Social Scientist. v 13, no. 149-50 (Oct-Nov 1985) p. 116.


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VIDYA RAO*

Womer^s Issues In The Performing Arts: A Review Article

THE DECADE 1975-85 was dedicated to women. In the midst of the general flurry of activity of research on women, employment schemes for women etc., a few festivals of music and dance purporting to take up woman-oriented themes also took place. That social themes and concerns managed to find a place in the citadel of "pure" art is encoHraging but the question is— what in fact was depicted, and presented; what were seen to be women's issues ? This article will attempt to identify the underlying perception of women's issues in some of these concerts and festivals, and to see how, by and large, the perception of the problem, and therefore naturally, the answers (if any) are confused and incoherent. This article does not cover the considerable activity undertaken by women's organisations, cultural groups of political and social organisations etc., but is limited to a few programmes-festivals of classical music and dance.

Talking to many musicians, dancers and interested listeners/observers1, one gets the impression that as far as music and dance go, there is no woman's problem any more. All that was in the bad old days of the tawaifs and the devdasis and even then, it was the performing arts that suffered from their association with the disreputable '-nautch girls'2. Now that music has been rescued from this unfortunate association and has been imbued with respectability, 'good' women have taken to music and dancing and everything is perfect This is ofcourse untrue but to argue out every inaccuracy would require a separate article to itself. Suffice it to say that at least some performing artists have felt that women's issues are important, and impinge on their •lives and work. But the question is what is this problem, and how is it perceived ?

One point of view has been to see the problem as one of a continuing struggle against old prejudices that have not died. Often women artists feel they have to face tremendous social pressures. 'We are not *baijis'! said one woman vehemently. 'We are educated and cultured-we are different'. Her statement is replete with meaning at so many levels—that society still often treats the woman artiste as someone slightly dis-reputable, available, not quite the 'good woman' (unless ofcourse the art is trivialised to the level of a hobby which does not afford an income and means of livelihood): that she in

*» Editorial Department, Orient Longman's, New Delhi.



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