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A Brief Look At Feminism English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 3843 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Feminism is used as a point of reference to make sense of the marginalization of women. Feminism offers an explanation of the political, economic and social situations of women and it puts forward an explanation of their history with oppression. Feminism in literature refers to the nature of the female experience in it. It involves the experiences of the character, the rational, institutional, imaginative capacity of an author and the experience implicit in the language of structure that interrogates the cultural prescriptions. Feminist Writings cover all aspects of writing for women, by women, and about women and the issues that concern them. This seems to be the primary concern of female fiction writers from feminist perspective. A feminist fiction is a work where language and imagery are employed to impart a new vision of reality to perceive reality from woman’s mind. Patriarchal societies favour men over women in matters of decision making, positions of authority, and ownership of property. Johnson (1997), a sociologist who taught at Hartford College for Women, describes patriarchy as:

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A society is patriarchal to the degree that it is male-dominated, male- identified, and male-centered… it also involves as one of its key aspects the oppression of women. Patriarchy is male-dominated in that positions of authority-political, economic, legal, religious, educational, military, domestic-are generally reserved for men. Heads of states, corporate CEOs and Board members, religious leaders, school principals, members of Legislatures at all levels of government, senior law partners, tenured full professors, generals and admirals, and even those identified as ‘head of household’ all tend to be male under patriarchy.

Men who occupy positions of authority are assumed to have attained those positions due to natural dominance. Patriarchy perpetuates male dominance. Throughout history male dominance has been asserted through a set of practices that has caused women to be seen as naturally subordinate to men. For example, in a patriarchal system women learn to see themselves from the standpoint of men. Li and Bolaria (1994) say that patriarchy is

… a societal phenomenon marked by the domination of certain men over other men, all women and children. A system of ruling where power is exercised as domination over others and stems from the historical emergence of the oppression of women. (84).

Li and Bolaria further suggest that because women see themselves from the standpoint of men, they begin to form an internalized view of themselves based on their association with men. This internalized view is the result of adopting patriarchal perspectives, which lead women undervaluing themselves. Generations of patriarchal conditioning are perpetuated as women are socialized to learn they are inferior to men. Betty Friedan says in Feminine Mystique, “The feminine mystique permits, even encourages, women to ignore the question of their identity. The mystique says they can answer the question “Who am I?” by saying “Tom’s wife… Mary’s mother.” So a woman should possess her independent identity. Woman’s confidence to assert her independent identity without referring to husband or other persons and her efforts to live according to her own ideas and ideals is a goal of feminism.

Feminism is not new to India. Incidences are replete with feministic attitudes in Indian epics. For instance, in Manimegalai, the renowned Tamil epic, the heroine establishes her identity as a learned, independent woman choosing her own career rather than giving into the over tunes of her royal suitor. It can be understood that the concept of gender equality has been very much respected and observed in India in ancient times.

In the midst of all these generalization about Indian woman, my aim in this work is to trace out the steady growth in the outlook of Indian women and their repression and rebel against the patriarchal society as perceived by Anita Nair in her novels. Due to the western influence, the social, political, economic and cultural aspects of India have undergone a tremendous transformation. Even the most submissive, docile and self-sacrificing Indian woman have started thinking about their selfhood and identity.

Anita Nair is a well-known and renowned Indian English writer. She concentrates mainly on feminism and exposes the condition of women especially in Indian society with wit and humour. Her novels portray all facets of the lives of women. Nair has portrayed three kinds of women in the Indian Society. A large group of Indian, both uneducated and educated are very traditional. They are totally dependent on their husbands and are fully devoted to the family. Secondly, there are women who are educated and economically independent who desirous to be economically sound and have a family life. They are unable to break the frame work of the family. Such women are in transitory state. There is a third group of a handful of women who are educated, economically independent and empowered. They are ready to pay a high price for their ambitions and achievements and bother least about the social and traditional norms of the society.

