Feminine India? Masculine Britain?
Taking Ashish Nandy to Task
It is my friend Malavika Velayanikal, the Principal Correspondent of DNA, Bangalore, who persuaded me to read Ashish Nandy and to share my views on his perception of “Feminine India, masculine Britain.”
Ashish Nandy, who is lesser-known to the Indian public than his brother Pritish Nandy, is an Indian political psychologist, a social theorist, and a contemporary cultural and political critic. He is a recipient of the Fukuoka Asian Culture Prize in 2007 and is also listed among the 100 top intellectuals by “Prospect Magazine” (UK) and “Foreign Policy” (US).
In his book The Intimate Enemy (1983), Nandy discusses how the British occupied India without any blood shedding and hardly any sustained violent response to the colonizers, as opposed to the colonization of Africa and of Latin America. Nandy discusses, in depth, the psychology that the British were masculine in character and that India was feminine in character. Using these metaphors of masculinity and femininity, the British believed in the superiority of the masculine traits over the feminine. I believe there would probably be numerous misconceptions about Nandy’s conception of masculinity/femininity.
In 1998, similar to Nandy, Geert Hofstede, an organizational sociologist who studied the interactions between national cultures and organizational cultures, wrote a book entitled Masculinity and Femininity: The Taboo Dimension of National Cultures. In it, he pointed out that masculine nations believe one should "live in order to work," and that feminine nations feel one should "work in order to live." What is the specific evidence that masculine nations feel that a "performance society is ideal" whereas feminine nations feel a "welfare society is ideal?”
Hofstede created his ideas from the results of a survey conducted by IBM, the well-known computer company. In1970, this multi-national organization sent a questionnaire to its employees across all its branches in 40 nations to find out the results of factor analysis of work goals. From the survey results, Hofstede described his idea of the masculinity/femininity dimension. (See Masculinity and Femininity: The Taboo Dimension of National Cultures, edited by Geert Hofstede, Thousand Oaks, CA, Sage Publications, 1998, 238 pages). Though the goal of IBM’s survey was to find out the work habits of a hypothetical worker from a feminine nation with those of a hypothetical worker from a masculine nation, Hofstede prepared a list of differences in the notion of masculinity and femininity.
Nandy and Hofstede never say, but it is obvious from their books, their idea of femininity is not the same as an ideology of feminism.
Unlike to these two thinkers, Sandra Ruth Lipsitz Bem or popularly known as Sandra Bem, with her book Lenses of Gender, argues how vague the idea of androcentrism (male-centeredness) is, an idea which defines males and male experience as a standard or norm and females and female experience as a deviation from that norm. Nandy and Hofstede, interestingly enough, both are male and both possess a similar attitude that men are inherently the dominant or superior sex, and that both male-female differences and male dominance are natural. These ideas shape not only perceptions of social reality but also the more material things—like unequal pay and inadequate daycare—that constitute social reality itself.
Ideologically, I believe that women are clearly different from men in some ways, and these differences should be considered but not devalued.
As Ashish Nandy has written, “The ultimate authority in the Indian mind has always been feminine.” And he very cleverly has tried to link Gandhi’s non-violent Satyagraha with a feminine approach. Let us study how sexist Nandy’s idea is when he compares everything in our tradition and politics with a gender bias outlook. It is no doubt that sexism is bias. Bias is when you have particular opinions about some group of people, and you then apply them to the individual. Unlike India in Britain, myths are also created to glorify femininity.
Is everything which related to harsh, crude, power and potentiality related to masculine characteristics and those related to soft, submissive or cooperative mutual understandings related to femininity? What about the men who are gender-liberated, anti-homophobic and sex-positive pro-feminists? Are they called feminine?
An Unconventional Family is the second book of Sandra Bem and is an autobiographical account of the Bems’ nearly 30-year marriage. It is both a personal history of the Bems’ past and a social history of a key period in feminism’s past. In1965, when psychologists Sandra Lipsitz and Daryl Bem met and married, they were determined to function as truly egalitarian partners. During the next ten years, they exuberantly shared the details of their daily lives in both public lectures and the mass media in order to provide at least one concrete example of an alternative to the traditional heterosexual family. What would Nandy say about Daryl Bem? Would Bem be feminine?
