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Reviews, soul searching & feminist theme explorations, essential books to read, and even insightful interviews with authors – here’s to #ADecadeOfWomensWeb
Books have been my life line for almost since I remember. I read incessantly through my childhood, as a teenager, and as an adult, only recently slowing down due to some reasons beyond my control.
But yes, books defined me. I was because I read.
So one of the most enjoyable part of my work as editor at Women’s Web was to identify new and upcoming releases and get them reviewed, or to commission posts that explored some specific aspect of literature. It was a big plus that my boss, Aparna Vedapuri Singh (who has begun a series on the Women’s Web YouTube channel, where she speaks about a particular book that has affected her deeply) is a book lover like me, and a big proportion of my teammates – the happy times we’ve had some days talking books over lunch!
We’ve had some really good posts in this category, and from these, I have tried to get you diverse picks again. Book reviews make up the largest chunk of posts, but I have taken only those that bring more to the table than just a look at the book itself. There are also plenty of book lists, but here too, only those that give more than just a list of books on a particular theme make this list – there has to be an exploration of important feminist issues or the theme has to mean something beyond just good reading. And we also have a lot of author interviews, of which I have picked one that goes beyond a look at the author’s work.
So without much ado then, here are the best Books & Literature posts on Women’s Web in #ADecadeOfWomensWeb
The Radical Idea That An Indian Woman Could Happily Be Single By Choice
A compelling review of the book Single by Choice, which is a compilation of candid accounts by eleven single women (twelve if you count editor, Kalpana Sharma), who defied the norm, and decided not to get married. In a society that is obsessed with ‘marriageable age’ these almost make a ‘feminist manifesto’ of sorts.
The inevitability of marriage is something most of us have grown up with. Many were not born deciding to be single but made the choice through the course of their formative years. While some still are open to the possibility of sharing their life with someone, they are firm in their belief that they do not need it, and they will only decide to get married on their own terms, not anyone else’s.
Going against the status quo means a lifetime of people asking blunt and often ignorant questions, judgements and assumptions about your lifestyle and habits, and well-meaning but often obnoxious attempts to push you into it. It means building a family through non blood ties, and learning to depend on oneself – being financially, emotionally and mentally independent. Not believing on someone to make your happily-ever-after for you but creating it yourself.
Why Don’t More Indian Books Show The Sisterhood Of Women’s Friendships?
Over the past couple of years, we’re becoming aware more and more of the power of sisterhoods, of women’s friendships and the place they have in our lives, demolishing the myth of a woman being women’s worst enemy. Maybe it’s time we had more fiction celebrating it too.
Why are Indian authors not too keen on exploring female friendships? Is it because Indian society expects a woman’s life to revolve around her family once she gets married? She is expected to be a good wife, a good mother, and a good daughter in law, but never a good friend. In fact, it might even be frowned upon if she focuses on her friendships post marriage. Sure, a woman is allowed to be friends with her husband’s friends’ wives or maybe even other female relatives but it is more of a social interaction than friendship in the truest terms that is expected of them.
It is indeed tragic that our literature, that mirrors society gives us an indication of how friendship is not expected to be an integral part of an Indian woman’s life. Yet, human beings, irrespective of gender, crave companionship beyond the usual familial ties.
How Confident, Educated, Outspoken ‘Modern’ Me Had Also Been Insidiously ‘Trained To Be Invisible’
Yes, as girls and women, most Indian families train their daughters to be the ‘good girl’, on the way to become the ‘good wife and daughter in law’. And this is not just in homes that are heavily patriarchal.
Don’t speak. Don’t shout. Don’t argue. Don’t ask questions. Don’t go out after dark. Don’t disrupt the relationship. Don’t think only about yourself. Don’t do anything to disturb the family peace. All of these are direct instructions issued to women to shut them down or, as Deepa Narayan says in her book Chup, make them invisible.
While many men today refrain from resorting to physical violence (and make it look like it’s a Nobel Prize-worthy sacrifice they are making), there is an increase in the spate of incidents involving emotional and psychological abuse. Strangely, whether it be physical or emotional, the main driving factor behind the two forms of abuse isn’t different – the exertion of power and control by men, or rather, the attempt to put women in their place.
In Want Of A Husband: The ‘Other Women’ Of The Jane Austen Novels
Jane Austen’s novels are far less romantic than one imagines, as this analysis of the ‘other women’ in the Austen novels proves.
While we usually tend to think of the Austen novels in terms of the romance in the lives of their lead female protagonists, there are many ‘other women’ in each of her famous novels, whose lives are affected by marriage or the lack of it in pretty dramatic ways; as one could argue that it did in Jane Austen’s own life.
They include beautiful romances that come to satisfying conclusions, but there is also a darker vein running underneath. For every Elizabeth Bennett who gets her Mr. Darcy with good sense and character as well as ten thousand pounds, there is a Charlotte Lucas who has to make do with a silly Mr. Collins and find a happiness that consists in minimizing your husband’s presence in your daily life.
7 Things I Wish Girls And Women Wouldn’t Learn from Romance Novels
Romance novels are fun, escapist reads for most of us. Yet doesn’t the genre need to get with the times? Is feminist romance an oxymoron?
