“A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.”
Violence against women is exploding, be it in the context of female foeticide, rape, malnutrition and hunger or lack of basic freedoms. And India is ranked one of the lowest in the gender equality ranking. At a time like this, Gloria Steinem’s ‘As If Women Matter’ is thought-provoking and significant, and an absolute must read.
Gloria Steinem is one of the iconic feminist thinkers. She is well-versed with the Indian situation, as she has spent her early years in India. This helped her apply Gandhian philosophy to feminism, that like a tree, it must grow strong in its roots and grow bottom up. The book is a culimnation of essays written by Gloria, during different points of her life that hold much importance today, with an introduction by activist Ruchira Gupta. The essays are relevant throughout the world and have laid the groundwork for much of the feminist debate we see today.
In the Masculinization of Wealth, Gloria describes the problem of the lack of financial control that women face. This is a common phenomenon across all the rich families. She elucidates with various anecdotes, showing the disparity between her rich and poor classmates before and after marriage.
In the Politics of Food, Gloria highlights the major problem that women face in India- malnutrition. And this problem goes back to the basic problem of discrimination, where men are considered more deserving than women of food. This is a thought that is engrained in every woman’s mind in India.
“We’ve begun to raise daughters more like sons.. but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.”
She has dedicated an entire chapter to Marilyn Monroe. She attributes the actress’ early years of abuse and torment at the hands of men to be the main cause of her later psychological sadness. She empathizes with Marilyn, the woman who never had the chance to live life without being abused by men. In a continuing thread, she talks about self-esteem and how this stems from the early years, or strong experiences in one’s life time. In Romance Versus Love and Erotica Versus Pornography, she distinguishes these oft-confused concepts and explains how romance and pornography depend on the subjugation of women’s bodies to the hands of men, to be exploited. Male dominance has equalled aggression and violence to pornography, which is equalled to erotica today. This is further elucidated by highlighting the life of Linda Lovelace, the actress of the famous pornography film, Deep Throat. Her sexual abuse by her husband and pimp are indeed horrifying and scary.
In addition to this, she talks about the objectification of women as sexual toys by the Playboy magazine, and its subsequent bars and clubs. She cites her own personal experience as a Playboy Bunny and the humiliation these Bunnies face. Prostitution is the oldest oppression and Gloria presents a strong case for the criminalisation for the same. By legalising prostitution, poor and migrant workers may be forced in t it. Instead, she suggests a third way, which will protect women from being though the criminal justice system and end impunity of male perpetrators by penalising the purchase of sex.
She shows that anything held by a powerful group will be perceived as good and anything a less powerful group has as not so good, irrespective of the intrinsic value of the good itself. This is true in the case of menstruation, where women are made to feel impure, unclean and ashamed during those days. At the same time, If Men Could Menstruate, the act would be perceived as great, worthy-of-celebration and all-around awesome. And in my favourite chapter, Gloria draws the anti-women propaganda of Hitler, in addition to his notorious anti-Jew, anti-gypsy propaganda. She analyses Hitler’s obsession with masculinity and shows how the seed of this gendered violence was born.
“If women are supposed to be less rational and more emotional at the beginning of our menstrual cycle when the female hormone is at its lowest form, then why isn’t it logical to say that, in those few days, women behave the most like the way men behave all month long?”
This book is profound and scholarly. It has much to offer, much that men and women can away. For anyone looking for an introduction to feminism, this is a wonderful way to start. Though academic in nature, the book has the best of arguments simplified for all readers. It is a compilation of some great essays that I would recommend everyone read.
If you find the book interesting, buy from Amazon or Flipkart here: