Saturday, December 08, 2007

An Oriental View on Western Feminism

Once Lois Wendland Banner, the American feminist writer wrote me: I have always believed that in the drive to dispose with the concept of patriarchy, academic feminism does an injustice to the historical record--and to the reality of the present. I think the concept of "essentialism" is very much overblown by those who apply it.
I have asked her whether she has broadened her search in Asian and African countries, specially in Muslim society .In her next letter, Banner admitted that she thought that was the issue in Muslim countries, which she studied in her book Finding Fran. A feminist interpretation of the Koran was possible, as was true of many founding religious texts, but of course that was not the predominant interpretation of current time.
The next example was from a student of Orleans University. Cathy Nelson was preparing her project on feminism and asked me if I feel that feminism in India different from feminism in the west? If so, how?
I answered her with the example of ancient Vedic India where we find there was equal rights of man and woman and even there were feminist law makers like Gargi and Maitreyi , but I think India in later Vedic period had grown into a polar dichotomy society of male and female , where the former oppressing the latter and behave them as ‘other’ or similar to lower caste . Patriarchy is just one of the hierarchies, where females are most oppressive in the traditional system. In India, arranged marriages are always prefered and love marriages are considered as a matter of social sin and shame. Many Indians contend that arranged marriages are more successful than marriages in the West, particularly given the latter's staggering divorce rates. Romantic love does not necessarily lead to a good marriage, and often fails once the passion dissipates and real love flows from a properly arranged union between two individuals , they argue. An unmarried daughter -- pronounced a spinster even in her late twenties -- brings shame upon her parents, and is a burden. But once married, she is considered the property of her in-laws. In this context un-wed mothers, separated, single or unfaithful women are considered outcasts. Living out of wedlock with a partner is still virtually unheard of . During their marriage , the bride’s father has to pay dowries in the form of lots of money, furniture, jewelry, and expensive household items and even homes and expensive foreign holidays to the bride groom and still the phrase "bride burning" was coined in India after several young brides had their saris lit on fire in front of a gas stove either by their husbands or in-laws because of their father's failure to meet demands for a bigger dowry .As there is custom and tradition of joint family, a bride has to face her tyrannical in-laws and still traditional Hindu society rejects divorcees .In case of sexuality, the the active role of woman has been always denied and it is considered that woman should not be open to their sexual desires.For which you can find many of women have crossed their menopausal stage without having a single orgasm in any day. In religious rituals and customs also females are barred to take part in all worship. In Kerala, females are not allowed to enter in the Ayeppa temples. They are also barred to worship the God Hanuman and in some regions they are barred to even touch the ‘linga’ idol of Lord Shiva. In recent politics also though all political parties have assured to reserve 33% of seats in legislation in their manifesto, still it has not been transformed to law as the male dominant political parties are opposing the bill. In financial matter, though women are allowed to work out side, but their rights on any house hold matters always have been denied. A woman has to take charge of the kitchen, even if she is a earning member and she has to go out side for her job .The husband will not take charge of kitchen , though he remain un employed , as it is supposed for a man to cook for her family is against his manhood .Legally, though according to Court, sons and daughters have equal rights on patriarchal property but still now as per practice, ownership changes hands from father to husband to son and the role of a daughter or a daughter in law is denied.
My long answer was sufficient to make the girl wonder how male hegemony still exists in the Oriental countries. Since that day I was planning to write this essay on feminism for the western readers. The two queries always worry me that whether the term feminism always defined with respect to socio-economic scenario of Europe and America and the rest of world is meaning less and the second one is most important for me as it always a query in my mind whether it is at all any essential for west as the Western feminist like Banner raised the question?
I am not a theorist but a writer and hence I find myself more nearer to the first wave feminist Mary Wollstonecraft than to Simone de Beauvoir. Mary Wollstonecraft’s essay like Thoughts on the Education of Daughters or A Vindication of the Rights of Woman seem to be more practical in context with Asia and Africa , though I know my colleagues of third wave feminism in Europe may laugh at my comments. It is undoubtedly true that before The Second Sex, the sexed body was not an object of phenomenological investigation. Beauvoir changed that. Her argument for sexual equality works in two directions. First, it exposes the ways in which patriarchy exploits the sexual difference to create systems of inequality and exposes the facts of sexual politics, which later leads to Feminism to fight against male hegemony. She also claimed that so long as the standard of equality is the male body, the discriminatory sexual difference remains in play. Second, her book acts as a prime source for the gender theories developed by Judith Butler or others in later period. But what about her novels and short stories? Simone’s few short stories and her novel ‘The Blood of Others’ are an attempt to establish a right to abortion and her first novel ‘She Came to Stay’ provides a fictional portrait of her unconventional relationship with her lifelong partner, Sartre, and her protégé, Bianca Bienenfeld. Mandarin is a love story examining the complex dilemmas posed by love and marriage (i.e., existential relationships are easier in theory than in reality) on fictionalized account of Beauvoir’s passionate affair with Algren. Her ‘Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter’ offers an intimate picture of growing up in a bourgeois French family, rebelling as an adolescent against the conventional expectations of her class, and striking out on her own with an intellectual and existential ambition exceedingly rare in a young woman in the 1920s.In my opinion Sexuality is more prominent in the writings of Erica Jong and Germaine Greer, if we consider them as writer of later period.
Erica Jong’s novel Fear of Flying or Germaine Greer’s novel The Female Eunuch were two prominent books which dealt with sexual desire of woman. Greer once told the New York Times in 1971, "Women have somehow been separated from their libido, from their faculty of desire, from their sexuality. They've become suspicious about it. Like beasts, for example, who are castrated in farming in order to serve their master's ulterior motives — to be fattened or made docile — women have been cut off from their capacity for action. It's a process that sacrifices vigour for delicacy and succulence, and one that's got to be changed."
I admit, sexual liberty is a major question for third wave feminist in Europe and it is an important question but for the Asian African feminist, still the questions once raised by Mary Wollstonecraft have their own importance. I think, the essentiality of feminism always adhered to the liberation of the woman of the world, not of only women of Europe or America.So, when Erica Jong’s protagonist tells: my nipples stand up and salute the inside of my bra (or in this case, dress--since I'm not wearing a bra) becomes meaningless for the woman of Asian and African countries, because for them leaving the bra is not a question of revolt rather than wearing a bra against their social custom.
I think, my western feminist friends should think over the matter again with perspective to Asia and Africa.

