Read this article in the International Herald Tribune. It speaks of Indian feminism. And lo and behold, it is written by a man. Who seems to understand exactly what women want and need. Before moving on to my post, do check out this excellent rebuttal by sociologist Shilpa Phadke. It’s definitely worth reading.

Anand Giridharidas’ article starts innocently enough, talking as it does about a fictitious character in a "chick-lit" novel. But very quickly, it degenerates into woman-bashing. No, scratch that. "Modern-woman"-bashing. This paragraph for example.

"Arshi and her female friends smoke, drink and fornicate their way through life. But if liberation is defined more sweepingly, as the freedom to do whatever men do, and to define oneself other than by one’s relationships to men, then Reddy Madhavan’s heroines are less liberated than they think."

Excuse me, but all women need not smoke, drink and "fornicate their way through life" to be considered modern women. Indeed, women who have never done any of the above can well be considered modern. If the author of the novel reviewed really intended to show the shallowness of the women who pay "lip service to women’s lib", she might have said things differently. Then again, all we have in the article is a skewed and prejudiced viewpoint as projected by Giridharidas. Too many generalisations, too much prejudice and an assumption that he knows all about Indian feminism results in a badly-written review that is insulting to the book, and to the intelligence of the readers. The author allegedly said in a telephonic interview that the book reflects the "real dualities" that Indian women straddle. According to the author, Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan, her heroine sees men as "emotional and financial feeding tubes." It cannot get any worse. The author is free to create any heroine she wants. But claiming that it represents a large majority of Indian women is ridiculous.

I just don’t get the point. So, urban women, however educated they may be, smoke, drink, get laid with multiple lovers and get married for money, simply because they want to show the world they are feminists? I am insulted. I belong to that category of urban, educated and independent Indian women. I do not do any of the above simply to prove I am liberated. I made certain choices. They were entirely mine. Smoking, drinking or getting laid are not symbols of modernism. Nor are they symbols of feminism. I am tired of explaining this over and over. Feminism does not mean behaving like a man. If men sleep around, it does not mean we must do the same to be feminist. Feminism simply means having the right to choose how to live, within the framework of a society. Having as much freedom as any other individual.

Anand Giridharidas makes yet another unpardonable generalisation when he says,

"Indian feminism is the feminism of compromise. It is the feminism of daughters who press their parents for late curfews, but would never hurt them by dating a man of another religion. It is the feminism of women who collect big paychecks by day, but do not question husbands who treat them like maids by night. It is the feminism of women who cope privately with workplace harassment, but never see it as a systemic phenomenon to be fought."

All this is simply untrue. Yes, daughter hesitate to hurt their parents by falling in love with someone from another religion. But, that is not because they are scared of them. It is because they, or should I say we, love our parents too much to see them hurt. But, if it does happen, we are not scared to stick to our decisions. Sexual harassment at the workplace is hard to fight because people in decision-making areas are men. And those men do not want to see change. It is also because when a woman is sexually harassed, she somehow brought it upon herself and invited trouble. It is because our society does not want to see harassment or even rape as a crime. It is a way to prove to the world that you are a man.

On that note, I saw a movie the other day. Titled "Varalaaru a.k.a Godfather", it symbolises the worst of Indian society’s attitude towards its women. The heroine stops her wedding to an effeminate man, a classical dancer. The man, wanting to prove that he is indeed a man, rapes her. This act is condoned by the mother of the victim, because her daughter is arrogant and adamant, apparently enough reason to rape her. What the hell? The victim, not even called a victim in the film, ends up in the psychiatric ward, mentally deranged by the injustice meted out to her. But the story is not hers. It is the story of a noble classical dancer spurned at the altar by an arrogant bitch, whom he taught to a lesson. You seriously expect women to report sexual harassment in the workplace, given that the movie was a stupendous success? She will be blamed of course. Labelled characterless, she will lose her job and be rejected by family and friends to die lonely years later. What do you expect?

Finally, Giridharidas assumes he knows all that women want. And he is not even one. What gives him the right to generalise and assume the way he does? The fact that IHT has given him a regular column? Oh come on! Give me a break!

Indian Feminism

4 thoughts on “Indian Feminism

  • October 11, 2008 at 5:48 am

    Hi Amrutha,

    Stumbled upon your blog. I liked your post but somehow feel that the second quoted para by Mr Writer is kinda true.

    True feminism or definition of a modern women should ideally be someone who sticks to what she feels. It should be either black or white. There is no gray area in between,

    I cant claim to be a modern women if I get flowers at work but brickbats at home from a jerk husband. If I stand upto something, I have to do it. Be it parents, be it husband, be it the society. Why the double standards?

  • October 12, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    I wrote to the IHT

    “This is with reference to Mr Ananad Giridhardas’s article “A feminist revolution in India skips the liberation”. I cannot understand a newspaper like yours printing bilge like this. An Indian and a feminist, I find this article offensive to say the least. Its tone is arrogant, condescending and patronizing. The author appears unable to distinguish between fact, fiction and some deranged anti-feminist fantasy. He generalizes to hyperbole and suggests a solution of long suffering and exaggerated social service as an example of what a feminist should be like. Clearly he does not know of the little idea that “Feminism is the radical belief that men and women are equal”. Something which his examples do not seem to pick on. Confusing promiscuity with feminism, modernity with liberalism, the writer would have all women, feminists and non-feminists alike tread a path as defined by himself in order to live up to their name. If this is not antithetical to the notion of feminism, indeed to individual freedom itself, he would probably serve himself and his readers and you his employers better by reading up about Feminism- most specially the Feminist movement in India, before engaging in a public display of his arrogant ignorance. The internet- wikipedia specially is a good place to start. “

  • October 17, 2008 at 3:30 am

    Checked out the rebuttal…excellent.
    Great post. As usual 🙂

  • October 21, 2008 at 10:02 pm

    You have given the right definition. Problem is most people when trying to understand or define feminism ,take men as a standard. “Men do this and that so women doing this and that is freedom aka feminism”
    Thats demeaning!

    Thats because people fail to look at women as individuals. Freedom or feminism comes from what they want to do and doing it. Drinking or smoking or the likes of it is an individual’s (man or woman) choice, not an exhibition of freedom!
    Thanks for the tip off on the movie! I am staying off it!


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