Saturday, August 27, 2011

Setting the Record Straight

A few days ago, Sonia Sarkar, a Special Correspondent of The Telegraph newspaper wrote me in a letter and questioned, “What exactly is Sense and Sensuality? The website gives me an impression that it is a common platform where women facing sexual harassment on streets can write about their experiences. But what after that? Is it only a platform of empathy or something more than that?”

I was stunned at her questions. I have been blogging here for not less than five years and my bloggings have been awarded as best blog by organizations throughout the world. In 2009, the Red Room, a literary website based in America, declared my blogging as one of the best blogs of the week in September of 2011. I have been awarded the Ladli Media Award of India for gender sensitivity for one of my bloggings. Many of my bloggings have been reposted, translated and published in different languages of the sub-continent. Google statistics show I have readers and visitors from all over the world. Moreover, the articles of my blogs have been published in a book form by a reputed publisher from Delhi. Still a Special correspondent of an English newspaper could ask me such questions. From that day, I decided to write a brief description of my motto of blogging and my ideas of feminism here, which I could publish as a preface in my next forthcoming book.

Who I Really Am

I have been repeatedly told that I am never an activist and basically, I am a writer. I have also told many times that as a feminist I am more a writer and as a writer I am more a feminist. Actually I don’t know if I am a feminist in any way or not because in my idea, I have found the ideas of Second Wave feminists as stereotyped. I am just a thinker and I write about what I think gender study should be.

I have found in India, some critics compare me with Simone De Beauvoir, though I differ from her on theoretical grounds. Once, The Tribune from Chandigarh described me as the ‘Virginia Woolf and Judith Butler of India’ in its Sunday, June 13, 2010 issue. But my readers know how many similarities these two eminent personalities and I have.

So, at last I have decided to list again some of my ideas on women in brief.

The Main Concept of My ‘Feminism’

For me, feminism is not a gender problem or any confrontational attack on male hegemony so it is quite different from that of Virginia Woolf or Judith Butler. I accept feminism as a total entity of female-hood, which is completely separate from the man’s world.

To me, femininity (rather than feminism) has a wonderful power. In our de-gendered times, a really feminine woman is a joy to behold and you can love and unleash your own unique yet universal femininity. We are here for gender sensitivity to proclaim the differences between men and woman with a kind of pretence that we are all the same. Too many women have been de-feminized by society. To be feminine is to know how to pay attention to detail and people; to have people skills; and to know how to connect to and work well with others. There will be particular times and situations within which you'll want to be more in touch and in tune with your femininity than others. Being able to choose is a great privilege and skill.

I think 'femininity' is the proper word to replace 'feminism,' because the latter has lost its significance and identity due to its extensive involvement with radical politics. Femininity comes from the original Latin word femine which means ‘female’ or ‘women’ and certainly the word creates debatable identical characteristics. It separates the female mass from a masculine world with reference to gentleness, empathy, sensitivity, nurturance, deference, self-abasement, and succorance. And patriarchy also sets the group alien from them in their traditional milieu.

There are many more differences in theories among scientists, anthropologists, and psychologist regarding the nature and behavior of the female mass. Biologists believe the role of our hormones, particularly sex hormones, and the structure of our chromosomes are responsible for such a dichotomy in gender, though some queer theorists and other postmodernists, however, have rejected the sex (biology)/gender (culture) dichotomy as a “dangerous simplification.” Psychology, often influenced by patriarchy, categorises women as different from the masculine world in certain behavioural, emotional and logical areas. Social anthropologists deny the concept of biology or psychology which keep women aside from the masculine world. Simone De Beauvoir’s saying “one is not born a woman, but becomes one” impressed social anthropologists so much that they create a different theory of feminine socialisation.

Here in my bloggings, I have constantly tried to analyse the ‘truth,’ as related by biologists and anthropologists. What I think true to my sense and sensibility, I have expressed without any hesitation. But still I don’t consider myself as a conformist because I consider myself more a writer and as a writer, I think I am always a genderless entity. In my opinion, a writer should not have any gender. But still, patriarchal society has prevailed; is there any possibility to have a genderless society?

