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Using Gender as a Lens

Kamala Ganesh

By Rupal Oza
Women Unlimited, Delhi, 2006, pp. 208, Rs. 300.00

VOLUME XXXI NUMBER 10 October 2007

Time was when the dominant focus in feminist studies was on women, and on the impact and implications—mostly discrimina- tory—of various institutions, processes and practices on them. Their absence/marginality in the cognitive structures of disciplines was noted, analysed and remedial measures suggested. While such approa-ches do continue and so does the need for them in view of the depth and persistence of gendered constructions of social reality, women’s studies scholarship has made a leap into another phase. It argues, with powerful demonstrations, that in fact to understand various aspects of society and culture, gender is both a crucial axis and also an analytical tool. It is not just that women need to be included, emancipated, empowered (that too, of course) but that social structures and processes can be comprehended more fully if gender is used as a lens. This is a powerful argument against the ghettoization of women’s studies and for the integration of the category of gender into mainstream thinking.   This book by Rupal Oza, Director of the Women’s Studies Porgramme in Hunter College, New York, is situated squarely in this latter genre. She focuses on the period of early globalization, i.e. the 1990s, which has not yet really been the subject of full length academic analysis. The period starts with the liberalization of India’s economy from 1991. It is also characterized by the political ascendancy of the Hindu Right. The third major feature of this period is the consolidation of the middle classes as an outcome of both the above developments. Oza selects three key sites of public debate in this period, which were emblematic of the changing ‘idea of India’ in the context of the above three trends—the court cases against satellite and cable television companies in the early 1990s, the Miss World beauty pageant at Bangalore in 1996 and the declaration of nuclear weapons capability by the Indian government in 1998 following the nuclear tests. She argues that the debates represent the Indian attempt to establish sovereignty over national culture and identity through fortifying rigid and sexual identities in the wake of loss of sovereignty entailed by globalization. Woman, her body, her persona are critical to this process. In the 1990s, popular cultural archives document the rise of a new woman, carefully crafted to be modern, compatible with globalizing India , yet Indian, representing its core values. The focus is on ...

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