Gender discrimination has been a topic of discussion for centuries. In the past, women have used literature to defend their rights and many women writers have achieved extraordinary success. But of late, women writers in Odisha who pick up bolder subjects, whether it be sexuality, politics, feminism or religion, are looked down upon by their male counterparts. There are instances of men getting away with explicit content in their writings while women are accused of promoting pornography. Orissa POST spoke to some educationists and poets who shared their thoughts on such gender bias in literature.
Swapna Behera is an educationist from Odisha and cultural ambassador for India and South East Asia of Inner Child Press, United States. With a tinge of sarcasm, she says, “A woman gives birth but can’t write about sex? Sounds illogical, no? … A woman can vote but cannot discuss politics … that sounds funny … Who will train the future citizens? Is love a ‘touch me not’ subject for a woman to write about?
“Voices echo whether you zip or unzip the lips. Expression is a fundamental right. A woman is stronger than her curves. Women are the makers of the global family. Literature is serious business and a commitment for the future. I condemn segregation on the basis of gender, class, colour and on subjects like sex, politics, feminism, or religion. I salute the women writers who have the guts to call a spade a spade. Every drop of ink bleeds as every woman bleeds. Every drop of ink creates as every woman creates,” added Behera who is also the National President for India of Hispanomundial Union of Writers (UHE), Peru.
The patriarchal Indian society always attempts to suppress the female voice, be it in the private sphere or public sphere. Social changes are incremental always, unfortunately they do not come as fast as expected, said Dr Hiranmayee Mishra, a writer and gender specialist and director of the Women’s Studies Centre (UGC), UN Autonomous College.
“Literature reflects the land, time and space, so literature in Odia language is expected to be suitable to the limits of acceptability of our society. Here is the paradox. Poems and stories or novels are now written by women who are progressive. While writing, a writer is neither a male nor a female, we just take a position from where we see both. This is not understood by many readers. Thus comes the discrimination against women writers. But writing about the body should no more be considered a bold subject, it’s old and outdated. I would rather suggest to our young writers to write against the establishment,” added Mishra.
“Erotica has its own beauty, but it should be handled properly. If the content demands, one shouldn’t shy away from it and when it’s out of context, there is no need to insert it just to gain popularity.
“I have been writing for more than thirty years, I have written stories on lesbians, gays and transgenders where there are descriptions on male and female anatomies, and I have faced criticism for that. After some years, all those stories are now being appreciated more by readers. I am hopeful that this phase will pass and a society free from all forms of gender bias will come about. The power of words is overwhelmingly empowering,” she further said.
“Yes, a woman has always been put on the lowest rung of the ladder in our male dominated society. Her talent, judgement, opinion and struggle are not evaluated as it should be. Women across the globe, whether they are writers or from other creative fields, have faced a backlash whenever they try to swim against the current,” said well-known poet and writer Chirashree Indrasingh.
Whether it is Malayali writer Kamala Das or Urdu short story writer Qurratulain Haider, they were too bold for their time and faced the ire of the moral police, Chirashree said. But now, when the entire globe is in our drawing room in the blink of an eye, it is old-fashioned to view depiction of female anatomy or sexuality in one’s writing as boldness. If such poems or short stories by some Odia women authors are dubbed as pornography by a certain section, such opinions should be ignored if the writer strongly feels that there is a need for such description, she said, adding, “Women authors should be least bothered about the opinion of others. They should be self-reliant and courageous which is the real empowerment of women.”
BIJAY MANDAL, OP