Author Nivedita Menon is an influential feminist academic who is currently a professor of political science at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. Her book 'Seeing like a feminist' showcases the world through a feminist lens. Being brought up in the matrilineal Nair community of Kerala, Nivedita Menon’s ability to see through the flawless nude makeup of our patriarchal culture is clear.
The book is not exclusively about the challenges faced by feminism in India alone. As the concept of feminism has no borders, the book belongs to the library of the global and intersectional movements of feminism.
Also, contrary to what the title suggests, the book's sole purpose is not to only highlight the concept of feminism but also cover a wide range of issues like the Hindu Code Bills, the much-criticized 'Pink Chaddi Campaign', 'gender verification tests for the Olympic Games, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, gender performativity, the pending Women's Reservation Bill and the callousness of the Indian middle class towards their servants.
Nivedita Menon has paid skilful and equal attention to issues faced by bourgeois feminism, the gay movement, the Dalit Movement, domestic workers, and so on. The book also throws light on the fact that feminism is not about a moment of final triumph over patriarchy but the gradual transformation of the social field and is thus a bold and wide-ranging book that reorders contemporary society.
As the book progresses, the author emphasizes laws that were implemented for women's emancipation but eventually failed because of the loopholes introduced as a result of homogenization. According to the Nivedita, India is not only the most diverse country in the world, but it is also a land of Hindu upper-caste dominance and privilege.
She believes that people like her who belong to these upper-castes are blissfully unaware of the century-long cultural homogenization which works in their favour and against the people of other castes and religions. She mentions how the primary unit and the most basic tool that brings about this homogenization is the Hindu family, which is based on an upper-caste patriarchal North Indian norm.
Further, the book explains how the issue of the callous treatment of domestic workers by the middle class is not only a human-rights issue but also a feminist one. To better understand this, Nivedita Menon accurately mentions how it is expected that household chores and child-care are to be performed solely by women or by a domestic maid, who is usually a woman. At the same time, the bearers of sperm never miss a meeting.
The history of feminism in India is not known to all as it has been conveniently erased from our books and the cultural narrative. The book, however, offers a refreshing take on its history while reminding those who have given up on feminism that the efforts of women's liberation movements in South Asia have not been dormant throughout the last century.
Though the author suggests that this book should not be seen as the feminist position on anything, it does offer a crucial look at the world through the lens of a feminist and a revolutionary as the readers gain an expansive knowledge of the history of feminism in India and its significance in the lives of its citizens.
Another novel part of the book is that it provides an entry point to approach discussions around gender. Nivedita Menon understands the ambiguity around the discourse of gender in India and effectively points it out as a subject for discussion.
As the book nears its conclusion, Nivedita Menon’s 'Seeing like a feminist' gives the reader hope. In the end, the reader is left convinced about the fact that patriarchy is not as invincible as everyone thinks.
The reader is made aware of the fact that patriarchy is an assembling of structures in which every individual participates either consciously or unconsciously. But, what matters is refusing to participate in it and thus rip the structures of their powers.
The book effectively disorganizes the settled field and opens up multiple possibilities. It goes against some of the early ways of feminist looking and criticizes the patriarchal social order and various institutions that help maintain its interests and values.
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