How I differ from Simone De Beauvoir on ideas of Feminism

This section is from Wikipedia:

( There are some grammatical errors in the Wikipedian text, which I did not touch as I treated it as a quote)

Simone De Beauvoir changed the Hegelian notion of the Other, for use in her description of male-dominated culture. This treats woman as the Other in relation to man. The Other has thus become an important concept for studies of the sex-gender system. Michael Warner argues that:

the modern system of sex and gender would not be possible without a disposition to interpret the difference between genders as the difference between self and Other ... having a sexual object of the opposite gender is taken to be the normal and paradigmatic form of an interest in the Other or, more generally, others.

Thus, according to Warner, Freudian and Lacanian psychoanalysis hold the heterosexist view that if one is attracted to people of the same gender as one's self, one fails to distinguish self and other, identification and desire. This is a "regressive" or an "arrested" function. He further argues that heteronormativity covers its own narcissistic investments by projecting or displacing them on queerness.

De Beauvoir calls the Other the minority, the least favored one and often a woman, when compared to a man, "for a man represents both the positive and the neutral, as indicated by the common use of man to designate human beings in general; whereas woman represents only the negative, defined by limiting criteria, without reciprocity" (McCann, 33). Betty Friedan supported this thought when she interviewed women and the majority of them identified themselves in their role in the private sphere, rather than addressing their own personal achievements. They automatically identified as the Other without knowing. Although the Other may be influenced by a socially constructed society, one can argue that society has the power to change this creation (Haslanger).

In an effort to dismantle the notion of the Other, Cheshire Calhoun proposed a deconstruction of the word "woman" from a subordinate association and to reconstruct it by proving women do not need to be rationalized by male dominance.[11] This would contribute to the idea of the Other and minimize the hierarchal connotation this word implies.

Sarojini Sahoo, an Indian feminist writer, agrees with De Beauvoir that women can only free themselves by “thinking, taking action, working, creating, on the same terms as men; instead of seeking to disparage them, she declares herself their equal." She disagrees, however, that though women have the same status to men as human beings, they have their own identity and they are different from men. They are "others" in real definition, but this is not in context with Hegelian definition of “others”. It is not always due to man’s "active" and "subjective" demands. They are the others, unknowingly accepting the subjugation as a part of "subjectivity".[12] Sahoo, however contends that whilst the woman identity is certainly constitutionally different from that of man, men and women still share a basic human equality. Thus the harmful asymmetric sex/gender "Othering" arises accidentally and ‘passively’ from natural, unavoidable intersubjectivity.[13]

Why I differ from the Second Wave feminists or Western Feminists

For many feminist thinkers, after marriage a family breeds patriarchy. Happily-married women are considered false and double-crossing. The titles of popular feminist books from the early movement highlight the split between gender feminists and women who chose domesticity. Jill Johnston in her “Lesbian Nation” (1973) said married women who are heterosexual females 'traitors'; Kate Millett, in her “Sexual Politics” (1970), redefined heterosexual sex as a power struggle; whereas it was argued in Kathrin Perutz's “Marriage is Hell” (1972) and Ellen Peck's “The Baby Trap” (1971), that motherhood blocks the liberation of a woman. These feminists always try to paint marriage as legalized prostitution and heterosexual intercourse as rape. And they come to the decision men are the enemy and families are prisons.

My Thoughts on Marriage and Parenting

Betty Friedan and Germaine Greer were against marriage in their earlier thoughts. But they tried to skip from their anti marriage ideas in later periods of their lives. Marriage is a three-sided arrangement between a husband, a wife and society. That is, society legally defines what a marriage is and how it can be dissolved. But marriage is, on the other hand, for partners of the marriage; it is more of an individual relationship than a social matter. This is the main reason of crisis. Individually, I think marriage must be taken out of the social realm and fully put back into the private one. Society should withdraw from marriage and allow the adults involved to work out their own definition of justice in the privacy of their own homes.

