Social Scientist. v 23, no. 260-62 (Jan-Mar 1995) p. 123.


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NOTES ON THE MAKING OF FEMININE IDENTITY 123

As we saw in the historical enquiry, the next important phase in the constitution of feminine identity starts with the emergence of the public sphere in the wake of the anti-colonial, anti-feudal struggle. Indeed, the critique of feudal decadence conferred a certain measure of dignity upon women and they began to emerge on the social scene as actants with the rudiments of individuality. However, the romantic idealism that inspired the writers of this period tended to mystify female representations. This tendency is particularly marked in the works of Kumaran Asan and Changampuzha. Indeed Asan was combating the feudal hedonism by postulating a love which is free of flesh. But it had rather unfortunate consequences on his hapless heroines who are, either like Vasavadatta in Karuna, is literally hacked up to facilitate their accession to spirituality, or, as in the typical libenshod narrative, at the point of death, when fulfilment finally descends. Asan's works for all their revolutionary significance are seriously marred by the unconscious fear of female sexuality and the ascetic credo that is adopted largely as a defence mechanism.

Surely, even in this climate of romantic idealization of women and the family, certain credible portraits of women did emerge thanks to the socialist and Marxist theories that were beginning to grip the consciousness of the masses. Also the work of women writers like Saraswathi Amma and Lalithambika Antharjanam created the rudiments of a feminine view-point in culture. However, these trends hardly got an opportunity to develop and became entirely submerged in the backlash.

I propose to conclude the paper/ as it were, at the threshold of the 'backlash* which established its stranglehold over our cultural life in the sixties. With the shrinkage of the public sphere, the bourgeois conceptualisation of the 'private* began to more and more seep into the consciousness of the people. The emergence of the culture industry and its twin products, popular journals and popular cinema, paved the way for the commodification and objcctification of women. The complex processes that were set in motion by these transformations can be traced out only through an elaborate study of popular culture and the visual media, adopting the insights provided by structuralism, semiology, ideology critique and psycho-analysis. But that should properly form the subject of a separate paper.

In sum, the ideological constructs of feminine identity in contemporary Kerala society, are quite depressing.The objectification of the female form in the visual media, and the marginalization of women in daily life, should make any progressive minded person hang his/her head in shame. Yet, as Marx has once remarked, 'even shame is a revolutionary sentiment'—if it spurs us on to action.



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