last element, the element of social change, of political advocacy that generally make people uncomfortable with the tag ‘feminist’. But then there would always be barking dogs whenever the central ideological structure is challenged right? You talked about a very interesting point, the dominant emotions of the Bharatanatyam dancer. If we take Bharatanatyam as a text, then in this text it naturalises the oppression of women through its stereotypical representation of women as weak/vulnerable representing only the feminine emotions and so on. The woman is typecast as ‘Mother Nature’ thus reducing her to the perpetually giving, all-forgiving nature that never demands anything. Religious doctrines aids these representation and language makes it permanent and ‘natural’ through the use of patriarchal terms like Mother Earth, Mother nature etc. But unfortunately even women fall into this discourse. You talked about the wishing for the ‘Sindoor’episode. Sindoor here is a signification that ‘you are unavailable as you belong to someone else’ and the ‘someone else’ here is inevitably a male. Similarly you can take a high-heeled pump or stiletto as a signifier. Generally a foot in a high-heeled shoe signifies that there is a vagina and breasts attached to the wearer, because in our culture high-heels are a signifier of femaleness and femininity. But anyone can wear high-heels and as a result be seen as feminine because of it.

During my graduation days when our Sir asked how many of us did not like being branded as feminists yet had a feministic way of approach, many of my female classmates and some of us guys also raised our hands. And in the discussion that followed most and more of the points discussed in your article emerged. And we were not from any premier institute in the country, we were extremely ordinary bunch of people studying in a very ordinary college and neither were all of us from a ‘proud’ matrilineal caste to come to the conclusions we reached. :) And when you give such a high-sounding title to any article, and when you ‘claim’ yourself to be a feminist the reader would atleast expect a basic understanding of foundational feminist theories than just the knowledge of Chandrikas article in Mathrubhumi weekly.( But of course you don’t have to keep quoting lines but the knowledge of theoretical stand will come out in the formulation of the thesis point of your article) But of course if you are sincere in your desire to pursue your research in Gender/ women studies I will recommend you to read important writers from both the French school of Feminism and Anglo-American school such as Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex, Kate Millet’s Sexual Politics, Elaine Showalter ( don’t remember the books name), Luce Irigaray and Helene Cixous. These are just the basic texts with the all new avenue of eco-feminism and socialist-feminism and so on and so forth. Sorry if I was a bit harsh, but unfortunately I just cant stand elitism when there is no stuff to recommend it in the article with the title claiming to be a feminist’s take on the issue and so on. But you do have the sparks and potential…. Good Luck.

  • Your next article would be much better off if you don’t keep finding situations to stress you are from a ‘premier institution’ in every other line. :)

Ardra might respond and

Ardra might respond and thanks for the suggestions to read. But when you say "And when you give such a high-sounding title to any article, and when you ‘claim’ yourself to be a feminist the reader would atleast expect a basic understanding of foundational feminist theories than just the knowledge of Chandrikas article in Mathrubhumi weekly." would you consider the possibility of an illiterate woman, claiming to be a feminist?

Not to undermine the need to read and understand the theoretical perspectives of feminism, but at the same time, this article was about the "experiences" one has, isn't it? I do get your point that a feminist discourse possibly needs to consider the theoretical view points as well, but is there a need to devalue experiences vis-a-vis theory? Isn't that another kind of elitism?

@ D.N Thanks for a passionate

@ D.N Thanks for a passionate reply D.N. Let me make few clarifications. Firstly,this is a highly personal account of my idea of feminism(it was for my personal gratification) and initially, I had no intentions to publish it anywhere until my versatile writer friend from Bodhi just came up with that suggestion.And being a student at IIT is one of my chief identities right now(my interactions within that space has a clear influence on this article as well). By asserting that, I was never trying to belittle the experiences of people from other colleges.(since u are worried abt the fact that" we were not from any premier institute in the country."). Sorry if you felt so. You say that the tile is deceiving.I have started the article with few pertinent questions and they were all personal too. May be u should take that as a a prelude to the personal tinge of the essay. And I had thoroughly no intentions to enrich it with the pomposity of any theoretical discourses for the simple reason that this article is a personal account. A research paper will do that job. And dear friend,thanks for the suggestions. I have read these major works that u cited but it was purely not out of my choice but I had an extensive course work on 'Gender.' If this article prompts any of my readers to plunge into more extensive reading of the same, I will be happy though.

Very Simple article

Very Simple article ....written from the perspective of an ordinary lady's day to day life's experiences....

Train journey experience takes me back to my college days where I used to travel from ekm to tvm....and I clearly remember how comfortable my parents were if I were travelling with one of my friends than alone.....

"My arrival at the Chennai Central Station at around 4 AM brought forth a new set of observations. For a second, I longed for traces of sindoor in the parting of my hair. Will it have the potential to attenuate the intensity of desirous looks emanating from male gazes all around me? May be or may not be. A feeling of insecurity crept in. I had to wait till about 7 A.M in the station as advised my overprotective parents and friends as travelling alone in the wee hours when it is still dark can make me prone to an act of sexual violence."

Decent article, but i have some disagreements to make.

Decent article, but i have some disagreements to make.

The last paragraph of the article is completely senseless and author clearly lacks clarity about the basic idea of feminism.

1) I have often seen people bringing the argument for equality into the picture. Will equality always help? Men and Women are different. Their needs are different. I may demand equality with respect to the right to vote but what about the right to health? It is equity or rather fairness which matters there. For example, men and women in their respective reproductive age groups may have distinct health and nutritional needs. Thus, it is ridiculous to bring in the equality argument here.

From where did you learn that the idea of equality put forwarded by feminist group is based on the idea that men and women are the same? Men and women are different. So is 'Pachalan Bhasi and Saroj Kumar'. But both of them are and should be equal in terms of any social rights. Bhasi may be well built and Sarj kumar a lean thin man. But that does not allow bhasi take advantage of Saroj kumar. Pachalam Bhasi may be suffering from anemia adn saroj kumar from hemophilia. yes they need different treatment and different scheme of insurance. That all are different matters. What Bhasi and Saroj kumar both should have is equal 'rights'.

2) Why always romanticise a woman’s weakness and incapability? Why not celebrate her strengths? I believe in this celebration of womanhood. Her resilience and protective enrichness still mesmerize me.

Well Well. First of all feminism is not about romanticising about women's weakness. When we say empowering women it doesnt mean that women inherently are weak. It just that the present society consider her to be weak and try to make her weaker. Consider another issue. Racism. Its not that Blacks in Europe and US as well as Dalits in India are weaker than ruling community. weaker by strength or skills or anyting. Its just that society made them over the centuries and millenniums by collectively denying their basic rights. Same is true about feminism. Its not about women being weak. Its just about centuries of ill treatment.

Second of all, what are those strengths to be celebrated and womanhood which you are talking about? Please dont tell me all those bullshit such as 'woman is mother, she is caring, she should be worshipped' etc etc. woman is just woman. just like man is just man. if woman is mother, then man is father too. Lets be equal rather than one to be worshipped and other to worship. Otherwise it just gives the women 'the burden of being good'. I hope you understand what I mean here.

Now apart from all these, I find this particular part of the article very annoying.

I often used to feel proud about the fact that I came from a matrilineal community called Nairs in Kerala where the ‘rule of the mother’ is supposed to dominate. But I still wonder how as a woman from such a community, I was more empowered than girls of any other castes in my locality. My liberal minded dad taught me that I need to be assertive and could never be ready for any compromises when it came to education.

Author's claim about 'rule of mother' is far from truth.This is misleading, probably because the author herself is not well educated about history of kerala. I am not sure on what grounds author is making a claim that 'rule of mother' dominated or supposed to dominate in any of the pre-independence communities in Kerala. Matrilineality anywhere in India never was the 'rule of mother' or women. It was all about transferring wealth to next generation. After our species started 'cultivating' our own food - mainly thorough agriculture - it lead to accumulation of wealth - in terms of stored food and any assets that can be used to cultivate or process food[of course real estate assets too]. For factors unknown, societies, most of it, became male centric and there was a necessity for the male to identify predecessors to his wealth. This naturally lead to the well known institutions called family and marriage. But even then, blame it on the unavailability of DNA test methods, there was no guarantee for a male that 'his wife's children are his children as well'. some communities found an alternative by passing the wealth to children of individual's sister. Though not direct descent, one at least can ensure that wealth passed to their own blood. It should be noted that this doesn't gave women in Nair community any special rights or power against their males. Consider the following important points about 'Marumakkathayam'

  1. Even in 'Marumakkathayam' head of the family would have been a male, called 'Karanavar' who will be managing all the wealth and family estate.
  2. 'Karanavar', during partition, pass family wealth to his sister's sons, not to sister's daughters or sister herself.

Its true that this 'system of passing wealth to sister's sons' gave little bit of sexual freedom to women in the community. Unfortunately that was limited to having more than one husband, or sexual partner. That didn't guarantee them the freedom to choose their partner or not to choose them. Its notorious fact that allways 'senior family members', most of the time karanavar himself' will decide whom a girl should marry[or lets say whom all]. Also when a 'Sambandham' from higher caste was proposed, girl had no privilege to reject it. Now think about it again. How can we say women from Nair community enjoyed freedom compared to their counterparts in other communities in kerala. In my honest opinion, this idea is just pure bullshit that get transmitted repeatedly amongst our society by some elitist group who are proud of their so called 'aristocratic' family lineage.

Nice points Calvin. Just

Nice points Calvin. Just about the third point of Marumakkathaayam. I think, it also had a consequent implication of Kerala's sex ratio. That it was good to have a girl in the family to take the wealth forward. So, of course, even when it may not have resulted in some of the ideal ways of life for women, it might have reduced some of the biases which was seen in other parts of the country. Also, the move away from matrilineal community has also not resulted in increased instances of demanded dowry and its consequences. So, even when we need not say that it was an ideal scenario, wasn't it more advantageous for women in comparison. Of course, I do agree that it did not mean the best of the worlds, even then

lets try put things in

lets try put things in perspective. wealth when tagged to a group of people, without actually have the freedom to 'use it their own way' is always a burden and threat to freedom - whether its dowry or inherited wealth. Woman just becomes a tool to tranfer wealth from one place to another, could be from person to person or family to family. This often results in loosing the freedom to choose partner. To avoid girl choosing their partner by their own, naturally their other priviliages such as socializing with other people wpuld naturally be revoked.

If we are talking about the relative freedom(or priviliages) of a girl , we should also be stating whom we are comparing with whom. I cannot imagin any reasons that upper caste women such as nair girls had more freedom - freedom to travel, freedom to socialize or freedom to choose one's partner compared to the working class. The problem that women in lower class faced would be more related to moneterial and racist of nature rather than gender. In many tribes if you consider, girl will have more priviliges than girl in other communities.

The problem is that we naturally tend to compare the status of women with upper caste - such as andarjanams. I do agree compared to them the women in matrilineal communities might have enjoyed some freedoom - but not with women in lower part of caste and class hirerchy[ when I say lower i'm talking in vedic terms, not practical]

I hope I've made myself clear

@ Calvin I really appreciate

@ Calvin

I really appreciate your efforts to read each line critically. But let me make few clarifications.

