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Overview of Feminist Thinking


Wandana Sonalkar

GENDER AND SEXUALITY: CRITICAL THEORIES, CRITICAL THINKERS
By Chris Beasley
Sage Publications, London, 2005, pp. 304, £20.99

SEXUALITY, GENDER AND RIGHTS: EXPLORING THEORY AND PRACTICE IN SOUTH AND SOUTHEAST ASIA
Edited by Geetanjali Misra and Radhika Chandiramani
Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2005, pp. 312, Rs. 350.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 3 March 2007

For a reviewer who was at college in England in the early 1970s, and has lived in India after that, these two books taken together give a fascinating overview of how feminist thinking over the past thirty years has branched out into various streams and touched on diverse new areas of practice, in the West and in Asia. Chris Beasley, an Australian, covers mainly English-language writers in building what she calls a ‘taxonomy’ on feminism, sexuality and ‘masculinity’, while the second book is a collection of essays from different Asian countries.   The radical difference between the two books is the context in which they are situated: sexuality has been the subject of much discourse in the West, ever since the nineteenth century as Michel Foucault tells us, whereas in Asia we still face taboos in writing or speaking in public about sexuality. Feminists have in both cases contributed to the discourses on sexuality, mainly during the so-called ‘second and third waves’ of late twentieth-century feminism, when they have become more aware of cultural factors affecting the social construction of gender. This has led to a greater recognition of the ‘different ways of being a woman’, as compared with ‘first wave feminism’, which put more stress on unity among women in fighting for social and economic rights. Both books, then, are expressing a sense of celebrating diversity: in the first we get to look at various theoretical stances and life-style choices, a kind of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy of feminism and sexuality; in the second there is more of a programme for the protection of sexual diversity, often in the face of a recent resurgence of fundamentalist religious forces and state oppression of those who fall outside the social norm.   Chris Beasley explains the subject of her book in the introduction: ‘(The) interdisciplinary field of gender/sexuality theory assumes that sex is ineluctably a matter of human organisation—that is political, associated with social dominance and subordination, as well as capable of change.’ The word ‘sex’ is usually understood in two ways: one is the sense of what Beasley calls the ‘binary and hierarchical’ opposition between the categories of ‘men’ and ‘women’, for which we now use the term ‘gender’ to convey the fact that this opposition, though based on biological and reproductive function, is largely socially constructed. The other sense is that of the ‘sexual’, by which Beasley ...


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