Gender, Body and Everyday Life
This paper sets out to examine the interface between gender, subject and everyday life in contemporary urban India.1 My essential argument in this paper is that the gendered subject is not a biological or even psychological but primarily a social being who experiences her femininity2 in inter-subjective relationships with several others in a complex interplay of class, caste, regional and socio-economic factors.3 The complicity of the gendered subject in her own construction is acknowledged, as are also her frequent attempts at resistance, and this is in fact central to the process of social construction. The paper also examines the gendered embodiment of the female subject in everyday life. The problematic of physical embodiment and its effect on women's social and inter-personal relations is therefore central to the paper. My concern is with how gender is inscribed on the subject in everyday life both socially as well as through her own perceptions, desires and fantasies. It is in this sense that gender identity is truly, as Moore tells us, 'both constructed and lived' (1994: 49).
The female body is a matter of speculation as of contention in urban social life as well as in academic much discourse. A woman's body is viewed as being sensuous, mysterious, exotic, always a 'desirable other' represented in advertisements, in women's magazines, on the catwalk, in popular cinema, and so on. The public 'gaze', whether male or female, is always speculating how next the woman will clothe her body, or adorn it, or maintain it, or manipulate it, or shape it to perfection.4 All this adds to the charisma and mystery attached to the notion of the female body. But the woman's body is also abused and violated; she is raped and molested on the streets and in her home. She experiences violent attacks on her body that psychologically scar and traumatise her. She is physically disempowered in the attempt to confront her with her personhood: inferior in relation to the physically more powerful masculine other. The point moreover is that even when
*Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, Teen Murti House.
Social Scientist, Vol. 23 Nos. 7-9, July-September 1995