I have made the same clarification with respect to preethi’s comment earlier. Reverting back to the same example,its not about demanding police protection during a train journey but by asserting strongly that as women and as a collective force, we ourselves are capable enough to handle such situations if demanded. I have never said anywhere that feminism is projecting weakness of women. Its a figment of your wrong interpretation. And what is this empowerment u r bragging about? I will elucidate it with a small example. The Domestic violence act of 2005 was aimed at ‘empowering women’ and it was initially mooted by a group of women lawyers. But how far did it succeed? I have heard many of those stories (personal accounts) where women had to forcefully succumb to cases of verbal and physical violence within their families just because they feared societal censure on grounds of failing to uphold family virtues or responsibilities of a ‘never complaining good wife.’ They failed to report any of these cases too. This is what I meant when I used the term ‘weakness.’ I would have called them ‘strong’ if they would have fearlessly come forward in asserting it. A certain degree of mental strength to challenge the status quo is what is required here .Of course I agree with u that the society do have a pivotal role in perpetuating this sort of a mental conditioning. What if the women complain? What will accrue to their children if their partners suddenly declare that they can’t take care of them? There should be remarkable change in the societal mindset to accept these. Once we had a similar discussion in class. It is not always the family system that is oppressive for a woman but the nature of relationships within the family ( It can be anything ranging from wife-husband, brother-sister, or father-daughter). And though feminists may strongly stand for ‘empowerment’ as you pointed out, we should also keep in mind that it is not something which can always be externally induced. Empowerment can only begin with an ideological change. The woman should really feel the need to change for the better. The true celebration of womanhood that I alluded to can only begin once women start shedding their inhibitions and also by fearlessly asserting their voice perhaps in hostile environments as seen above. It can only be fruitful if the society provides its own supportive mechanism to supplement this. But unfortunately our society derives pleasure in ‘victimising a victim.’ You can revert to this line:”where the rule of the mother is supposed to dominate.” I have carefully chosen the word ‘supposed’ to imply a sarcastic tone in it (unfortunately you must have missed it in this overcritical rashness). If you are familiar with basic Grammar lessons in English, you should be able to distinguish between ‘is dominating’ and ‘is supposed to dominate.’ Any sociology text will have voluminous accounts on Nairs as belonging to a matrilineal community. By strictly sticking on to a textual understanding, we do get the idea that women do enjoy comparatively more freedom in this community. Many non-malayalee friends often used to clarify the same with me because that is the rosy picture they got by reading such texts. I agree with Preethi here. Of course women did enjoy relatively more freedom compared to other communities elsewhere in India at the wake of ‘marumakkathayam’(though we understand how limited it was).I was just questioning a theoretic proposition and not glorifying it . And by bringing these arguments, you have supported the same claim too(to dismiss the idea that women enjoyed relatively more freedom in the community).

And I brought in the terms ‘equity’ and ‘equality’ from a Human Rights policy perspective here. Thats is where I contrasted women’s right to vote( First generation right as per UN Declaration) and her right to health( Second Generation right as per the UN declaration). Hope that is clear.

In the first part of the

In the first part of the paragraph, I see a lot of change in your attitude and opinions from the original post - possibly because of all the comments here? Anyway change in opinion - when it is for good - is something which should be appreciated and I have no complains regarding that.

come to the second part. if you carefully read my first reply above, I have explicitely stated that whether you meant 'women dominate' or 'supposed to dominate' since I knew you are gonna come with this point ;) Again if you still think that women in Nair community enjoyed more freedom, instead of giving some declarative statements - prove it. show me some comparitive studies that shows the relative freedom of women in different communities against their men in the pre-independence era. Upper caste women might have enjoyed many priviliages than lower caste counterparts merely because they were uppercaste. What our botheration should be whether uppercaste women enjoy any priviliages against the men in the community which were not available for lowercast women agains men in their community?

consider this scenario. the lowercaste people, the working class, whether a woman or man shared the same public place isnt it? since they lived in poverty both men and women had to work - worked under the landlords and feudals. So apparently women in working class had to come out of their home and their men wouldnt have any complaints. Of course they were restricted to many places such as temples - but so were the males in the lower caste community. Now do you think women in upper caste - such as Nairs- were allowed to do the same? ie: were they allowed wherever their males were working/recreating? so who enjoyed more freedom?

Social science and history, both are more about looking into the bigger picture rather than formulating generalized theories based on personal accounts and 'stories told by grandmother'. Its not the outcome of a classroom discussion or belief of no-malayali friends or the personal stories told by friends that should be used to make theories. Once you understand this you would know what 'History' is all about.

Best of luck for your gender studies BTW.

Arda, I am a little

Arda, I am a little uncomfortable with your comment here.

I would have called them ‘strong’ if they would have fearlessly come forward in asserting it. A certain degree of mental strength to challenge the status quo is what is required here .Of course I agree with u that the society do have a pivotal role in perpetuating this sort of a mental conditioning. What if the women complain? What will accrue to their children if their partners suddenly declare that they can’t take care of them? There should be remarkable change in the societal mindset to accept these. ......... And though feminists may strongly stand for ‘empowerment’ as you pointed out, we should also keep in mind that it is not something which can always be externally induced. Empowerment can only begin with an ideological change. The woman should really feel the need to change for the better. The true celebration of womanhood that I alluded to can only begin once women start shedding their inhibitions and also by fearlessly asserting their voice perhaps in hostile environments as seen above.

