‘Skin Deep’ In Whose Skin?

As a budding wordling and receptor of English Literary Academia in India, it’s not difficult to notice our affinity to the terms ‘Postcolonialism’, the ‘subject position of the Oriental reader’, our tendency to use words such as ‘colonising space or time’, ‘deoccupying bodies’ and many other words in Literary mumbo-jumbo that somehow help us to disentangle the mess two hundred or so years of colonisation has left us with. At least for those privileged enough to understand said lingo. And for the ones who don’t, there is always assimilation into the larger ColonialMissionary looming over our heads, yielding keys to the fantastic universe of soap-operas, movies and music. And perhaps even kinky alternatives to intercourse of the coitus variety. But I digress. Either way, there are two options: 1. Fight the Imperialist Chromatic Hegemony  or 2. Be consumed by it (perhaps even like it!). I wish there weren’t such clear dichotomies — take that Descartes! — that there was some possibility of subverting or perverting the Neo-Colonial garbage thrown at us MudSquatters. But how can you topple an ideology or put it through the cycle of systematic and total bouleversement without exposing the underlying ulterior motive?

At least, this is the assumption many Postcolonial theorists make. Apparently it comes with the territory of considering oneself three steps above everyone else because you can theorise ‘them’ and ‘their mental condition’ as ‘they’ lie passively consuming all societal messages, like ‘they’ were brainless sheep in a culture factory. This is a sort of obsession, expecting the world to open ‘herself’ — another side-effect from nineteenth century academia — open to mapping, stealing narratives and even tongues. This way, each potential Postcolonial subject sits with their corner of land and language, positively asserting they can voice the people that come with the geography, denying that this re-possession of land isn’t another colonisation. After all, if you speak their language, you can represent them, right? I could continue ad nauseam in this vein but for the sake of my sanity and yours, let’s pretend I did and move on. This fetish with cartoligising, mapping, codifying history isn’t a new one. But the belief that the only way to de-colonise the self, dance the coloniser’s dance to unlearn old tricks is a recent one. Repeated and ritual use of terms such as Diaspora has trivialised the culture-specific experience of immigrant Jews and African communities; especially when writers such as Salman Rushdie and his band of dudely writers claim to be “children of Diaspora” while sitting in a comfortable mansion in the freaking Center of Western Imperialism. Or when many theorists compare racism with casteism, treating them as the same phenomenon and erasing each prejudice’s specific history, localising it to an understandable and reachable series of events. Not that different from the Victorians, isn’t it? These and countless others are the barriers that come up when a native sits back to theorise zie’s own culture and all its Colonial baggage. Imagine the plight of my lobes when I read some Western account on any Orientalist practice. Spoiler: It’s not a very pretty visual. Often it involves strange burning sensations of the nuclear kind in the vicinity of my LadyBrain.

Especially when talking about Feminist theory (practical or otherwise), more often than not its focus tends to center on the Extremely Obvious Universal Experience Of Every LadyPerson On The Planet: The Middle-Class, Suburban White Vulva Woman! And when pesky LadyPeople who may or not be of different colours, hues and ethnicities complain that it is too narrow a view, that it erases our experiences as LadyPeople who have faced oppression, silencing, misogyny and various other weapons in patriarchy’s arsenal more intensely than the Universal White Vulva Woman, rhymes, chimes and bytes of the GlobalSisterhood start blaring, once again pushing people of colour in the corner. Like Jane Eyre, the Colonial narrative of mainstream feminism too critiques its anti-woman elements within their own borders, but when it comes to seeing Bertha trapped in the attic emphatically, silences roar uniformly; she is castigated as a ‘beast’ without understanding the reasons behind her supposed bestiality. And then you wonder why words of WOC snarl, bite and corrode the psyche every time the pen hits the paper. But I digress.

