December 13, 2007

Is It Post Feminism Yet?

A LOT OF MEN and women in Bangalore proclaim that it is the age of post feminism. One gets more of the same from the woman’s supplements and the women’s magazines which showcase women who are the movers and shakers of the corporate world, who balance home and careers so well, courting success like never before. You can see them everywhere, holding important positions and visible in hitherto male-dominated jobs. They all refer to themselves as individuals who have had the grit and determination to make it and have made it. Being women for most of them is ahistorical and apolitical and devoid of any gender or structural constraints/issues.

In Bangalore, one sees many young women, in the city for their portion of the pie. They haven’t had much precedent living and earning outside their homes and away from their sheltered (one assumes) families but these young women are confident. They are also often irreverent to everything in general and politics in particular.

How does one state the obvious without sounding strident or dogmatic? That unpleasant things happen to women because we are women. I am not even going to dredge up unpleasant figures of dowry deaths or acid attacks in the city or statistics of sexual assault to say why feminism is relevant. I just want to take an everyday example. A woman, of any class walking on the road apparently without purpose will almost never be left alone to ruminate or take in the evening breeze. A woman who is not purposefully going somewhere, who is not hurrying home from work with a bag of vegetables or dragging along two children into the shopping mall and is on the street ought to be available because she is deviating from her prescribed gender role.

It is a simple equation: she can’t be autonomous. Her sex is for the male. She needs to be shown her place or picked up. Motorists stop and beckon, cars slow down and she gets the eye-to-eye treatment through the rearview mirror until she is painfully aware of herself as a woman with a sexualized body that can’t be escaped.

If you are a woman you have to walk a certain way at a certain hour. If you begin transgressing, you are marked and your vulnerability increases manifold. I have tried and I know it is so difficult to be oblivious of the space one inhabits or perambulates. To proclaim that it is neutral is to ignore reality. Especially with regard to public spaces.

How can the life of a woman then be ahistorical or apolitical? How can we claim the streets, the nights and the parks, without the politics or the language of feminism? How can it be an age of post feminism when a woman can’t walk, star gaze or take in the breeze unless she is protected and shielded from the public gaze by her class and ‘Family’?

The facts of how many women actually can and do want to re-order and relocate constructions of body, gender, family, belonging and sexual division of labour would perhaps be the grist for another write-up!

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8 comments to Is It Post Feminism Yet?

  • I’m really glad you wrote this post! The use of “post-feminism” is very disturbing, especially by people who don’t even understand what feminism is–or, worse, who have a negative view of it (i.e. men-hating movement). The issues of autonomy and mobility you write about are key here, and unless and until they are adequately address we will not be post-feminism 🙂

  • Indhu, hooray for this! It is indeed disturbing when women claim they aren’t feminists, or that the movement isn’t necessary anymore, as if all our battles have been won.

  • Great post, Indhu. I like what you said about the ‘sexualised body’. Sometimes, all one wants to do is be free and human without being so aware of one’s body! At other times, one wants to be able to feel sexual or attractive without fearing that it’s going to be misconstrued as an invitation for something. You know, the whole good posture bit we hear about in school — back-straight, shoulders back — I find it so difficult because walking on the road like that is almost an ‘invitation’ to be harassed. Shoulders hunched, arms crossed in front is much easier.

  • […] Ultra Violet asks if it is indeed time to call in the era of post-feminism yet. Share This […]

  • You guys are doing good work.

  • Beautiful post. How can we say that feminism has done its work until each of us can walk on the street alone without fear, annoyance, or embarassment?

  • Saguna Dubey

    Its true and hypocritical in Indian society where on one hand woman is goddess and on another hand she is looked at as a mere possession either to be pushed behind the veil or else she ll be gazed at as a living commodity …

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