Our feminist thinkers always try to skip the idea that offspring-begging is a natural instinct of a woman and it is related to our ecological and environmental situation. Anything against it may result in disaster. We find a woman has to pass through a different stage in her lifespan and there is a phase where a woman feels an intense need of her own offspring. Feminists of second-wave feminism have always tried to pursue a woman against the natural law because it is seemed to them that motherhood is barricade for the freedom of a woman. But if the woman works and has a career, doesn’t that mean that her working assignments would demand more of her time, more of her sincerity, and of course, more of her freedom? Where is the freedom there? If a woman can adjust herself and can sacrifice her freedom for her own identity outside her home, then why then couldn’t she sacrifice some of that same freedom and identity inside her home for parenting, when parenting is also a part of her social identity? And then what are the costs in both freedom and identity for women who have two careers -- one outside the home and one inside the home? It becomes good food for thought and debate.

And this double career of women could also be solved by rejecting the traditional patriarchal role of parenting. We have to insist on the idea of the equal division of labor in parenting. This equally shared parenting is now more common in the West where it has become an economic necessity to have two or more incomes just to survive. But still in South Asian countries as well as in many other parts of the world, we find shared parenting is a taboo factor because of the economic inequality between men and women, our crazy work culture, and the constrictions placed on us by traditional gender roles.

The conflict between American mother-daughter feminists Alice Walker and Rebecca Walker is a well-known chapter for Western feminism. Alice Walker, the mother, the second-wave feminist, obviously had an anti-motherhood idea as the other western feminists of her time. But Rebecca Walker, her daughter and a feminist of third wave discussed in her book “Baby Love” about how motherhood freed women like herself from their roles as daughters, and how this provided the much-needed perspective to heal themselves from damaged mother-daughter relationships and claim their full adulthood. What happened? This latest article is mired in unresolved childish hurt and anger (especially in the chapter “How my mother’s fanatical views tore us apart”), which would be all well and good except that she strikes out at her mother by striking out at feminism. I personally think the bitterness between her and her mother, as any woman who has ever fallen out with her mother knows, is a very painful experience and note to self, one that probably shouldn’t be written about too much in public.

In her book “Baby Love,” Rebecca Walker writes directly about unadulterated excitement and pride about becoming a mother. Rebecca argues that motherhood frees us from childhood. It is the most important step a woman can take because it creates another human being and because it makes a woman an adult.

I found this to be true for myself. In one of my stories in “AMRUTA PRATIKSHA RE” (Waiting for Manna )(1989), published many years before “Baby Love,” I discuss the queries of a woman after a lifetime of wondering whether to have children, wondering if the sacrifices are worth it, wondering if life is full enough already -- how does our generation of women decide to have children? How does any generation of women decide to have children? Or DO they decide to have children? Do they have the freedom to?

Why I Oppose Some Theories of Social Anthropologists: Natural Gender v. Learned Gender

I began the first article in my book “Sensible Sensuality” with “Bicycle and Me,” where I wrote of my experiences of childhood. As my father had an obsession for a male child, he wanted to see me as a boy and therefore, I was dressed as a boy; my hair was cut like a boy’s; and I used to play boyish games with boys instead of girlish games with girls. In my second article, I mentioned my Portuguese friend’s query, where he asked whether this being raised as a male child had any impact in my sexuality in later life or not. It is clear to me that these cross-gender activities did not make any difference in my later life, and I grew up normally as a woman.