While there are quite a few theorists, bloggers, activists and people (who may or may not be acquainted with technical jargon of écriture féminin) who understand the problems with privilege and consciously work at divorcing it from their lives, there is an acute lack of Colonial critique or even acknowledgment that actions of mainstream feminism are, in fact, Colonial in more instances than countable. To borrow and modify from Shulamith Firestone, “Colonialism (in feminism) is so deep, it is invisible”. You are probably wondering if I have enough caffeine in my veins as I write this, considering this accusation sounds entirely baseless. First off, the caffeine situation is taken care of, thank you for asking. Secondly, it’s not enough to say, “One must be aware of privilege and try to be aware of its super secret ways of manifestation” when speaking of WOC, especially from colonised lands. Just like the way it isn’t enough to say “All men are equal” and somehow hope this ever eliding equality will reach LadyPeople through the delightful trickle-down method, WOC need to be accorded with the respect and understood when we speak of ColonialForces at play, even in a movement as awesome as feminism. The very idea that feminism is meant to “enlighten” the masses, or the notion that European-American feminist ideals, theory and goals will somehow help LadyPeople all across the world isn’t the brightest belief. Replace feminism with “culture” and you’ll see how closely it smacks of ‘cultivising’ and ‘culturing’ a certain predetermined X sect of people it seems. And then try to explain how it isn’t Colonial to always seek examples of the most exotic and extreme practices of the Third World to justify why feminism isn’t “for them”. I’d like to see you backpedal your way out of rationalising how come women who don’t necessarily huddle in the corner of ditches, swat flies with their hands as their intestines lie bleeding, somehow don’t fit into the descriptions of the “backward” cultures. As the entire belt of women who are educated, aware and ready to fight patriarchy are coloured invisible by repeated excluding them out of discourse, explain to me once again why it isn’t Colonial, once again.

Take the sex-positivity movement for instance. Not only does it exist in privileged White circles of people, it is again Colonial in its root as it doesn’t place responsibility on the Coloniser for maintaining, perpetuating and forming specific cultural practices that brought sex-negativity into the forefront. Today, Indian culture is critiqued for being rigid when it comes to sexual norms, but understanding how the Colonial Gaze is still out loose in Indian society is missing. This way, it becomes equally difficult for an Outsider to see how the way we define ourselves, see ourselves and form our identities still reflects Colonial principles and by extension our sense of “normal” and “deviant” in sexual practices is still a parting gift from the (un)lovely Mr. Hastings. So don’t blame me if I don’t want to destigmatise BDSM or other kinky alternatives with you. I’d rather have women’s desires and voices heard now, instead of globalising experiences.

Feminism is supposed to be that one space which permeates our lives, eyes and sensibilities and make us better equipped to fight oppression. It promises to go ‘skin deep’ and become a part of our insides, to give us this special brand of armour that will make smashing patriarchy easier. Turns out, there are only a few skins who get this choice. The rest of us wander aimlessly, skinless.

 

 

 

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5 Comments

  1. Vasundhara

     /  October 9, 2010

    Oh my god Jaded I don’t know how you do it, but you’ve literally taken a few of my thoughts from my head and put them out here with so much wit, style and intellect! *Swoons*

    If I say I’m very close to having this BIG, BIG, BIG crush on you, will that creep you out?

    Reply
  2. God, I love this post.

    This:

    The very idea that feminism is meant to “enlighten” the masses, or the notion that European-American feminist ideals, theory and goals will somehow help LadyPeople all across the world isn’t the brightest belief. Replace feminism with “culture” and you’ll see how closely it smacks of ‘cultivising’ and ‘culturing’ a certain predetermined X sect of people it seems.

    just, bam, hits you like a ton of bricks.

    I get a lot of shit for challenging feminism. But what kind of movement can it be if it isn’t constantly evaluated, reevaluated, purged, restored, updated? How can we grow if we don’t challenge each other? This is why I love your blog. I’d love to guest post here, but I’m not sure what I could possibly add to this conversation!

    Reply
  1. myfeminisms

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