The world through a feminist lens

Why does society insist on defining women’s role in society, when it should call on women to define their own reality?
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Representational ImageSource: Markus Winkler from Pixabay

“Incisive, eclectic, and politically engaged, Seeing like a feminist is a bold and wide –ranging book that records contemporary society.”

Feminism is about having choices, having a right to have a choice and not being judge for your choices. It’s not about the set of rules but the freedom to choose how to live. Why can’t women be offered the courtesy of their own choices and freedom? Why does society insist on defining women’s role in society, when it should call on women to define their own reality? No country in the world can yet say they have achieved gender equality. Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive. Both men and women should feel to be strong. Women are more than care takers! Women are more than the definitions the West has given them or what many schools of thought has reduced them to.

Feminism is not about a moment of final triumph over but about the gradual transformation of the social field so decisively that old markers shift forever. From sexual harassment charges against international figures to the challenge that caste politics poses to feminism, from the ban on the veil in France to the attempt to impose skirts on international women badminton players, Menon deftly illustrates how feminism complicates the field irrevocably.

Nivedita Menon is a professor of political thought at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. She is an influential feminist academic, whose previous books include Recovering Subversion: Feminist Politics Beyond the Law (2004); an edited volume, Sexualities (2007) and Power and Contestation: India after 1989. Menon takes on the portrayal of the positionality of women in India with a seemingly academic flavor, and yet maintains a cogency and simplicity throughout the text. She divides the book into six main chapters that take on most of the issues in India: Family, Body, Desire, Sexual violence, Feminists and Women, Victims or Agents. Each chapter is an allusion to patriarchy , subjugation of women, power dynamics in the family and society and different role of these disadvantages on women’s lives in India. A noteworthy feature of this book is that Menon cites numerous cases, their explanations and narratives while explaining each concept, to provide for a contextual and in-depth background of the issues. Each chapter is pierced with examples of social realities from around the country to give us a comprehensive picture of what it truly means to be feminist and broader understanding of feminism.This book is complex and deeply leaved. It is a great way to be educated and how to educate women around you. On the kind of rights that women have in a country like India and it does quote a lot of laws that are in favor of women and how to empower the women of country. The book also focuses on idea of supporting each other as a women and how this kind of support has actually helped a lot of women about their problems and became a better version of themselves. So this is something everyone should read.The book is definitely aided by Menon’s position as a woman who has lived with India’s legal and cultural systems. As she points out, the Indian penal code criminalizes sexual activity that is “against the order of nature” whatever that means. Menon’s perspective is powerful, precisely because it is based on feminist scholarship and debates in what she calls “my part of the world.” She highlights many non-western assumptions and goes beyond. The book looks “directly on the gendered nature of power. Women work in both organized and unorganized sectors of Indian economy. In organized sector there have some kind of legal protection to safeguard their rights and interests, however those working in unorganized sectors were experienced to a number of problems related to their working conditions, harassment, violence and so on. This book critically pointed out the various things where women are at the forefront of both public and private spheres, but continue to be controlled by institutionalized patriarchies. This is one of good book for a reader who want to gain an extensive knowledge of the history of feminism in India the history which is conveniently erased from our books, and the cultural narrative. Menon’s work is a combination of various facts, as it attempts to disassemble structures, patriarchal and rigid ideologies, hierarchies, rules and social orders. She point the things with the prism of feminism. Developing this argument through shaking the foundations of normative values, she questions assigning “gender dignity” and “social respect” to some forms of work and not to others. She concludes that the feminist task is to upturn these values, to transform the ways in which we look at the world, and not to reaffirm the world as it is. She initiated her writing by comparing the concept of nude makeup with the maintenance of social order and argues, in a world where everyone is marketing their talents like intellect or physical labor in order to make a living, this kind of critique has lost its edge.The book concludes with hope that patriarchy is not as invincible as we think. Menon describes the patriarchy as an assembling of structures in which we all participate either consciously or unconsciously. However, it is when we refuse to participate in it that the structures do not get to close their gates with a satisfactory click. Seeing like a feminist is what disorganizes the settled field, and opens up multiple possibilities rather than close them off. It marks the shifts and new trends in the feminist way of looking. It also goes against some of the early ways of feminist looking. Menon’s contention to Mulvey’s arguments on male gaze is one such example that can be traced from this book. One vantage point to analyze this case would be internal diversity within the feminist experience, informed by diverse time, space and socio- cultural backgrounds. In that sense it would be more judicial to consider the different opinions under the umbrella term of feminism as diversity of opinion instead of conflicting opinion.The French Nobel Prize winner, Remain Rowland said that “Where order is injustice, disorder is the beginning of justice”. Menon wants each to shift her or his lens. To see like a feminist is “not to stabilize, it is to destabilize”. The more we understand, the more our horizons shift.

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