When I studied more about gender theories, especially in anthropology, I found that the anthropologists tried to confirm that gender is not innate but is based upon social and cultural conditions -- in other words, it is learnt. But my mind did not accept the theory so easily. Margaret Mead, in her anthropological study in 1935, concluded the differences in temperament between men and women were not a function of their biological differences, rather, they resulted from differences in socialisation and the cultural expectations held for each sex. (See: “Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies” by Margaret Mead; New York: Dell.). This is, I think, the earliest study that led to the conclusion that gender is more a social and cultural factor than a biological one. According to this study, it is the social environment of the child, such as parents and teachers, that shapes the gender identity of a child. A child learns what to wear (girls in frocks and boys in shirt-pants); how and what to play (dolls for girls and cars for boys); how to behave (passivity and dependence in girls and aggressiveness and independence in boys); and how to reciprocate (gender-wise thoughts, feelings, or behavior). As a result, according to their theories, these ‘learnings’ confirm an appropriate gender-wise appearance and behavior, which leads to gender identity.

The sex/gender distinction, seen as a set and unchangeable dichotomy, does not help social scientists. They might have feared that “the set of sex/gender distinction serve to ‘ground’ a society's system of gender differences, [but] the ground seems in some ways to be less firm than what it is supporting.” (See the essay: “Transsexualism: Reflections on the Persistence of Gender and the Mutability of Sex in Body Guards” by Judith Shapiro in the book ‘The Cultural Politics of Gender Ambiguity’ (eds) J. Epstein and K. Straub, 1991). Other social anthropologists like Moira Gatens , Henrietta Moore, Pat Caplan dismiss the idea of a biological domain separated from the social. Even Pat Caplan declared that “...sexuality, like gender, is socially constructed.” From the preceding sentences, one can see that gender identities are grounded in ideas about sex and cultural mechanisms and create men and women from them.

But we also have to remember that biological sex is related to chromosomal sex, genitalia, assigned birth sex, or initial gender role which are rooted deeply in science and somehow proved rather than hypothetically assumed. Humans have 23 pairs of chromosomes within each cell; 22 of these are alike in both males and females. But when we come to the 23rd pair, the sexes are not the same. Every woman has in her cells two of what we call the ‘X’ chromosome. But a man has just one X and another Y chromosome. These sets of chromosomes are what make males and females different biologically.

Also, the sex hormones, primarily estrogen and testosterone, have a significant impact on the behavior of males and females. For example, why do boys typically like to play with cars and girls like to typically play with dolls? Social anthropologists think it is the impact of socialization while biological science thinks it is the role of these sex hormones which differentiate the choice children make gender-wise. Biology says the sex-specific differences in the brain are located both in the primitive regions, and in the neocortex, the higher brain region which contains 70 percent of the neurons in the central nervous system.

The neocortex is divided into two hemispheres joined by a 200-million fiber network called the corpus callosum. The left hemisphere controls language analysis and expression and body movements while the right hemisphere is responsible for spatial relationships, facial expressions, emotional stimuli, and vocal intonations. Females use both their right and left hemisphere to process language in certain circumstances while males just use one hemisphere. Females also reach puberty two years earlier than boys, as per biological science, and this changes the way they process social and sexual information.

There are still some characteristics and feelings that I think social anthropologists rule out for the sake of their theories. What about the voice pitch? Males have harsh voices and females have soft voices. This is a biological characteristic and it is related to gender. The crisis of infertility may create a serious trauma to a female, which a male cannot feel. This is a feeling innate with specific feminine gender and it is more a psychological and biological than a social problem. The menopausal psycho syndromes are totally biological and not categorised with this social gender theory. Social anthropologists emphasise that we are all trying to pass as a gender which is decided by cultural systems, not our biological sex. But that is only in a black and white world. But how about when it turns gray?

What happens in the cases of transsexuals who do not pass it? The operation does not make their bodies fully male or fully female. The genitals will not function as genuine genitals and their chromosomes cannot be changed. Voice pitch and other physical characteristics might reveal their transsexualism. Actually, the high level of testosterone in men drives them toward some specific masculine characteristics while the lack of high levels of estrogen in women creates a natural, biological push in the direction of feminine characteristics. So is this biological or is it social?