Of course, it is the oppressed woman herself who has to be empowered. No questions about that. But, in a social system, which structurally designed to suppress her, and one where centuries of oppression has happened, it is but natural that women, themselves would have internalized the notion of a secondary status in society. It is sad, that you choose to point fingers at her for not standing up for her rights. Here, I do not talk about Kerala alone. You say, "What will accrue to their children if their partners suddenly declare that they can’t take care of them? There should be remarkable change in the societal mindset to accept these." Is it as simple as that? Is poverty a mindset issue? But the fact is, when it comes to women, it does not stay with economics alone. Women's secondary status is a norm in social, economic and political spheres of her life. If you look at the current women empowerment programmes of most of the state governments including Kerala, they more or less restrict themselves to economic empowerment. But when economic empowerment stands alone in the entire framework of empowerment, she is further exploited - a clear demonstration being the suicides in Andhra Pradesh. My point is, if for years, women have been suppressed externally which has resulted in their internalising of "fear", "shame","secondary status" is there not a responsibility to externally remove that "weakness" as you call it? Therefore, one cannot stop with money. There has to be concerted effort in raising their consciousness with regards to their rights as women. The GOI is doing that too, in some measure through its programme Mahila Samakhya which is a rights based organisation working in nine states with grassroots women. I was just lucky to meet them after years of consciousness raising work had happened - They dont live in heaven, but I would not dare to call them weak.

The article made me

The article made me angry.

While I appreciate that you are trying to find your own opinions from theory and your practical experiences (which, bye the way, seems to have a strong class bias, with your caste and academic background - what of the disgusting practice of Sambandam, when you refer to your caste's matrilinial nature? and the idea about Sindoor - sindoors and purdahs dont save a women from harassment (you should know this if you are studying gender), and if you want to think deeper, think of Sanskritization of South India, pan-Indian Hindutva ideology etc), I get a very reactionary, even intellectually lazy, sense from the article.

In India, where we never had any of the waves of feminism, where gender disparity in rights is a simple fact of life in general, where simple ideas of modernist progress are easily applicable in several cases, I do not understand why do we need to debate basic feminism itself. Just look at how many women are salaried, what are their salaries compared to men, till what time they can use public spaces, how much choice they have in education, marriage and children...

Another example - "I tend to derive a mysterious, sacrificial joy from submissiveness and dependence before a few so called male cult figures I have encountered in my life, be it my father, brother or a dear friend" - from this personal experience, you cannot derive the conclusion about "personal is political", because, for example, even me, a man satisfying several stereotypical attributes of an ideal male, long for such submissiveness and dependence to several women in my life. Perhaps it is human, perhaps women have it more because of nurture and education, but hardly an experience that proves anything.

Also, by saying "let us celebrate womanhood", what do you mean? Pardon me because I get a sense of hockey-mum Sarah Palinism.

Arun

couldnt agree with you more

couldnt agree with you more Arun. Please go through the comment that i put just before.

@ Arun Most of the readers

@ Arun

Most of the readers here have shown unprecedented enthusiasm in accusing me of elitism. As you have understood (rightly or wrongly) from the passages here, it is a highly personal account. And as an individual, I am strongly influenced by these multiple identities (be it class,caste or education)around me and hence the need to make references to them.

And about sindoor, I have not asserted anywhere that sindoor guaranteed security to a woman. I have just explored responses and perceptions among few women around me to understand its significance as a cultural marker. But at the end of it, the responses I got underlined the fact that it is a symbol used to ‘sexualise safety’ in the eyes of the community. And the fact that I longed for its traces and the few responses I got also refer as to how women themselves have internalised it at times.(sindoor= security from unwanted stares in a public space). I am talking about ‘perception’ here. Need not always equate perceptions with ground realities.Women’s subordination, her sexuality and violence against her do bear a strong correlation.I brought sindoor as a symbol just to reiterate it.

