While women writers are taking bolder steps across genres, male authors too are defining their female characters with more earnestness. Ahead of International Women’s Day, here’s what some writers, both women and men, have to say about what feminism means to them, the impact of women on their writing and their portrayal and sketching of female characters.
Reshma K Barshikar, author of “The Hidden Children” (Two Ravens) and “Fade Into Red” (Penguin Random House) feels there seems to be a new war afoot, a constant struggle to define feminism – lipstick feminism, second generation feminism, eco feminism, all of which only seem to undermine our singular goal – equal rights for both sexes.
Rashmi Joshi, the author of “Here and Beyond” (Bloomsbury India) says feminism is about battling injustice, breaking out of punishing patriarchal mindsets and the right to a dignified living. “My idea of feminism emerged when I returned from a year of studies abroad. Archaic points of view were probably entrenched in me so much while living in India that I automatically agreed with them,” says young writer, Neharika Gupta whose first novel is scheduled to come out later this year with HarperCollins India.
One of the fiercest voices on sexuality and gender, author of several books including the most recent “CUT: The Death and Life of a Theatre Activist” (Bloomsbury), Sreemoyee Piu Kundu says there is hypocrisy behind feminism. “When I sent ‘Sita’s Curse’ to publishers I was told why I did not choose a younger more urban protagonist. For most operating out of Delhi, the idea of feminism is narrowed and compartmentalised to a very urban one. Ironically, the land of Kamasutra that has a history of firebrand writers like Kamala Das and Ismat Chughtai who explored erotica in some of their writings continues to be uncomfortable with Indian eroticas,” she says.
Sreemoyee further states that feminism cannot be without the politics or without examining the freedom and several other issues the country is fighting against. “We talk about feminism without the understanding and implementation of feminism in its true sense. Today writing is not restricted to books but there is a lot more good writing happening in online spaces which is revolutionary and bold,” says Kundu.
Today the narrative of feminism and women is also changing and reflecting in the writing of male writers. Books such as Devdutt Pattanaik’s “The Girl Who Chose: A New Way of Narrating the Ramayana” to Amish Tripathi’s “Sita: The Warrior Princess” reflect their effort to give a new narrative to the story of Sita. More and more narratives are about strong women, including in the ones in the retelling of epics.
S Venkatesh, author of “Kaalkoot: The Lost Himalayan Secret” (TreeShade Books) says in an era where women are shattering stereotypes, breaking out of constraining role definitions and challenging power structures, the character of Damini in the book epitomises role reversals.
Even in male narratives of women, we see strong women protecting friends and family and at times nation, breaking codes, disposing of unwelcome advances from men fending marriages, giving new meaning to sexuality even with disapproving murmurs. “But at the same time, she mirrors the pressures women face today, as beneath the confident exterior, she has to handle gnawing guilt and a creeping sense of doubt about her life-choices,” he adds.
Tarun Gautam, author of “Rewind and Play” (TreeShade Books), whose female protagonist Nafisa is an independent girl running her own company, agrees. “I chose a strong female character because I wanted to break the male stereotype that is associated with the engineering field. Women are equally capable in that field and can solve complex problems. In ‘Rewind and Play’, she is someone who gets everyone together to get Raghav out of his predicament,” he says.
According to Reshma, at all times she wants to show a ferocious internal strength coupled with kindness, which she thinks embodies most women she knows. “Kindness is paramount,” she says. But does this also impact the writing of non-fiction writers too? Kaninika Mishra, author of the business non-fiction “The Indian Millionaire Next Door”, says she explores subjects ranging from life insurance sales to entrepreneurship in my writing and even though labelled as male dominated fields, these professions, in fact, have a large number of highly successful women.
“From Ritu Nanda, India’s top life insurance salesperson who I profiled in my book ‘The Indian Millionaire Next Door’, to women yoga teachers who feature in my forthcoming book, ‘The Indic Quotient’, Indian women have been creating impact across professions and serve as role models to the younger generation,” she says.
Rashmi Joshi adds most definitely women have more powerful narratives to share than most men. Compelled by exhaustive expectations that the world has thrust upon her, she drives herself to the breaking point in order to live up to those who in her book has covered many stories of victims.
To a question on if and how the narrative has changed over the years, Joshi says powerful voices are now being heard from women writers on varied subjects, ranging from science to spirituality. Gupta puts that 90 years ago, it was important to fight for a room of one’s own, today’s quest is a world of one’s own.
Mishra sums it all by saying her foray into writing was inspired to a large extent by Gita Piramal’s book “Business Maharajas”. So there is a growing impact of women and women writing on all writers.