A Closing Thought

Each gender has different strengths and weaknesses. This does not mean that one sex is superior OR inferior to another. Being feminine is a woman's birthright! It is always hard for me to understand why any woman would want to give up this cherished possession. I feel proud and adore my feminine dress, grooming, carriage, posture, voice, and language.

I want to use an integrated analysis of oppression which means that BOTH men and women are subjected to oppression and stereotypes and that these oppressive experiences have a profound affect on beliefs and perceptions. I am against the patriarchy role model of society but it does not mean that I want to replace a matriarchal role model of society in place of the existing patriarchal one.

What I want is to develop equal mutual relationships of caring and support between all genders and I want to focus on strengthening women in areas such as assertiveness, communication, relationships, and self esteem.

I am here to stand against patriarchy and stand for all that it is not.


  1. I think this is a very intelligent and bold statement on femininity. I really like your new coining of that word and all that it implies. Sincerely, Edward Nudelman, Boston, MA

  2. Let me begin by admitting that I am a man. I don't want to be accused of interloping in this discussion surreptitiously. I have been a regular visitor to this blog for several months now. Although I have lurked for the most part failing to see that I had anything intelligent to offer. This may still be true, but the subject inspires me to comment. As Louis L'Amour observed in his Education of a Traveling Man, “A book is less important for what it says than for what it makes you think.” (Think “blog” in place of “book.”)

    I come here often for a dose of sense and sensibility. I believe that sense is an uncommon commodity these days, especially on the internet. Sensibility is equally lacking lost in political rants and ravings. From this you may infer that I interpret “sense” in this context as expressions tempered by reality as exposed through the use of sensual input and thoughtful, intelligent interpretation. I interpret “sensibility” as an openness to good sense. Without both, communication and education fail.

    Again, I fall back on America's storyteller for wisdom - "No one can 'get' an education, for of necessity education is a continuing process.” Thus, I come to this blog to continue my education. Here I have learned of common issues shared around the world. The challenges of being a woman seem to occur equally everywhere. Having many women in my life who I love – wife, mother, daughters, granddaughters – I am interested in the discussions in this blog, and my education is furthered.

    If this were a place for feminists, I would probably not be here let alone attempt to contribute to the discussion. I have been well informed that they do not accept the validity nor the relevance of anything I have to say on matters that concern them. This point was brought home to me when I attempted to have an opinion on the subject of abortion. Apparently, only the feminist is allowed that privilege.

    I, on the other hand, subscribe to Carl Jung's view of the unconscious mind wherein all people, male and female, share a dual nature – the anima and the animus. I believe these qualities are innate and most probably instinctual. I never trusted Margaret Meade's hypotheses and felt vindicated when I learned that her assistant exposed the fact the she had altered research data to support her preconceived conclusions. Anyone who has had multiple children, all raised in the same environment and all possessing distinctive personalities, cannot believe that they are totally the product of “nurture.” There must be inherent qualities and proclivities that guide their development.

    That being said, let me cast my vote in favor of the equality of the genders. I am sufficiently in control of my own actions to be totally responsible for them. I do not need for women to be covered from head to foot to prevent me from acting on base animal desires. I am confident enough in my own thoughts to be open to a woman's challenges. Finally, I accept my limitations and am grateful for a woman who shares life's vicissitudes and helps me confront and master them.

    Finally, I will not apologize for those members of my gender who subjugate the women in their lives or torment and abuse them. Such an apology would be meaningless. They must apologize for themselves.

  3. sorry friend due to shortage of time,i was not able to go through your articles and comment on that,but got the insight of your sense and sensuality,i also feel,there is biological difference of men and women,but basics are same.

  4. To be feminine, in a traditional sense, is today by many people scorned. To become equal women must enter the public sphere on male conditions. This in fact not likely to succeed since women and men are different, biologically. Women still menstruate and give birth. Research has shown that women do most of the work in the household as well as child care, despite the fact that they have a full-time job. This has nothing to do with biology in modern society. So although it is argued here that women are not inferior as human beings they are certainly not yet equal to men in any society. Their burden is heavy and many pay a high price in their daily lives, no the least to say spiritually. Highly recommend to read Clarissa Pinkola Estes on women from an Jungian perspective on this topic.