You say that there is no need to debate about feminism in India???? Look around yourself. Which category of women are you talking about? May be you might have encountered only educated, employed and independent women as you mentioned. This is sheer reductionism. There is a vast majority out there who suffer marginalisation from all corners (economic ,political and social). What about them? And the real politics of feminism should be triggered by the woes of marginalisation. The best example can be the burgeoning growth of queer feminism in India. Indian soil has in fact always fostered feminist discourses. Be it with its stance on child marriage/widow remarriage in the 19th century or with the rising recognition for reproductive rights in the 21st century.

"even me, a man satisfying several stereotypical attributes of an ideal male, long for such submissiveness and dependence to several women in my life." --->I had to clearly bring in this because I have had male friends who have dismissed this as clearly antithetical to being a ‘feminist.’ And I would really like to know how many of the so called men will proudly state that they are emotionally dependent on women. They would rather call it a ‘feminine tendency.’(Not necessarily ‘human’ as u referred to). Your case may be totally different but I would call it a case of inductive fallacy if u r generalising it.

Your quote: "You say that

Your quote:

"You say that there is no need to debate about feminism in India???? Look around yourself. Which category of women are you talking about? May be you might have encountered only educated, employed and independent women as you mentioned. This is sheer reductionism. There is a vast majority out there who suffer marginalisation from all corners (economic ,political and social). What about them? And the real politics of feminism should be triggered by the woes of marginalisation. The best example can be the burgeoning growth of queer feminism in India. Indian soil has in fact always fostered feminist discourses. Be it with its stance on child marriage/widow remarriage in the 19th century or with the rising recognition for reproductive rights in the 21st century."

Now, let me go back and quote what I wrote: "In India, where we never had any of the waves of feminism, where gender disparity in rights is a simple fact of life in general, where simple ideas of modernist progress are easily applicable in several cases, I do not understand why do we need to debate basic feminism itself. Just look at how many women are salaried, what are their salaries compared to men, till what time they can use public spaces, how much choice they have in education, marriage and children..."

Now, please, please let me know if you are responding to what I wrote, or to something else.

And:

"I had to clearly bring in this because I have had male friends who have dismissed this as clearly antithetical to being a ‘feminist.’ And I would really like to know how many of the so called men will proudly state that they are emotionally dependent on women. They would rather call it a ‘feminine tendency.’(Not necessarily ‘human’ as u referred to). Your case may be totally different but I would call it a case of inductive fallacy if u r generalising it."

"Feminine tendency". Reminds me of Feminine mystique :)

So, men are "Manly, strong, confident, bread winners, gallant and chivalrous", and women are "Feminine, caring, nurturing, wanting to cook for the world, dependent on Her Man", is that the line of thought of a female who, going by the title of the article, attempts to "think like a feminist" ? :)

Sorry for that extrapolation, which may not be your opinion. However, surely, because of your coursework on Gender, you would have read about all of that? When did your friends' comments become the last word on the Male condition? :) How can you expect the mass culture's opinion to go beyond stereotypes? Suddenly Indian men are all non-conformists and radical feminists?

Try to look beyond popular stereotypes and manufactured/mass cliches, and see the root of the matter. We all have the baggage of background and identities, and are bombarded with mass stereotypes to fit in to - but in thought you have to think beyond them (for example, the cloud of one's identities' so called Values).

@Arun Guess the first

@Arun

Guess the first sentence there should at least give u a sense of what I meant. I agree with u that there were no clear cut waves of feminism in India like in the west. But I was responding to your claim that there was no need for a debate about feminism in India. That is why I made a reference to the current debate on queer feminism. It has even started to question the category 'women.' And what is this "basic" feminism? some new variant that you have created?

