When a woman writes a story, her narrative has a distinct gaze. Since it is a female gaze, it has many dimensions and layers to it, all of which are unique and individual, yet something with which all women can empathise. This was the topic of the fourth-panel discussion at the Women Writers’ Festival in Kolkata- ‘Personal Narratives from the Female Gaze: Sexuality, Motherhood, Womanhood’. The panellists were Natasha Badhwar, Sreemoyee Piu Kundu, Sudesna Ghosh, and the session was moderated by SheThePeople.TV's Ideas Editor, Kiran Manral.
Kiran opened the discussion by saying, that the female gaze was very different from that of a male. She said,“When we women write, we write from within ourselves. Our gaze goes outwards, and that is why it is so personal, so distinct, so intimate for the reader.”
Women writing on intimate topics make people uncomfortable.
Many times female writers touch upon topics which are raw and personal. So at such times one does wonder, whether there is a need to use a filter before putting your thoughts on paper, or should you let them flow freely.
Natasha Badhwar said, “How can one say that there is no filter? A lot of writing comes from the space about where you are told not to talk about something. You can’t live with silence, because it will suffocate you.”
Yet when a woman sits down to write, she can feel the weight of those regulations and reservations on her pen.
Sometimes she gives in to the pressure, and censors her work to make it more palatable but when that weight becomes unbearable it breaks her inhibitions. She feels compelled to write the very things which people don’t want her to.
No Need For Justification
Shreemoyee Piu Kundu mused, “Whenever I meet a man, the first thing he asks me is ‘What’s your inspiration behind writing erotica?’ I find that so bizarre, because do you ask a mystery writer that do you actually murder people before you write? So I get that a lot because in this country you are talking about sexuality and you are talking about women in a not so conventional manner. When you are talking about desires and not love.”
Since ages the portrayal of an ‘ideal Indian woman’ has been very different from an ordinary Indian woman, who grapples with her sexuality and sexual needs, irrespective of her marital status.
But now as things are changing, women no longer feel that they owe anybody an explanation. Be it on their marital status, or on the character of their book’s protagonist.
After a certain age, women become invisible to the society
Two of the panellists have written books in which their protagonist is a single woman who is in her thirties. These characters came from the authors’ personal experience of leading a single life in a metro city. Which moved the discussion towards a question, that do women become invisible to the society once they are over thirty?
Sudeshna Ghosh said, ‘What I find, as a thirty-three-year-old single woman, living in Kolkata for the last ten years, is that once you are in your late twenties and you are not married or not about to get married. People, especially women keep putting me down for not ‘settling down’ or wanting to be a mother.”
It is difficult for the society to deal with women who do not prioritize marriage and motherhood. So in a way, by sketching characters which are not conventional, these female authors want to give such women a voice.
The society will try to mould women, no matter what path they choose in life.
The interference in a woman’s life goes beyond coaxing her into marriage or motherhood. It continues after a woman becomes a mother. She is expected to behave in a certain way. She has to take care of her child and her family as per the conventional norms. If a woman tries to move away from that, she faces constant criticism, regardless of her age, or social or financial standing.
This is why the female gaze becomes important, both for the readers and the authors. The former learns what a modern Indian woman wants, and the latter learns to channel her frustration and thoughts and reach out to many more women like her.
Social media as Tool for Women Authors
Shreemoyee says she used social media to reach single women far and wide across India, so that she could include their experience as single women for her book. The so-called intellectuals and people who think they have a moral high ground use the social media to criticise both personal and professional choices the authors make.
The best way to deal with such pestering stranger or even peers? Block them!
Who defines what is respectable, when it comes to women’s writing
Female authors have to put on blinders and plug their ears and follow their muse.