    Sarojini highlights a very important aspect, so many times neglected in Western contexts, and that is the biological woman and her cycles. It is as if women are supposed to be ashamed of having a female body. Yes, we must be allowed to be feminine. But as my great role model, Simone de Beauvoir stated, every woman must find her own femininity. And that is a challenge every woman must accept!

    And of course the same goes for men since there is in fact two genders, men and women. Men also need to reevaluate manhood, otherwise equality will never be accomplished. There for, inspiring to find a man on this site.

  5. Sonia Sarkar’s observation “Is it only a platform of empathy or something more than that?” is not understand able to me. From where she gets this impression, if she thinks so, she must give at least one example from your Blogs or any book.
    You (Dr.Sarojini Sahoo) said” I have been repeatedly told that I am never an activist and basically, I am a writer “, this evident that you have written novels and many more, it don’t require any explanation.
    You say “For me, feminism is not a gender problem or any confrontational attack on male hegemony-------------- “It is also true Sonia Sarkar should read your blogs carefully. It is not like this that you want men should be deprived from their natural and god gifted rights and women are benefited for something they don’t deserved. If a girl is suppressed and don’t allowed to be brought up like boy, she becomes burden on society and this load to bear every one.
    What you have explained under headings
    Who I Really Am, The Main Concept of My ‘Feminism’, How I differ from Simone De Beauvoir on ideas of Feminism, Why I differ from the Second Wave feminists or Western Feminists, My Thoughts on Marriage and Parenting ,Why I Oppose Some Theories of Social Anthropologists: Natural Gender v. Learned Gender, A Closing Thought
    Is quite clear if someone read your Blogs carefully, Sonia Sarkar should read it first.

  6. Sonia Sarkar’s observation “Is it only a platform of empathy or something more than that?” reminds me a short story written by a great writer Ahmed shah bukhari PITRUS, who was Pakistan representative in UNO. The short story written in Urdu entitles MABIL AOR MAIN. MABIL was his girl friend, they exchange books for reading and discuss on these books in private meeting. MABIL was very quick in reading and PITRUS was very slow. But PITRUS find solution of this problem and start commenting books without reading and become expert in this technique.
    One day he becomes ill and feels very ashamed that he is committing fraud with his lovely girl friend, as she come to his room he erupted “forgive me my friend “, and confess his dishonesty. She said “don’t take it too much seriously dear, we shall be good friend” and return a book which he give her for reading and said that she has read this book and we shall discuss on this book as you cure from illness.
    Just passing time he open the book, the book was brand new, the printer forget to cut the pages, still pages were tied to each other, indicating the book is still unread by any one.
    Sonia Sarkar appears to be very busy person and could not read your Blogs
    वोह बात सारे फ़साने में जिस का ज़िकर न था
    वोह बात उन को बोहॊत नागवार गुज़री हॆ

  7. Anonymous5:56 PM

    Indeed, the "nonessentialist" feminism (of, say, Judith Butler and Simone de Beauvoir) seems to be on its decline nowadays.

  8. I am in agreement with Jack Duras who has rightly pointed through an analogy about siblings who are raised in a more or less same environment yet have different personality. There sure must be somethings that are inherent and instinctual that make women and men different in spite of the socialization which is nevertheless not equal for both the genders. I guess one should accept this inherent difference and not try to eliminate it. Rather a 'secular sexuality' which respects the difference without discrimination as suggested by Sarojini Sahoo would bridge this gap of inferiorization of female sexuality. So, women must feel this inner difference that makes them females. This difference can be felt only if women disengage themselves from the negativity surrounding their sex in the patriarchal setup. I think Sarojini Sahoo is one such rare feminist who is trying to make women apocalypse this power of feminity through her works.