Sunday, October 18, 2009

To be a feminist or not to be a feminist? Is it really a question at all?

Indian blogger PRAGYA BHAGAT has posed a question regarding my search and conviction in her latest blogging. She has admitted from the first line that her idea about a feminist is ‘over exposed’ with the idea that, a feminist “must be aggressive. Slogan-bearing, perhaps. She must be progressive, willing to fight for what she believes in. You know, equality, education, independence, all that jazz. She doesn’t have to be a ‘she’.”
Ms. Bhagat compared me with her Nani (Grandma), who was, according to her, born a decade before me, and like many elderly women, she gossips, she cooks, and criticizes like no other. Although naniji has lived in the US for more than two decades, she is an Indian nari (woman) through and through. She started her own business while raising five children. She learned a new language after the age of fifty and still works in her seventies. Pragya asked whether this description classifies her as a feminist or not. She admitted that her grandma performs ‘karva chauth’ (while Pragya does not) and that this fasting empowers her. According to Pragya, “at night, she dresses up in her finest jewelry and silk-embroidered sari. She performs the patient ritual of breaking the fast only when she sees the moon. Through the practice of ‘karva chauth’, she is celebrating herself, her self-control, and her dedication to her marriage...This is how I am beginning to perceive feminism - being the woman you are and loving it.”
I am grateful to Pragya that she gives a favour by comparing me with her Grandma. But the total blogging, I think, is a result of a misconception and that Pragya could not follow my ideas of feminism, though she took much pain to go through my interviews and writings. Repeatedly, I have been saying that it is odd to think that feminism is only meant to protest against male hegemony. Nowadays, feminism is a multi-dimensional concept and it differs from culture to culture and from people to people.
The similarity of all the feminist ideas is the ultimate freedom of the female mass. There are different types of feminists. Some are shouting against male hegemony; some are even coming forward with their anti-sex and anti marriage voices; some are very radical; some are very moderate; and some are sex positive. After the famous ‘feminist’s sex war,’ you can’t describe fully anyone if you say ‘she is a feminist.’ It is also true that Pragya’s study on feminism is very limited, otherwise she would not confine ‘feminism’ to ‘slogan raising voices.’
As a creative writer, I have once told I am not an activist and that no creative writing, in my idea, should follow any ‘ism.’ It is the philosophy which follows the writing and not what the creative writer writes that follows any ‘ism.’ Secondly, its strange how could Pragya know that I keep myself away from family life or that I am different ‘woman’ who has no family bonding? I have to work outside; I have to manage my family; I have to cook and to take care of my household. I don’t rely upon domestic help for everything. Once I was in need of a motherhood (see my story” Waiting for Manna, from my second collection of short stories), I bore and brought up my children. It is another matter that I have a husband who is very liberal and more a ‘friend’ to me than a ‘husband’ in patriarchal sense. But what makes me any day a ‘feminist,’ if I am ever a ‘feminist’ (because Pragya uttered a word ‘self-described feminist’ for me)? It is not due to my ‘tomboy activities’ in my childhood. ‘Tomboy activities’ do not make anyone feminist. Rather, it is my mother, whose situation, condition, and life under the patriarchal milieu make me a ‘feminist.’ I have seen my father buy jewelry for her. But in India, these jewelries are considered as an asset of a person. He (my father) did not allow my mother to wear them publicly. Readers can read my story End of Fascination. I have pointed out that my father, along with many others of the masculine world in our society have an idea of possession of their wives. But, they always try to discard any thought of possession over them by their wives. My story Hatred may be a fine example to show the reason what made me a ‘feminist.’
From time to time, in my different articles, I have always stated that I always believed that man and woman are biologically different. I am not against any biological species. I am not against any social system like marriage, motherhood, or heterosexual love. I think man and woman are complimentary to each other in order to make nature’s law fulfilled. What I AM for is the same status of a female and a male in society. I am against patriarchal society but that does not mean that I want to replace a matriarchal society with a patriarchal one.
If Pragya’s grandma feels fasting for her husband empowers her, I have no problem with that. My problem arises if her Grandma would force Pragya to make fast in ‘krava chauth’ against her will, just like patriarchal society has been doing for an eternity. Our patriarchal society has exploited sexual difference to create systems of inequality and has exposed the facts of sexual politics. The patriarchy always tries to induce the women with three unauthentic attitudes.
These are the attitude of being a ‘devi’ or goddess of self-less goddess (Pragya should tell me why we don’t find a ‘self-less’ man as a god),a devoted mother, and a pure or Sati women. These ideas are good to hear but in my opinion, they are the tools of sexual politics that the patriarchy has been trying to play with women for ages. The patriarchy always attempts to trap women into an impossible ideal by denying their individuality and situations for all different kinds of women. In all three of these attitudes, women deny the original thrust of their freedom by submerging it into the object. In the case of the first, the object is herself; the second, her beloved and the third; the oppression of physical and psychological needs .
Actually, to be a feminist or not to be a feminist is not at all a question. Whoever is born with a feminine gender, has to remain as feminist as her thought, sufferings, feelings, even her language and speech type are also different from that of masculine world. I don’t believe a woman is more than a man. What is an objectionable matter for me is when someone says women are inferior or second class citizens in comparison with men.
Plato once said in his Republic that “... the only difference between men and women is one of physical function- one begets, the other bears children. Apart from that, they both can and should perform the same functions (though men on a whole, perform them better) and should receive the same education to enable them to do so; for in this way society will get the best value from both.” I admit that males can perform some functions better than women and that women can perform some functions better than men.
Yes it is true that some feminist thinkers and activists consider men as their No. 1 enemy. They use this idea to advertise and propagate themselves. But I think it is also similar to the idea of male hegemony. I always tried to develop the idea that love between two people has much importance and it should not interfere with gender equality.
I am sure, if Pragya’s grandma any day would read my stories, away from her shock as Pragya’s intuition, she would applaud and would find herself in my stories. Above all, we women are in the same boat, which women like Pragya forget sometimes.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Myth of Mars and Venus
( The painting of Mars and Venus by Sandro Botticelli 1483, source:
Deborah Cameron, a professor of Language and Communication at Worcester College of the University or Oxford and a leading expert in the field of language and gender studies, wrote a book entitled The Myth of Mars and Venus in which she describes the men are from Mars, women are from Venus position and reveals that differences between men and women are an issue of culture, not a fundamental difference in our chromosomal makeup. I borrowed this title from her book.
Away from the demands of feminists for the same status in language, some social linguistic scholars think the language of men and women differ in their speech patterns.

