ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Little Red Book of Feminism?

Seeing Like a Feminist by Nivedita Menon (New Delhi: Zubaan and Penguin India), 2013; pp xii + 252, Rs 295.

Here is a rare book about feminism, produced as a deceptively small paperback with a bright brick red cover that catches your attention right away. Written in a highly engrossing style, it takes on very serious issues while also frequently making the reader smile. Nivedita Menon has managed to condense some of the most complex challenges facing the women’s movement in contemporary India and elsewhere in the form of a series of short reflections that are organised within six chapters. Her writing engages those who have been part of the very struggles she analyses, while as effectively reaching out to readers for whom the issues at stake may not be altogether familiar. In this day and age, when academia and popular writing march to very different drummers, the one weighed down by its own arguments and evidence, the other competing in the publicity-driven world of the 30 second sound byte, the ability to combine scholarship with punch and wit can only be enviable.

The book starts off with a very short discussion of its title. A take-off on James Scott’s Seeing Like a State, Menon uses the metaphor of vision (one much used in fields like feminism and women’s studies) to argue for the need to see beyond what appears natural, so as to reveal “the gendered modes of power” that maintain things as they are. But while the State is so engaged to keep control, a feminist lens works quite differently according to Menon (one that a person of any gender can acquire). Adopting a position of marginality not only makes it possible to see better but can even be used to subvert power, and not just of gender relations more narrowly, but of all hierarchies that sustain the social order.

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