Monday, August 20, 2007


The nude photo of Saroj Bal, the avant-garde Oriya writer, made a source of controversy for a long time in Oriya Literature and still now I am astonished, why the media as well as the critics considered the nude photographs as a serious set back in our social values .It is not that the masculine nudity was not displayed before, but I think it is the display of masculine nudity in context with Eastern or Oriental culture which worried our male dominated social gurus.I think, this pics has a strong relevant with sexuality.
In India, most of the people mingle sexuality with passion and physical co-adhearance and some extent to perversion with a hidden concept of sin in their puritan mind .But the term sexuality has a wider aspect.Sexuality involves not only passion and perversion but also biological or physiological sex, gender, gender identity, gender roles and sexual orientation In an Oriya news paper Dharitri, they termed this activities as Sexual Orientation , which I consider a very wrong concept .Sexual orientation is different from sexual behaviour because it refers to feelings and to self-identity, rather than only actions. Persons may or may not express their sexual orientation in their behaviours..Sexual orientation refers to emotional, romantic, sexual and/or affectional attraction from one person to another person or persons. Someone’s sexual orientation is categorized according to the gender(s) or biological sex of the people he/she has these feelings for, that is, it describes whether a person is attracted primarily toward people of the same or the opposite sex, or to both. Sexual orientation exists along a scale that ranges from exclusive homosexuality to exclusive heterosexuality and includes various forms of bisexuality. Sexual orientation is an important part of a person’s total self-identity: how we see ourselves and how others see us. A person’s experience and understanding of her/his sexual orientation can vary during their life. In my opinion Saroj Bal's self nude picture display refers to his sexual behaviour not his sexual orientation.
You have certainly marked,that most of our world famous writers from Flaubert to Sartre are at their most creative when trying to get a date — for better or worse. So sexual behaviour is core element of humans’ sexual nature , but not sexual orientation It does not mean that sexual orientation has no role in creativity. . In other words, sex is often the spark behind creativity, even you’re not having sex. For instance you can look at the erotic sculptures of the Konark or Khajuraho or you can access the 'Shringar Kavyas" of "Riti Yuga " in Indian literature.They are more of the sexual behaviour of an artist than his sexual orientation.Same kind of art can be found in western countries also. It’s tame enough you can show it in temples, children can view it in the art museum, it even came up on computer with "safe search" turned on. But there’s no denying there’s a sexual behaviour behind it.They are the artistic expressions by an artist where a woman with her clothes off. There’s a sexual element every time an artist depicts the human body, naked or not. Human bodies are shaped by sex, and not just the sex organs. Muscles, hair, skin, posture, everything about us is shaped to a degree by our sexual behaviour. So every painter or photographer is in some way engaging his/her sexual behaviour when they depict a human being. And not just in visual arts, but also in drama, literature, music, dance, sports, every form of art. Art that depicts humans depicts sexuality. Same thing can be found in Western Art.In Botticelli’s Venus or .Georgia O’Keefe’s flower paintings, Or Henry Dreyfuss’s styling of steam locomotives for the New York Central, we find either sexual behaviour present in explicit form or in implicit form.. Shakespeare filled his plays with sexual double entendres and allusions. In every play he finds 10 ways to make a joke on the word "coxcomb." In his day the word "nothing" was slang for female sex organs, so the title "Much Ado about Nothing," takes on a second meaning in a play about virginity and trust.Other times the sexual behaviour is virtually hidden. Take the last movement of Beethoven’s fifth symphony. The rhythm has an unmistakable sexual energy. And the modulation, up a fifth, when the theme is repeated, feels sexually rooted also. Or take Piet Mondrian’s paintings. There’s no explicitly sexual reference in most of them. Yet I sense a strong sexual impulse behind them. I imagine him painting in the same mood you might have making love, with the same intensity, creativity, the desire to really connect. Well, you might disagree about Piet Mondrian. But it’s kind of obvious to say that sexual behaviour is an huge element in art. I think that’s a good thing. The world would be a lot poorer without sexual energy in art, music, literature., drama, architecture, design, poetry, cooking.