Women usually speak in a softer voice using pitch and inflection to emphasize points. They sound more emotional in speech. They use approximately five tones when talking and interrupt others less and allow more interruptions. They disclose more personal information about themselves, and make more indirect accusations. They use "why," which sounds like nagging (i.e., "Why don't you ever call?"). They make more indirect statements, use more intensifiers such as "few", "so", "really", "much", "quite", make more tentative statements and use "tag endings" or upward inflections which make statements sound like questions (i.e., "It's a nice day, isn't it?"). They use more conjunctions when changing topics (i.e., "and", "but", "however") and ask more questions to stimulate conversations. They tend to establish more business relationships through discussing their personal life.

On the other hand, men speak in a louder voice using loudness to emphasize points. They sound more monotonous in speech. They use approximately three tones when talking and interrupt others more and allow fewer interruptions. They disclose less personal information about themselves; they make direct accusations (i.e., "You don't call"). They make more direct statements and "beat around the bush" less often, use less intensifiers, and make more declarative statements (i.e., "It's a nice day."). They use more interjections when changing topics (i.e., "Hey!", "Oh", "Listen!") and ask fewer questions to stimulate conversation. They rarely discuss their personal life in business.

In 1975, for first time, the known grammarian Robin Lakoff claimed that there is a typical female language, very different from that of men, marked by the use of certain linguistic features such as hedging devices, tag questions, intensifiers and qualifiers, so-called “trivial lexis,” “empty” adjectives, and rising intonation on declaratives. Specifically, male use of language was considered the norm and women’s language was deviant from that norm, and thus being regarded as inferior to that of men. (See: Lakoff, R. (1975), Language and Women’s Place, New York: Harper & Row)
To justify his own statement, Lakoff put forward a “dominance approach” theory, according to which the difference in language between men and women is a consequence of male dominance and female subordination. In this view, women are a suppressed minority group.

But another group (supported by John Coates (19860 and Deborah Tannen (1990)), on the other hand, believe that men and women belong to different subcultures and that any linguistic differences can be attributed to cultural differences. They argued men and women communicate differently (and women do it better) because of the way their brains are wired. The female brain excels in verbal tasks whereas the male brain is better adapted to visual-spatial and mathematical tasks. Women like to talk; men prefer action to words. (See: Holmes, J. (1992b), “Women’s Talk in Public Contexts”, Discourse and Society ).

Recently ( on 2009-09-30 ) a book has been published under the title of Code Switching: How to Talk So Men Will Listen (ISBN: 1592579264 , EAN: 9781592579266) by Alpha Books, where authors Claire Damken Brown and Audrey Nelson narrate how men and women act in ingrained styles learned from birth and deeply embedded in the workplace structure. According to the authors, women tend to write long e-messages, which express support, and are more personal and emotive, while men are to the point with precise orders. They point out the following gender differences in their book:
1 – Women play the role of "office mother" offering to lend a sympathetic ear
2 – Men play devil's advocate and act in a challenging way
3 – Women make the effort to laugh at jokes and make colleagues feel good about themselves
4 – Men are more likely to be the joke teller
5 – Women act in a passive manner, letting colleagues talk over them and interrupt

Although in my opinion, both the theories are somehow nearer to the truth. I strongly believe that men and women are coming from a different subculture and not only are they different in biological manner, but they are also different with their psycho-socio backgrounds. This is due to the way boys and girls are raised linguistically. Janet Holmes claimed that women often use empty phrases like I think or you know, because they are not committed to what they are saying and that they can be used to soften or mitigate utterances in order not to hurt the addressee’s feelings.
Women’s expressions are mainly an interpretation of women’s ideas and their surroundings, and I think they differ from men’s harshness. The myth of Mars and Venus is no exception to that rule. But I don’t find anything harassing if females are considered different. It is to be remembered that the world is built with two complimentary powers and male-female differences today did not exist in the same communities in early periods. It is the patriarchal society which makes its dominance over the feminine world. Those who are saying about the brain mapping, to prove that the female is a weaker sex, has itself become a dogma, treated not as a hypothesis to be investigated or as a claim to be adjudicated, but as an unquestioned article of faith.

Still some scholars fight against the male dominance over language and making women invisible from language. Access their causes and successes at my SENSE &SENSUALITY blog.

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