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Nivedita Menon’s Seeing Like A Feminist is a must read – whether or not you are a feminist or a woman.
By Unmana Datta
Does this qualify as a review: read this, read this, read this?
Seriously, Nivedita Menon’s Seeing Like A Feminist is an excellent book that we all ought to read. I’d read much praise of this book and was hoping it would live up to the hype, and it totally did. I’m a hardcore feminist; it had me nodding along and gave me something to think about. If you aren’t one, but are perturbed at the recent spate of violence against women, this book has answers to questions like:
– Why are there incidents of horrifying violence against women who don’t conform to gender norms?
– What’s wrong with the traditional idea of the family?
– Aren’t men and women fundamentally different?
– What do women’s issues have to do with gay or queer rights?
– What’s the problem with thinking of rape and sexual assault as more horrifying than other types of violence?
The book is somewhat academic in tone, but is easy reading nonetheless. The academic tone works by making the arguments seem more reasoned and researched, and (probably consciously) is set against the popular image of an angry feminist. For a short book – 223 pages – it spans Indian and western feminism, women in governance, violence against women, gendered division of labour, sexuality, abortion rights, inheritance and property laws, and much more. It questions everything – the patriarchal institution of the family, cultural traditions, unfair laws and legal judgements, “women’s empowerment” without feminism, and some feminists’ criticism of sex work and pornography.
It’s also full of statements that make you think:
– The criminalization of consenting sex between adults is unacceptable. (This is within a passage on adultery – but consider how well this applies to non-heterosexual relationships!)
– [The traditional, patriarchal] form of the family is an inherently violent institution that is gendered to the core.
– What happens to our ideas of fertility, ‘maternal’ urges, motherhood and even lactation, as separate features of the human condition, regardless of the gender that has been assigned to the body?
– The general understanding [is] that any quality associated with men is superior and must set the norm for all humanity. In whichever ways women are different, their difference is considered to be an inferior difference.
Read it, read it, read it. And once you’ve read it, pass it on to a woman you love, or even to a man. We all need to see the world as feminists.
Publishers: Zubaan and Penguin.
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