Gender Identities In Resisting Inequalities

Shefali Jha

Manuella Ciotti
Women Unlimited, Delhi, Year 2017, pp.273, Rs.550


Years of feminist research have taught us that gender is a significant component of our identity. The script of gender may be provided by social norms but gender remains integral to how a self experiences his or her identity, as well as to how others identify one. Masculinity and femininity, as two dominant forms in which one’s gender identity is manifested, are the object of study in the articles being reviewed here. Manuella Ciotti’s edited Unsettling the Archetypes: Femininities and Masculinities in Indian Politics is a collection of articles which examines the effect on gender identities of political struggles of non-elite groups in Indian society and they negotiate their gender identity when they struggle against their non-elite status. Are they able to escape their subordinate status in one matrix of hierarchy only by aligning themselves with the symbols of dominance of another, gender based hierarchy? Or, does their fight against caste based domination, for example, also free them from the rigidity of the gender norms of their society? These articles show, as the editor puts it in her introduction, that in these struggles, ‘gender archetypes are sometimes reshuffled but at other times are painfully reinstated, … with the reproduction of unequal, violent and oppressive gender regimes by these agentic practices’ (pp. 19–20). We can try to understand how their struggle against marginalization by lower caste or minority religious groups in India ironically results in an entrenching of the dominant norms of masculinity and femininity by looking specifically at some of the articles. Ever since R.W. Connell wrote on hegemonic, marginalized and subordinate masculinities, many others have followed her lead in exploring the forms in which masculinity is expressed under conditions of strain. In this collection, Atreyee Sen’s article based on field work done in 2005–2006 in a Muslim dominated urban slum in northern Hyderabad looks at how Muslim male children, boys between the ages of 9 and 14, respond to the violence of communal riots by displaying an aggressive masculinity in the children’s armies (bacchon ki fauj) that they form. The mob attacks on their neighbourhoods elicit in these male children a kind of hyper masculinity which they express by policing and preventing any trade between the Muslim residents of the slums and Hindus or any relationship between Muslim women and Hindu men. Similarly, we find a discussion of the hyper masculinization manifested by another marginalized group, the group of ...

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