Women cannot be subordinated to men saying it’s natural: Rajeswari

Is violence against women a residue or is it a reaction to women’s increased presence in politics and their economic empowerment, asked Rajeswari Sunder Rajan, Global Distinguished Professor of English, New York University, here.

She was speaking on “The global condition of women”, at a national seminar on “Contemporary feminisms in India”, organised by the Postgraduate Department of English in St. Aloysius College.

She said violence against women could be a form of male insecurity, a backlash because of being unable to come to terms with the changed role of women in politics and economy. There could be “worries” among men about institutions that were the basis of society such as the family.

The world of women was universal, with a “sameness” to the way women everywhere, historically and in the present, have been subordinated to men. But we could not remain in the “sameness” on the grounds that it was natural, god-given or biologically determined, she said. “Instead, we must be alert to changes. Women at certain times in certain societies have been different from women in other times and other societies,” she said and added that they must be studied and compared to understand “the narrative of progress”.

Discussing a book titled The End of Women: And the Rise of Women by Hanna Rosin, Ms. Rajan spoke about “a new patriarchy, where women are dominating”. The book, which said that women were surpassing men, had been much debated in the U.S., where women held half the jobs and were higher in number in colleges and schools.

She said that the book spoke of “plastic women” and “cardboard men”, meaning that women were flexible and adapt to new jobs at home and outside versus men who were less flexible. Women lived longer than men, went to college, and worked better than men who were redundant for reproduction. However, one could not be led into thinking that one was moving towards “a feminist utopia”, she said.

Although the writer sounded like a radical feminist, there was ambiguity in the book, she said. For instance, single mothers in the U.S. were more independent and experienced less domestic violence but they bore the double burden of managing home and career.

A student from Kuvempu University said that the book, as described by Ms. Rajan, was “a totally bourgeois and middle class perspective” of women. She said it was wrong to say that women were coming now into the working world and that they had been part of labour historically.

Ms. Rajan said that the book applies to the U.S., that the labour force in the U.S. and India were very different, and that the book was about the middle class.

In reply to another query, she said she did not agree with viewing the issue as men versus women. It was much more complex than a battle of the sexes, she said.

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