Culture, feminism, globalisation

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Journal article

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Economic and Political Weekly

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Sameeksha Trust


Across Asia and perhaps much of the non-Western world, for a century or more feminists have battled with dominant notions of “culture” that have also consolidated themselves in that time. The possibility of a comprehensive critique of social arrangements has foundered on the easy association of women and culture, whether in India or elsewhere in Asia. In debates over rape, domestic violence, sex work, or caste and community identity, issues of culture in relation to normative femininity have been foundational. Feminist interventions in India—from the anti-sati campaign to the uniform civil code (UCC) debate, from the Miss World beauty contest to the bar dancers’ case to the Pink Chaddi campaign to Kiss of Love—can be seen as contestations over the meaning and provenance of “culture.” Whether it gets configured as that which is holding back women from attaining gender equality, or is seen as the domain in which feminist interventions need to be fashioned (and a new cultural vocabulary forged); whether the cultural is seen as separate from the economic or whether the two are understood as deeply intertwined, the discussions around women and culture have become part of an uneasy common sense where key issues stay unresolved, only to erupt from time to time.

However, through the 20th century discourses of development and then of globalisation, the language of feminism actually enters mainstream discussions, providing readily available reference points for state initiatives as well as for the media, making it all the more difficult to pin down what could be at stake. The ongoing controversy over the BBC documentary India’s Daughter is one of the most recent examples of strange convergences over the culture–gender question with political opponents finding themselves on the same side in searching for a legal solution to a problem, however strenuously they may try to clarify the difference between their specific interests or their definitions of the problem.

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Recommended Citation

Niranjana, T. (2015). Culture, feminism, globalisation. Economic and Political Weekly, 50(17), 45-47.