Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Ways of Seeing; Challenging the Stereotypes of Masculinity: Study of the Female Novelists in India

Varsha Singh
Shashi Deshpande

What is the way in which a female looks a male, and a male looks a female?
Since the beginning of the literary tradition, it is perceived, that it is the ‘Patriarchal eye’ which determines the way of seeing. But here, the question which arises is – why do we possess just the ‘Patriarchal eye’? Can’t we cherish the ‘Matriarchal eye’ as well? Can’t we keep two sublime entities conjointly at the pinnacle? What is the indigence of heaving one perspective towards dejection, for the approbation of other at the peak? Why to create a hierarchy?
In an interview, Shashi Deshpande was asked, “today’s women are independent and they are no more appendage to man. What do you say?”
To this, Deshpande replied-
“…I agree with you… we are not independent, nor do we have our own identity. We are still appendage to men because our society is shaped like that.” 
This reply of Deshpande renders a crystal clear glimpse towards the plight, that, it is the social structure, which creates hierarchy in the society. It is the hierarchy of patriarchal ideology, which forbids the matriarchal values, from having a voice of its own.
The importance of men and their superiority has been a part of Indian society for generations. Women had always been the less important individuals. When a woman lives in a male dominated society, obviously she undergoes many hardships. It is a wretched condition of women in our society when she has no husband in her life, she is not worthy of respect. Society finds faults with anyone who does not adhere to its laws, in other words, they are the transgressors of society. In a male dominated society and under male chauvinism a woman’s role is hence viewed through a magnifying glass, and she is always watched by others.
As male chauvinism refuses to apprehend woman as antagonist in domain of society, in this situation, a woman is not born but made by the society- “One is not born, but rather becomes a woman. No biological, psychological or economic fate determines the figure that human female presents in society; it is civilization as a whole that produces this creature, intermediate between male and eunuch, which is described as feminine.”
Thus, patriarchal practices which reduce women’s status to inferior social beings are further continued by myths and traditions, which unfortunately have been embedded in the fabric of society in various images, such as Sati, Savitri, Sita and Ahilya. Patriarchal society promoted two images: women as the sexual property of man, and woman as chaste mothers of their children.
Even though man is a civilized being now, there is still the savageness of primitive man in him. With savage selfishness he treats woman as “an object that provides physical enjoyment, social companionship and domestic comfort.” This inequality between man and woman in our society is rightly observed by Sarah Grimka- “Man has subjugated woman to his will, used her as means to promote his selfish gratification, to minister to his sensual pleasure, to be instrumental in promoting his comfort, but never has he desired to elevate her to that rank she was created to fill. He has done all he could do to debase and enslave her mind.”
Thus denied the freedom to act, and choose on their own, women remained solely inside the field of vision, mere illusion to be dreamt and cherished. A woman is a woman and she is held to represent the ‘otherness’ of man, his negative.
Simone de Beauvoir

Simon de Beauvoir finds man-woman nexus quite unsymmetrical and uncomplimentary for- “man represents both the positive and the neutral, as is indicated by the common use of man to designate human beings in general; whereas women represents only the negative, defined criteria, without reciprocity.”
It is only the man who is regarded as an autonomous being, free from any subordination in the society; whereas a woman is never regarded as an autonomous being since, she has always been assigned a subordinate and relative position in our society. It is an appalling condition of woman that they cannot live without men in our social set-up. As they are considered physically weak, so, to venture in the society they need protection from males. This is the root cause of females’ apathy in our society.

“Man can think of himself without women. She cannot think of herself without man. And she is simply what man decrees…she appears essentially to the male as a sexual being. For him she is sex…absolute sex, no less she is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference with reference to her; she is the incidental the inessential as opposed to the essential.”

Nayantara Sehgal
Anita Desai

We find references to this aspect of social life, where males dominate the females, and make them the worst sufferer in the novels of some significant women novelists, such as, Nayantara Sehgal, Kamala Markandaya, Gita Hariharan, Shashi Deshpande and Anita Desai. In their novels they bring out male domination as the root cause for all the pains and sufferings of females.

Kamala Markandaya
Gita Hariharan
Sehgal in most of her novels creates a society based on the fact, that society and the law are both made and controlled by man.
Kamala Markandaya also presents a similar picture of the real society, where men are treated as custodians for women; first as a father, then as a husband and later as a son. The female characters of her novels keep suffering from the obscurities of  life without a complain.

Shashi Deshpande is another novelist portraying the male characters as the dominating one. She  focusses on the situations occurred due to the patriarchal system in all of her stories.
Similar oppression caused by the patriarchal society is presented in the novels of Gita Hariharan and Anita Desai too.
All these novelists are recognized as intellectuals, portraying feminine sensibility and female agony present in our society; and they have been highly felicitous in their endeavours . But the way in which the characters of their novels are looked upon, is the patriarchal gaze. In their novels, the male characters are portrayed as the most powerful, dominating and completely autonomous one; whereas the female characters are portrayed as, the meek, submissive, dominant and weak, seized under the clutch of male subjugation.

Varsha Dixit

Contradicting this situation, the novelists such as, Shobha De, Varsha Dixit, Sujata Parashar, Advaita Kala, Rashmi Singh, Ruchita Misra are on the pathway of reverting the ways of seeing and challenging the stereotypes of masculinity.
Advaita Kala
Sujata Parashar

Surendra Verma, an illustrious  name from the field of Hindi fiction, proceeds with an intricate step in order to vicissitude the way of seeing, and proclaims a new insight through his Sahitya Academy Award winning novel, Mujhe Chaand Chaahiye. Being a male, Verma does not portrays the female body from a male perspective, as delineated by the traditional women novelists. In fact, he presents his heroine Varsha Vashishtha in such an intimate mode that it seems as if a woman is describing her own body, from her own perspective, and not from the eye of a man.
The structure of our society is pickled in such mien, that either we consider looking from one eye, or we close both. Consequently, instead of observing from both the eyes we become partial. But now is the time, when instead of just reverting the gaze vis-a-vis creating a binary, we need to adduce a perspective, which must not be sexist, treating every human being as an individual, rather than as a male or a female.
- Varsha Singh

1.     - Beauvoir, Simone de. The Second Sex. Translated by H.M. Parshley. New York. Vintage. 1952
2.      -Beauvoir, Simone de. Selden. 1988.
3.      -Berger, John. Ways of Seeing. Penguin. 1990.
4.      -Prasad, Amar Nath. Studies in Indian English Fiction. Sarup and Sons. 2001.
5.      -Verma, Surendra. Mujhe Chand Chahiye. Radhakrishna Publishers. 2006.