The contributions by women writers cannot go unnoticed. In fact the works by women writers constitute a major segment of the contemporary Indian writing in English. Today women are seen establishing their identity in almost all walks of life and they have heralded a new consciousness in the realm of literature too. Anees Jung in her book Unveiling India states her ideology in the following words:

In the complex pantheon of diversities, the Indian woman remains the point of unity unveiling through each single experience a collective unconscious prized by a society that is looked in mortal combat with the power and weakness of age and time. She remains the still centre, like the centre of the potter’s wheel, circling to create new forms, unfolding the continuity of a racial life, which in turn has encircled and helped her acquire a quality of concentration. (48)

One of the main concerns of Anita Nair on modern woman is man-woman relationship. Sexual relationship is prominent among them and here the novels of Nair spell a break from the mythological image of Indian woman in the earlier fiction. For instance, the major characters in the novels of Nair have affairs outside their marital relationships both before and after marriage. But still the old world of taboos and restrictions, confinements and superstitions where women are marginalized has not died yet.

Modern Indian woman is generally liberated from the traditional restrictions and some of the family constraints. Still she has to play certain roles in the frame of the family and society. In

earlier times, the Indian woman was bound by tradition, taught and trained from childhood to walk in the shadow of her husband. As the world progress with the changes found in modern era, with the advancement of education, many women started taking up jobs over and above their domestic work. Economic independence of women encouraged them to undergo extreme changes in their behavior and a very liberal attitude towards sex and sexuality. Eventhough women with their attitude of modernity and advancements, they struggle to rebel against the repressive forces of patriarchy, most of the time their efforts and anger end up in vain. They finally end up in the clutches of patriarchy and console themselves by compromising on their rebel and stay suppressed in the hands of men.

The characters of Nair find that marriage itself is a form a repression. In Ladies Coupe, Janaki, a traditional woman who has lived forty long years under the repressive bond of marriage lately wanted to rebel against the attitude of her husband Prabhakar. Though she rebels, her voice is unheard. The character Margaret is a well educated, modern woman who also finds that her marital life consumes all her desires and interests. Even though she rebels against her husband’s dominating and selfish nature, she could not withstand her protest being in the family life. Shyam in ‘Mistress,’ cleverly uses his love in marriage to keep Radha under his control and restricts all her freedom. In order to overcome the repression of marriage, Radha chose an extra-marital relationship with Chris. But she could no longer continue her life with Chris and returns to Shyam by submitting her onto his feet. Meera in “Lessons in Forgetting”, is one of the most burdened characters of Nair. When she was deserted by her husband at a very young age of her marital life, she was pushed forcefully in a situation of shouldering the entire responsibilities of her family which she could not bear. At a certain stage in her life, she thinks that she cannot lead a life alone. So willingly she withdrew her rebel and surrenders herself to JAK.

Marriage is considered to be a weapon used by men for ages to oppress women. According to Gerstel and Sarkisian “The institution of marriage is the chief vehicle for the perpetuation of the oppression of women; it is through the role of wife that the subjugation of women is maintained.” This raises some of the questions that are lingering in the minds of women such as, Is it essential for a woman to obliterate her personality, her life, once she gets married, when she enters into a publicly-acknowledged relationship with a man? Does she not have the right to remain her own person? Is there something sacrosanct about women submitting their lives in that of the men they marry or live with? Some of this is changing as more girls get educated and follow careers. Many customs have been questioned and have been modified. Yet, the expectation that woman will automatically and willingly “sacrifice” her independence, her career, her personality, and even her given name at the altar of marriage somehow remains sacrosanct. What is even more perplexing is how, despite a so-called “modern” education, the majority of women continue to accept without question that their years of freedom, or independence, are limited to the time they get married.

Many have got a wrong idea that religion oppresses women but if we take a deeper look and analyse religion, its only the men who oppress women in the name of religion. The character Saadhiya in Mistress is trapped in a religio-cultural structure that circumscribes her life, limiting her physical as well as mental movements to a miniscule area. Driven by loneliness and boredom, she seeks refuge in religion and seeks to reenter the structures she had fled from. She rebels against the religious custom formulated by men and when she was not able to find a resolution within her divided self, she ends her life to attain the freedom. Thus, crimes against Muslim women cannot be attributed to Islam as a religion. Islam was the first to give women the right to own property, to divorce and to remarry. Islam doesn’t oppress women only the Men oppress the women.

