Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Feminist Backlash

I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat or a prostitute ~ Rebecca West

I have begun so many articles on feminist theory with Ms West's very apt quote, but it is only recently that I have realised that at a subliminal level, I was/am still wearing the feminist straitjacket.

The idea of picking up a Fair & Lovely tube, or a Femina magazine embarrasses me. I would not like to be seen with either. Simply because in theory, I am supposed to be against them. Of course, I still am against the way they are advertised, but I can no longer deny their utility.

The first is an excellent skin cream. The fairness factor is dubious, but it is the only product that soothed skin which had been irritated by the ingestion of a strong compound to expunge cystic acne.

The latter, though not exactly an exemplar of Pulitzer journalism, at Rs. 50, is one of the cheaper though still readable "Women's" magazines in India. Many sections make no sense to me, but nevertheless some articles do strike a chord. Browsing through it has its pleasures.

So should I deprive myself of these and much more simply because in theory I should be against them? Are they not products meant to shackle? I think I need to remind myself of what I have often told my students. To move beyond labels. If you label yourself, you are circumscribing yourself. Limiting yourself to a certain definition of you which may not really be you.

So yes, I read Femina, though I am no "new" woman. I am capable of reading a Jeanette Winterson as well as picking up a women's magazine. I choose to sample it all.

In time I hope not to cringe at being seen with the same. I wish to lose the urge to explain my use of these products. That, I believe, would be true freedom.