The Business Of Selling Voices

As this is the week of Diwali, most of the Ladies of my house are busy preparing various sorts of obligatory ‘Diwali specialties’ while the MenPeople take a break from work, colonise various electronic ports of the house — from the Computer to the TV, in an extremely vapid version of the Matrix — and more or less just laze around. In traditional feminine spaces of the house (the kitchen, the veranda, the room with the temple) you’ll see a lot of bustling activity, hear voices teasing, laughing, sometimes sharp clipped tones when instructions go wrong; the air goes stale here, turns inwards on itself, the cracks speak volumes and there is a constant negotiation of silences. Ironically, such quasi-unregulated ‘women’s spaces’ often leave me claustrophobic —  especially when I’m supposed to don the Dutiful Indian Daughter’s Shoes or otherwise — as these spaces often remind me of Gertrude Stein’s famous words describing a box, “Left open, to be left pounded, to be left closed, to be circulating in summer and winter, and sick colour that is grey that is not dusty and red shows an empty length sooner than a choice in colour. Hope, what is a spectacle, a spectacle is the resemblance between the circular side place and nothing else, nothing else“; where femininity is at display in such an obtuse manner that femininity and the Body Feminine becomes a monolithic garment that is supposed to cover us all; that I imagine it leaves a few bodies bare on purpose. Such bodies are always marked, for being different; if you squint really hard you can spot them at a distance too, flitting from one room to another, searching for a place to be.

Unable to stand the noise and the commotion in my room, I left to go to a book sale across town hoping to lift my mood a bit. And sure enough, at the end of the store, the shelf marked as ‘Feminism’ did make me smile for a while till I processed what it held. Either there were Western feminist texts like The Second Sex or The Feminine Mystique or multiple copies of memoirs of women from Gulf nations, talking about the violence and repression they face there. Maybe I am too cynical, but since when did memoirs penned by White women, based on the life of women from Saudi Arabia constitute as feminist texts? Surely, the voice of anyone anywhere is worth listening to irrespective of gender, class, sexual orientation, colour, caste, ethnicity and so on. But in the transcribing of voices, how much is lost, how much is censored, how much is directed to fit the convenient slot of the Powerless Third World Woman, the Eternal Victim are invisible questions the back of 4th edition paperback doesn’t divulge. The way this LadyBrain sees it, writing for the Coloured or Marked Body has become a business, a fetish of sorts to be sold to White as well as hued audiences, as both are reassured that their positions are left unchallenged. I’ve seen a lot of women reading Jean Sasson‘s books, many have recommended them to me and I have read each one of them (it’s an incurable disease People Of The Olde Interwebes), they are a sort of ‘go-to’ book sources the moment anyone professes any interest in gender or culture theory. It’s rather unfortunate that each book is a memoir about women who undergo the terrifyingly real — and sometimes even hyper-real — routine of rape, torture, patriarchal stronghold on minds and bodies, while none of these women write the books themselves. As glad I am that someone is reading or listening to these voices, so much is co-opted in the process that I’m left with a bitter taste of the DoucheColonial Gaze on my skin, that is omnipresent in the text. Also, these books are an excuse for several right-winged groups to say, “Look how those Muslim buggers treat women! At least we don’t stone you¹”. It’s fascinating — where fascinating is the new grotesque — to see how ‘comfortable’ we are reading and even consuming these voices, as long they are far away from our society.  Which is why an anthology like Poisoned Bread made a few too many people angry and eventually defensive (because which god-fearing, self-respecting Hindu would want to be reminded of all the sins zie has committed for centuries on Dalits?) but books like Princess and Daughters of Mayada are fetishised.

To add to the insatiably obnoxious mix of selling Culture (Circa 2 century B.C till present day), somewhere along this business of ‘selling’ the skin and voice, the Third World Subject becomes just that. Locked, trapped and caught in and out of the body; where the outlines of zie’s skin defines the degree of just how consumable zie’s voice will be. There are times when a MudSquatter has acquired some degree of consciousness of the Body and the space of desirability it holds under Western Eyes, which is doubly ironic considering the ‘consciousness’ of the body is a solely negating experience² as this is a ‘third person experience’. And now, the POC becomes a subject as well as an object, waiting to be ‘found’, ‘decoded’ and prodded apart as zie walks from being the cause of consciousness to the object of consciousness, more often than not, aware of this reconciled meaning. A new memoir is going to be released later this year, about an Afghan woman who was captive in an Iranian prison for two decades. Can you see how appealing this voice can be to the Collector, to add to the bookshelf of ‘Restrained Voices Speaking Out’ right under Literature From The Center thus effectively blunting any effect of this radical act of speaking and airing the locked voice had. The politics of choosing a few hued bodies over other — the more obscure, the better! Capitalism muses — is evident in publishing these memoirs. So then, why do we buy them, consume them, expect to know and cut into this psyche of the Writer? It would be easy to say that we see a solidarity in such voices in our own lives, that these books are anchors of a sort; I wouldn’t want to disagree here. But the idea that this specific gendered  ‘pain’ or ‘violence’ is so easy to lust after disturbs me more than I can imagine, that violence is transformed to a commodity instead of someone’s reality.

As I re-enter ‘women’s spaces’ the cracks open wider than ever, and silences get coloured with ambiguous meanings as I slip into the garb of supposed shared history and sisterhood. While trying to find a continuous thread between the previous generation and mine, the marked bodies shine darker than ever, still walking on the fringe, in between; only they’re on their way to be re-packaged, co-opted and consumed, till the time their marked difference becomes a signifier of all that they are and will ever be allowed to be. At this point someone tells me Jean Sasson’s new book will be out soon, and my mind slips away from further harm as the voices drone, describing how horrible the life of ‘those’ women must be. Indeed.


1. I wish I was joking, the RSS made this statement in an interview. My lobes have never been the same since.

2. Thank Franz Fanon from me, okay?


Leave a comment


  1. Goodness, tragic. ‘Progress’ coming in the shape of making people commodities.

    It is completely fascinating (to me) to see how the “at least we don’t stone you” argument, has evolved in Norway into “What are you complaining about? There are women out there wh are being stoned.”

    Always fun when we realize to which extent the white male is the “norm”. Books written about women become feminist literature, books written by African Americans in USA become ‘black literature’, a band with just women become a ‘girl band’.

    • That last bit made me laugh and then cry. Ugh you’re so right, all that we do has to somehow measure up to masculine patriarchal norms !

  2. Vasundhara

     /  November 5, 2010

    oh yes! Every single reason and instance that you cite is valid. I too have read all of Sasson’s novels, cringing each time at how terrible life over there is yet never fully understanding what drew them to me. You’re right, it’s the consmumable violence that makes it so easy for us to Other them.

    great post jaded!


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