The nature of control and subjugation of women varies from one society to the other as it differs due to the differences in class, caste, religion, region, ethnicity and the socio-cultural practices. Thus in the context of India, brahminical patriarchy, tribal patriarchy and dalit patriarchy are different from each other. Patriarchal societies propagate the ideology of otherhood which restrict women’s mobility and burdens them with the responsibilities to nurture and rear children. For instance, Akhila in Ladies Coupe who is a Brahmin woman belongs to an orthodox family. As she lost her dad in her teenage, being the eldest daughter in her family, she is burdened with the family responsibilities like providing for the family and taking care of her siblings by sacrificing her youthful years and desires. She falls in love with Hari and wants to marry him who is younger to her. Eventhough this being the desire of her heart, she fears the society because the society would look down upon a woman who marries a man younger to her and in most cases would not allow. Finally she overcomes the societal pressure and goes to Hari and becomes a part among the minority of women who rebel against patriarchy. Likewise, Marikolunthu who belongs to an economically poor family and a so called ‘low-caste’ community was raped by Murugesan of Chettiar community. Though she wanted to punish him for the crime he committed against her, she could not do it because her cry was not loud enough to be heard over the male dominating society, money power and casteism.

Another notable character Smiriti in Lessons in Forgetting is a teenage girl who rebels against female infanticide in a village named Minjikapuram. When her rebel was exposed to the men in the village, few of them came together and use sexual violence as a weapon to shut her up from protesting against them. Eventhough the village people knew that injustice has been done to her; no one came forward to support her because of the power men exercised in the village to suppress women. Her rebel against female infanticide did not help her in any way but made her immobile.

After having a vivid analysis and understanding of the characters found in the novels of Nair, I would like to conclude saying that eventhough women rebel strongly against their oppressive forces, mainly patriarchy, they are still being exploited by religious, cultural, societal realms of life. Still women are kept in the dark about their rights, freedom, individuality and identity. For the protection of women from discrimination, women must be empowered by educating them the right and power as so to enable to fight against male hegemony. Apart from the Constitution which provides for the gender equality and also to lessen the gap between two sexes, law can create empowerment through various other ways which includes empowerment through conferment of substantive rights or power, empowerment through institutional infrastructure and supporting, stimulating and monitoring the attitudinal and values change in society

The image of the virtuous goddess like women is often seen one in South Asia. In this image, the women must devote themselves to their husbands and show loyalty and sacrifice even in the most extreme circumstances. The father protects the woman during childhood, the husband during her youth and the son during her old age. Therefore a woman does not deserve any freedom. She is therefore inculcated with the ideas of martyrdom, of pride in patience, of the need to accept a lower status through the mythical models of Sita, Savitri, Gandhari etc. following these models she is taught to be shy, gentle and dignified as a person, pure and faithful as a wife and self-less, loving and thoughtful as a mother. Building on this image, Acharya quotes,

Karyeshu Mantra, Karaneshu Daasi

Repecha Lakshmi, Kshamayaa Dharitri

Bhoj Yeshu Mata, Shayanetu Rambha

Shat Karma Yukta, Kulu Dharma Patni

The above lines mean,

Like a slave while working/serving,

A minister when counseling/advising,

Goddess Lakshmi in her looks/personality,

The Earth in forbearance/endurance,

A mother while feeding,

Rambha the celestial prostitute, in bed.

These six are the characteristic of an ideal wife. Thus, the patriarchal joint family system consolidated the position of a man by forever damming that of a woman. There is enormous pressure to conform to the norms of society and the patriarchal system of family life. But now there is the questioning of the dominant patriarchal tradition and their role. The life of a woman is considered a public affair; her personal revolts are consequently revolts against the society as a whole. Anne Wilson Schaef, in Women’s Reality(1985), sheds light on this instinct:

Historically, women have been defined (by men) as being sexually pure and pristine. The only perfect woman was a detached and innocent virgin. “Nice women” did not enjoy sex. There were good women, and there were whores. (44)

Society also plays a vital role in the sufferings of women. Man is a social animal, a ‘homosapien’. He cannot live without his society. For a social being, the reaction of the society is more important than his individual self. For most of the people satisfying the society becomes the prime object of their life. There is nothing wrong in respecting the society in which we live. The problem starts only when man starts overlooking the ‘self’ for the sake of his society. When a man place the interest of the society above all, he cannot behave normally. He starts harassing or ignoring the thoughts and feelings of his dear ones only when he forgets his own ‘self’. Victimization of women is one such abnormal behavior of man. Man fails to respect the feelings of one individual in the society. As society plays vital role in the progress of women, the purpose and the function of the society must be correct first. As long as the society bound by tradition there is no remedy for it. Once the role of tradition is correctly understood by the people, progress is evident. Unwanted elements need weeding. After the weeding, naturally the ground is ready for growth and development. A society led by fruitful aspects of tradition will definitely move towards progress. Once women are freed from all these clutches they can walk towards success with steady, unswerving mind, will power and determination.