While I love reading romance novels as escapist fiction, I often wish they could be a little more feminist, reflect a little more the kind of relationships I and many of my friends seem to have. I wish they would let women expect more from the men in their lives, and from their lives themselves.
Not only do our ‘heroes’ know that their privilege works in their favour and abuse the knowledge ruthlessly, they are full of prejudice against ‘lesser’ beings, especially women. The hero of a Hoyt romance thinks of women as replaceable playthings. The hero of the Courtney Milan romance I mentioned earlier is extremely prejudiced against women and feminine behaviour, and displays this to our heroine’s face, in spite of thinking of himself as a nice unprejudiced guy, as liberal dudes tend to do.
‘Chick Lit’ – A Valid Category Or A Contemptuous Name For Women’s Writing?
The term ‘chick lit’ used to describe women’s writing devalues women’s work. Books that fall under this category can be powerful expressions of feminism, yet they continue to be treated in a derogatory manner by more ‘serious’ readers, and it doesn’t help that publishers tend to present them in fluffy looking, often glittery covers.
The real issue, however, is that this negative perception about chick lit translates into practical concerns like book sales. Soraya Chemaly, in her book Rage Becomes Her, references several studies and instances which show how writing as a woman instantly puts one on the back foot.
Apart from such concerns, the dismissal of chick lit as fluff also seriously devalues the creativity and hard work of women. The gendering of books is a marketing ploy stuck in a vicious cycle. Men don’t read “women’s books”, publishers in turn market these books only to women, for example through how the book covers are designed, and men are pulled further away from such books. This is even more damaging, because the same doesn’t apply to books written for men by men.
33 Books By Indian Women Authors Translated For Your Reading Pleasure!
So much of pathbreaking Indian literature is in India’s many languages, not English. And for the mainstream English reader, these books become inaccessible.
Translated works are generally looked down upon, as compared to the original, but due to factors like not knowing multiple languages, these remain unknown gems, unless they are available to us as translations.
Women in translation, therefore, is obviously a very big deal. In today’s time when translations have become wider as a genre (even having an award for the best translated fiction) it is imperative that we give credit to all those women writers who have been earning laurels for their work and their contribution to the literature of their domain language.
What SHOULD We Really Talk About When We Talk About Rape?
An in-depth review of Sohaila Abdulali’s enlightening book, which she wrote from the POV of being a rape survivor, is a must read, and the author of this piece takes it beyond just being a review.
I think ‘The Abdulali guidelines for saving a rape survivor’s life’ should be printed and distributed to one and all. Each one of us needs to know them, no matter how well-read and aware we think we are. We need to be ready to unlearn and re-learn because many a time our actions or words are well-intentioned but detrimental to the cause.
For instance, in one of the chapters, Abdulali makes a case for looking at rapists as humans, which I would have never bothered to do earlier. She elucidates why violence is not the answer to violence and that furiously demanding public castration of rapists is not quite a laudable reaction. This made me pause and reflect. I evolved as a person by the time I reached the end of the book because every word in this literary work is a journey, a lesson and a plea to rise above our egos and intolerance to make the world a better place.
Sex Education For Children Made Easy With Help From Books
Sexual feelings are natural, and little kids are often curious about where they came from, and what mama and papa do behind closed doors. While juvenile sexual activity is still criminalised in India, it won’t do to emulate an ostrich and think it doesn’t happen.
Start early. By the time the child is a teenager, all parties might find it extremely uncomfortable to broach the topic, one which was mostly taboo when today’s parents were growing up. Openness and good communication between the parents and children is imperative. The child must feel comfortable coming to you with a question. Despite all good intentions, parents might still find teaching kids about sex challenging; books help.
First, educate yourself. While there are many, infinitely more graphic books, magazines and movies that children might eventually get their hands on, (and they will, so you’d better make your peace with that right away), the books here could aid parents in giving children a proactive grounding in the facts, the right words to use, respect for another’s choice, and the right attitude towards sex, going a long way towards happier and safer sex lives for the kids in adulthood, and better peace of mind for you, the parents.
Our Mistake Is To Put Romantic-Erotic Love Before Other Kinds: Sharanya Manivannan
We cannot wind up this list without a good, crackling interview. Meet Sharanya Manivannan who speaks of some revolutionary ideas.
There has been a lot of talk about the institution of marriage and the modern day feminist not being complementary to each other. Which is why feminists are very often asked about how they view marriage from the lens of their feminism.
Sharanya stresses that misunderstanding marriage to mean love is incorrect, and understanding marriage as an institution, its history and social function, its role in society today and in the past, and the vital statistics, is more essential.
“Let’s look at the incredibly high rates of women who leave the workplace in India soon after marriage, and the incredibly low rates of inter-caste marriage. Let’s look at the sexism built into wedding rituals and language, which clearly indicate that women are seen as part of household property, in temporary safekeeping in her natal home, and that men’s families do them a favor when they allow them to marry into them. It’s simply impossible to be a feminist and not interrogate these things. Feminism is necessarily about addressing inequity, while marriage is a structure that maintains inequity. Every generation of feminists has approached this as a fact, chipping away at this structure.
Image source: PxHere
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In her role as the Senior Editor & Community Manager at Women's Web, Sandhya
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