Photo: Goodreads

This is my first book by an Indian feminist scholar. I’m new to feminist writing and I could relate to whatever I read from western feminists. I mean, women’s issues are universal, right? However, I realized, after reading this book, that there are some things that can only be understood by those who live in the same environment as you. I mean, I can talk about the rights of differently-abled people, but the truth is I don’t know what it is like to be one of them. There are things in life which we can only understand through experience. Theory is important, but when you live in a country where there are issues of caste, religion, and marriage, you need women and men from your own land to tackle the issues. Nivedita Menon touches upon everything that plagues Indian society. She is quite sensitive to the problems of all classes of society and she makes you look at your own hypocrisy.

Nivedita basically takes you out of the narrow world of feminism (yes, feminism can be narrow too) and introduces you to intersectional feminism…in the Indian context. Basically, a woman (or a man) doesn’t have a single identity. And in India, there are so many identities that keep overlapping. Nivedita presents an interesting insight: she says that the women who are reading her book are privileged in a way. My maid cannot read this, so in a way, I have more power than her. I also have more power than the auto rickshaw driver and men from lower income groups. Being a Hindu, I’m certainly more privileged because I belong to the majority. So I am more powerful than a Muslim man or a woman. However, this power fades when I encounter a man who is physically more powerful than me ..if he chooses to abuse this power, all my identities won’t matter. This is the crux of intersectional feminism. Feminism can be a prejudiced philosophy if it doesn’t take into account these multiple identities that women have. Because at the heart of feminism is a belief in equality. So here I am talking about feminism as my mother switches on the AC. I cannot be a true feminist if I don’t see the fact that my maid faces prejudices because she is from a lower income group. I cannot be a true feminist if I ask my neighbor to sit on the chair and then ask my maid to sit down because she is ‘inferior’ than me/neighbor. I cannot be a true feminist if I think that I’m superior to the waiter or a taxi driver. I cannot be a true feminist if I am homophobic. Because at the end of the day, feminism is about ending this ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’ game.

Nivedita dissects the Indian family structure in an intelligent and compassionate way. She exposes the violence that is inherent in any structure that ‘forces’ people to behave in a certain way (For example, rigid gender roles). She questions the core assumptions of Indian society. She acknowledges the complexity of some debates like abortion and commercial surrogacy. And the best part is that she doesn’t try to fit solutions in neat boxes.


One thought on “Seeing Like a Feminist by Nivedita Menon

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