Social Scientist. v 22, no. 250-51 (Mar-April 1994) p. 93.

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Problems for a Contemporary Theory of Gender

Suddenly 'women* are everywhere. Development experts name 'gender bias as the cause of poverty in the third world'; population planners declare their commitment to the empowerment of Indian women;

economists speak of the feminisation of the Indian labour force. Over 1991-92, for instance, upper-caste women thronged the streets in the anti-Mandal protests; the BJP identified women and dalits as the principal targets of their next election campaign; women shot into prominence as leaders in the Ramjanmabhoomi movement. The People's War Group of the CPI-ML found themselves drawn increasingly into popular women's campaigns against sexual and domestic violence, dowry and the sale of arrack. Film after film features the new woman as active, critical, angry—she also figures prominently in Doordarshan programmes. In overwhelming numbers, women have joined the literacy campaigns in Pondicherry and parts of Andhra Pradesh. And now we have the anti-arrack movement that threatens to destabilise the entire economy of the state.

How might we 'read' the new visibility of women in this variety of domains and across the political spectrum? What docs it represent? For all those who invoke gender here, 'women' seems to stand in for the subject (agent, addressee, field of inquiry) of feminism itself. In other words the visible woman is one who might be, in some way, regarded as feminist. The new visibility is, perhaps, an index of the success of the women's movement. But clearly it is also problematic. Issues rendered critical by feminism are now being invested in by projects that seem to endorse and extend feminist demands yet harness them to initiative that an egalitarian feminism would find unacceptable. In addition, possibilities of alliance with other subaltern forces (dalits, for example) that are opening up in civil society are often blocked, and feminists find themselves drawn into disturbing configurations within the dominant culture.

CIEFL in Hyderabad. English Department, Central University of Hyderabad.

Social Scientist, Vol. 22, Nos. 3-4, March-April 1994

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