Journal of Arts & Ideas, no. 32-33 (April 1999) p. 61.


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The Story of the 'Up-Markef Reader:

Femina's 'New Woman' and the Normative Feminist Subject

D K, Srilata

The normativity of the upper-caste, middle-class Hindu woman is something we take for granted today.1 The formation of a global middle-class in the post-liberalization 90s, however, has subtly disturbed this normativity and set in place a new but related one. Dominating the imaginary of the 90s is the figure of the globalized, cosmopolitan Indian, a subject distanced from overtly 'communal markings, from the markings of caste, religion, region and language. While the logic of official secularism in post-independence India had always pushed for such a distancing, the nineties has certainly intensified this process. Within the altered imaginary of a post-liberalization India, we mark the emergence of a differently normative female subject, a subject who, for the sake of brevity, I will refer to as the 'new woman'. The new woman exists in a depoliticized magic space, in a space which, for the lack of a better word, we might call cosmopolitan modernity. While she is apparently unmarked in terms of caste, religion and language, a complex and elaborate semiotic system operates to produce her as essentially 'Indian' and, in many ways, as the normative new Indian.

Despite the emergence of the 'new woman' however, other normative figures which are constructed as representing Indianness, continue to form part of our national imaginary. In the nineties, we see not only the formation and the gradual norming of the 'new woman', we also see the reinforcing of the normativity of the middle-class, upper-caste Hindu woman. This paper attempts to examine the construction of the 'new woman' in Femina (a fortnightly magazine for women published from Bombay) and suggests that such a construction occurs in opposition to the nationalist imaginary which produces the 'Indian' woman as the repository of a Good Tradition untainted by a Bad Western modernity. The story of the 'new woman' might also be read in relation to the way in which the magazine industry conceptualizes the readership of Feminp vis a vis that of its rival Woman's Era (a fortnightly magazine for women published from New Delhi).

The cover story by Andrea Pinto and Ivan Mendes in the August 15th, 1997 Independence Day special issue of Femina profiles 'fifty women who've made India'. Along with Indira

Numbers 32-33


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