Another question that may be asked to Ashish Nandy is, what is the criteria he used to measure femininity?
Judy Giles, the first woman in the UK to gain a doctorate in Women's Studies writes in her book The Parlour and the Suburb: Domestic Identities, Class, Femininity and Modernity how women experienced modernization. She argues that the working-class women of Britain did not feel the same need as their bourgeois counterparts for a private life apart from their families. They also did not value formal education, which Giles states is based on patriarchal western thought and not as empowering as the second wave feminists have argued. Further, Giles shows that homemakers were not as passive or unsatisfied as these feminists often portrayed them. Not only did they frequently ignore the messages of mass advertising, but they also participated in local, regional, and national social and political organizations. So if we agree with Gill, feminine characteristics have to be divided as per their class statistics and hence Nandy could be asked which class he would secure for India to retain its feminine character?
In Britain, and all over the world, many men are getting more involved with the feminism movement to support their cause. In 2008, Jon Waters set up the London Pro-feminist Men’s Group. Hannah Cann published her interview with Jon Waters in York Uni Women's Society magazine. Why Pro-Feminist? Jon Waters replied to the question:
“Well, we discuss it now and again... Not everyone agrees with the name. Some think that we should be called an ‘anti-sexist men’s group.’ There’s the idea that we don’t want to colonize a term for a movement set up by women for the liberation of women, and that calling ourselves male feminists or something similar would suggest we don’t understand and aren’t sensitive to the issues. However, plenty of feminists argue that feminism is for all people who want equality, and that men ought to call themselves feminists as they are fighting the same fight as female feminists. I think we’re happy calling ourselves pro-feminists and helping to define what exactly that term means by simply existing under that title!” (See: http://londonprofeministmensgroup.blogspot.com/)
Hence the old pattern of a patriarchal society has also been changing and now in the post-modern period, radical feminism has lost its importance and it is now time to think about the new dimension of feminism. But Nandy, away from this modernity, always places himself ideologically as having a conservative and orthodox outlook, which I will say is more radical and fundamentalist in thought. In his various other articles, Nandy has supported the ‘sati system,’ which is the custom of widow-burning on a deceased husband's pyre, a controversial topic in contemporary India. Nandy argues the ‘sati system’ is also necessary to maintain respect towards women committed to this custom. I failed to understand what he meant when he writes ‘respect’ in connection with women? Does he want to say that ‘chastity’ is the only respect of woman? I don’t find any difference between any fundamentalist religious guru (either from Hinduism or from Islam) and Mr. Nandy, who deliberately denies a women’s right over their body. Does Nandy think that woman are such helpless creatures that they would not protect themselves and a masculine bodyguard is always required to safeguard their genital parts, when most of the religious gurus consider the genital part of a woman is the most significant asset to protect her prestige. So, being assaulted physically for a woman is a normal phenomena for these intellectuals than the so-called adultery of a woman.
The irony of the present day’s growth of post-modern fundamentalism, whether religious or political, is that it tries to raise women's consciousness and not only encourages the emergence of a vocal faction of middle-class women’s determination to reinterpret fundamentalism. These activities, though, overtly show their aim as empowering the strength of women while the hidden agenda is to make the consciousness silent under a false aroma. Slowly but surely in the process, women surrender the course of their own destiny and that of their collective history to fundamentalist ideas. This is a new form of post-modern patriarchy which works under the banner of ‘progressive intellectualism.’
I can’t remember now the name of the author whose few sentences impressed me while reading her works. Her words go something like this: feminists have to be pragmatic about the choice of their strategies, overtly and covertly; anonymous and public; gradual and confronting; and incidental and continuously.
The fight against fundamentalism can also mean simply to continue living your own life as a woman.