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In order to come out of the traditional bondage, the tradition must be burnt. All the irrelevant and insensible practices in our age-old tradition must be stopped. Tradition should help in the progress of man and it should not hinder his progress. Bow to tradition when it promotes you, stamp and crush it under your feet when it hinders your progress. Women’s personality must be transformed. Say good bye to negative feminine aspects such as docility, submissiveness and fear. Women should forget their role models Sita and Savithri. In tune with the changing modern trends, they can have new role models. If the transformation is only one sided, the problem cannot be solved. Men also have equal part in the sufferings of women. Therefore men also must undergo transformation. If they adamantly stick to tradition, while their partners transform their personality, the very system of family will dissolve. The transformation must be mutual. While women climb up the ladder, the men must climb down their pedestal so that both can meet on equal grounds. In short, it can be said that both men and women must respect each other’s feelings and lead a peaceful, friction free life. Women should ignore their traditional role models completely. They need to have new role models to follow. They should also be very firm and steady in their choice. By replacing blind love with mutual love, total submissiveness, fear and cowardice with courage and bravery, the women can transform themselves totally and face the new world confidently.

More importance must be given to women’s education. Special care must be taken to educate women who have their twin roles to perform both inside as well as outside their house or the family. Women are to be educated without any restriction or discrimination. Had they been properly educated, they would not have become easy victims of male dominance. Self-confidence is the essence of education. If they are educated, they can feel completely free earning their own livelihood. Education alone can equip and empower women to face the society boldly.

Lack of economic independence is the next important factor which imprisons women at home. Progress does not end with education alone. Education must provide economic freedom. Women must not rest till they find a right profession. Economic independence helps a woman to identify herself. Once ‘the self’ is identified, nothing or none could keep women under control and hinder her progress. Majority of the women do not have any regular income, they have to depend on their husbands for all their expenses. Sometimes they have to please their men to get even the basic needs. Just because they seek financial help from their husbands they suffer in silence. Economic freedom passes way to individual freedom.

Only a handful of women are modern in their thought. Even if women are educated and modern, they are also on the war path against their victimization with renewed energy and vigor. The modern women are brave, strong, confident, dominant, authoritative, rebellious and powerful. The new awakened women have good education, profession, money and success. But what they lack is a harmonious married life. Thus all the moderns had the courage and self-confidence to face the new world all alone, professionally they were very successful but in their personal life, they proved to be miserable failures. With all their modernism and progress, they cannot have a peaceful and happy life. The reasons for their failure are once again their individual traits and the social setup. Though the moderns had all the positive qualities such as courage, bravery, authority, education, independence and will power, they lacked confidence in themselves. They were afraid to step out of the family bonds. The expectation of the tradition bound society made it difficult for the moderns to ignore their family bonds. An unmarried woman is never a welcome guest in a social gathering. Her presence is considered as not an auspicious sign. She is not socially accepted as an individual. So the unmarried modern woman had to lead a lone life.

Men should also join hands with women for their upliftment. They should encourage women to come out in the open to fight for their cause. Men should win the confidence and trust of women to entice them into marriage. Thus with mutual understanding both women and men must transform themselves completely.

Thus in all the three novels of Anita Nair, she has presented an increasingly common concept of patriarchy in which a woman is constrained by tradition to be dependent on men, crippled to realize her own strength. She has presented her women struggling and revolting side by side because of patriarchy but at the end has given them a gesture of defiance against patriarchy. Her women have been portrayed as intelligent, questioning women who are not contented with the injustice and rebellion against them. So Anita Nair’s women raise the question of their way of life consolidated by patriarchy, and see it not only as the site of their oppression at home and in society but also make it a field of battle to vanquish their oppressors.


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