And reg the reference to the informal conversations with my friends,

Submissiveness/emotional dependence= femininity ---->disqualification to be called a feminist/ disqualification to enter the definition of ‘masculinity’

This was the crux of the argument.I have indirectly alluded to this stereotyping in the written piece (ref to the article by CS Chandrika and the abominable labels heaped on feminists. one of them primarily being they are ‘unfeminine.’). Submissiveness is very often stereotyped as a feminine quality. Not just in any theoretical discourses on gender or mass media portrayal alone. I didn’t write this article after conducting a cross sectional study on the male species and on what they think. The informal conversations I had with few threw light on the existing stereotypes which had percolated into one’s psyche. And what is wrong in talking about them? I am not an isolated human being . I am strongly influenced by such forces around me.And you may revert to the very first passage of this written piece. I have clearly raised few questions there.Most of them have references to "the cloud of identities" u were referring to.These questions rather than assertions were my own style of thinking beyond these stereotypes. Of course there is a long way to go.If I write an article with the same title 10 years from now, I am sure it will be totally different.

"When did your friends' comments become the last word on the Male condition? "

I can clearly sense the belittling tone in this. I truly admit that I am still a student(without any attributes of a scholar on the subject) and the interactions I had with real life scenarios pertaining to the issues here may be too limited. And that is clearly the reason why I wanted this article to be more personal and experiential. And I don’t wish to state anywhere that this is how the whole world thinks(esp with ref to the informal conversations). It may be just one among the perspectives. You are free to come up with yours too. A world where there are no stereotypes and where all men rejoice in stating that they are emotionally dependent on women .good 4 u and good 4 the world. I would call it an Eden :) Let me stop here!

Unfortunately you are not

Unfortunately you are not able to/trying to understand what the commenters here are trying to make you understand. When Arun said there is no need for a debate on feminismn in India, what I understood is that condition of females in general in India is sub par and even without a discussion anybody will agree the relevence of feminism in this country.

About Elitism, Almost all sentences in your post reflect it. Its something you need to think yourself and if possible - "correct"

And yeah by the way - personal accounts are not the base for forming ideas related to subjects such politics, science, social science etc.

I have to agree with your

I have to agree with your critics on the highly elitist nature of your article, which you defend on grounds of it being born out of your experiences. However, the point I would like to raise here is that for you wish and think like a feminist, how much of feminism do you practice in real life? If travelling in a train alone, makes you uncomfortable, well its the daily truth of millions of girls and women. Furthermore, there is nothing empowering about it as you wish to convey. Your desire for Sindoor on the other hand, conveys this lack of self-confidence, wherein you seek the security of man in order to feel safe. Isn't that thinking itself contradictory to your title?

elitist naive and patriarchal.

seriously.

elitist for the sentence immediately following the matrilineal observation.

patriarchal for the whole train narrative and sindoor thing. you do seem to be changing tacks here and there. so not into an argument.

naive because you have absolutely no idea what you are writing about. there are traces of care feminism in your article but even that's not justified.

and there is absolutely no schism. you can always practice what you preach. personal is always political. I think you don't know what politics is. if you say no to your mother when she asks you to do something as a girl, you are engaging in micro democracy and asserting your will. as a feminist who has absolutely no problem with men gazing n not ogling.. at my breasts because I accept they are secondary sex organs and men will look at them as sex objects , who cook for fifteen people just because I love to cook, who is like a magnet to people who want every 'soft and womanly ' quality, but who cannot be made to do anything if she doesn't desire so .... i feel that if you are trying to defy stereotypes in feminism, you just failed.

you need to read..... a lottttt.

I am glad there were no such feminist movements in India early on. India needed third wave to develop and especially ecofeminism to emerge as a frontier to actually embrace feminism in its rawest form.

Not talking about empowerment. :-)

PP... if you read this, lemme know if anyone needs clarification. Otherwise this might be my only post here.

Now that the feminist is

Now that the feminist is apparently more of a damsel in distress(kidding) thanks to the critics, I suppose she can do with some positive comments.

If the scholarly commentators find the title inappropriate and reeking of elitism, the writer may change it to "a modest attempt to think like a feminist" or something to that effect. :-) I don't find the article elitist or reeking of naivete as much as vague and missing the big picture, especially due to the the last para as Calvin commented.

I think you have actually summarized your views as “For me, feminism is a fluid idea.” The rest of the article is appears to be an account, from a strictly personal vantage point, to elaborate the statement. Leaving the article open-ended would have made the discussions less caustic. No intentions to sound condescending; just found the article and the discussion interesting.

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