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Decoding Seeing Like a Feminist by Nivedita Menon

Seeing Like a Feminist

“Feminism is not about a moment of final triumph over patriarchy but about the gradual transformation of the social field so decisively that old markers shift forever."

As soon as I devoured the final page and gently shut the book's cover, a wave of emotions washed over me. I felt grateful for all the battles my grandma and my mom have fought, grateful for all the battles every female from each section of society continues to fight to this date.

So, what part of the book made me feel this way? Nivedita Menon has beautifully chosen her subtopics in her book, ‘Seeing Like a Feminist’, namely Family, Body, Desire, Sexual Violence, Feminists and ‘Women’, and the last one, Victims or Agents. She ventures deep into each subtopic, various aspects of it and how the patriarchal hand holds each of those, and women’s continued attempt to break free.

What REALLY works well…

I’ve been waiting to write this bit ever since I kept the book back on my shelf.

Nivedita in her book embraces the fact that women are not a homogenous category. What does this mean? She says,

Feminism is not even about gender alone, but about understanding how gender is complicated by class, as in the case of domestic workers, by caste and by queer politics as in the case of gay men, hijras and intersex identities.In other words, feminism requires us to recognize that 'women' is neither a stable nor a homogeneous category.

She has made each word fight to stay in this sentence. The real reason why I really love this bit is not just how powerfully this has been stated explicitly, it’s because she has actually written the entire book through this lens of intersectional feminism

This book also brings us to casually stumble upon staggering realities that many of us till date may completely be unaware of. She speaks about how men can lactate too, the Pink Chaddi Campaign of 2009 and how the Yoruba language (spoken in some parts of West Africa) is gender-free.

These small facts and packets of information in all honestly, blew my mind, and I’m sure will serve as interesting nuggets that will permanently reside in your head. 

If you read the book - you’re also bound to come across the works of bold feminist voices including Gloria Steinem, Judith Butler, Carole Vance and the likes of it. What Nivedita has very interestingly done is that she has masterfully gathered theories, arguments, perspectives and insights from well-opinionated, fierce feminists from across the globe.

She has then contextualized these thoughts as per the Indian sensibilities, that paves way for fresher perspectives to all the Indian stories.

What COULD have been better…

While this book is perfect for anyone who wants to understand the history of feminism, especially in India, I can't help but shimmy my shoulders and admit that there were a few moments where I craved a little extra pizzazz.

The book struts down the scholarly avenue, tailored for an academic precision. I absolutely understand that it might have been intentional. However, the book reeks of only-data-and-nothing-else in a lot of sections.

The focus in length stays only on when a particular law was implemented, the years and judgements or statements by scholars.

I personally believe that to kick that data-heavy dilemma to the curb, Nivedita could've infused the pages with more analogies, like the one she successfully planted right at the beginning.

Nivedita has also included stories of real women (duh, obviously!). However, she merely stated the dates, the incident/s and the facts surrounding the story. But here's the thing—I yearned for a deeper emotional connection, a heart-to-heart with those women as their tales unfolded.

Don’t get me wrong, Nivedita handpicked very relevant stories. Yet, I couldn't help but feel a longing for a closer bond to the women she spoke about.

Also Read: The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf

Note for the Readers

Until you finish your current read and get to 'Seeing Like A Feminist', I want to leave y’all with a few lines from the book that hit home for me. In an alternative scenario, where I haven’t been able to convince you to read this book yet, I’m sure that these lines will:

Even after one daughter is married off and killed for dowry, her parents’ idea of a secure future for their second daughter, too, is marriage.

The body has been formed as much by ‘culture’ as by ‘nature’.”

The project of becoming a male or female is never completed - it is a ‘performance’ that must be repeated every moment of our lives until we die. Even a fifty year old, burly mustachioed man who has fathered children cannot say, ‘It is well established by now that I am a man; tomorrow, I can wear a sari to work.’ At no point in our lives can we be confident that our gender identity is secure; we can never let up this performance."

The feminist response to being called whores or chhinaal should not be to protest fruitlessly, ‘We are not whores!’ but to turn the insult around and ask, ‘What makes you think this is an insult? We refuse the terms of this insult.’ What if all women were to say we are ‘loose’—we are not tightly controlled—and if that makes us whores, then we are all whores. If we are all bad women, then patriarchy had better watch out.

It comes slowly, slowly, feminism does. But it just keeps on coming.”

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Juicy Reads by That Sassy Thing is an initiative where we will review books that align with our vision of making the world a safer, more pleasurable space. 
We'll review one book each month and as we grow, we'll have lots more coming your way!

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About the Author 

Hemali (she/her) is an explorer of the realms of sexuality, intimacy, and dating. She talks endlessly about the evolving landscape of feminist narratives on the big screen and makes you reanalyze the portrayal of women in mainstream culture. If you're looking for alternative conversation starters, take your pick from: Biryani, Art Fairs, or Spoken Word Poetry.

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