The term postcolonial refers to the condition of people and the country after the imperial rule was over and the British Empire receded back to Great Britain. The semantic definition includes the national or even aboriginal culture after the departure of the imperial power. And the term postcolonial continues to define the culture and literatures of the countries from the moment of colonization to this moment on.
As the underdogs, the people in colonized countries sought to establish their difference from Britain. This paper is an effort to look at the patterns of colonization which is defined as a domination of one subject over other by any means, either physical or linguistic or cultural and to discuss the status of women as subjects of ‘Double Colonization’ in colonized countries.
Like the colonized nations which dominated the colonized countries, the women too were dominated over by men over centuries. But the status of women in the countries which were colonized was even more complicated. The women belonging to the colonized countries, however much they try to, can not have a standing for the entire community they represent because they can never be isolated in their experience, either as a woman or as a member of a colonized community.
It is very difficult to study and analyze women’s writing without a basic study of feminist movements and the history of feminism. Gynocentricism in the history of feminism; is a very big term in understanding women’s texts and women’s writing. This term has been coined by an eminent Feminist theorist, Elaine Showalter, to describe the last phase in the Feminist movement. This is an area of study, which centered around women and concentrated its focus in finding out more about women and women writers. They harp on the fact that both men and women write very differently. Feminist theorists like Patricia Mayor Spacks opine that the work of a creative writer does get affected by the gender of the writer.
Gynocentric criticism differs from feminist criticism in the fact that they believed that women and men were different not only biologically but also in other aspects could their difference be seen. The gynocentric critics study the women’s literary history with a sense of pride and not justification about women’s experiences and emotions. This shift of feminist criticism from the revisionary readings to the investigative readings lead to the new phase in feminism – gynocentricism. Elaine Showalter in the ‘Feminist Criticism in Wilderness’ (1981) has talked about this mode of feminism. She says it is,
…the psychodynamics of female creativity; the trajectory of the individual or collective female career; and the evolution and laws of a female literary tradition. No English term exists for such a specialized discourse, and so I have invented the ‘gynocritics'(Showalter:242)
Gynocentricism stepped towards noticing the difference in women’s writing. What the gynocritics then are working towards is to be able to map out the exact cultural and social determinants, which form the heart of a creative
woman’s identity. They have made use of four models of difference:
* Women’s writing and Women’s body:
One permanent and definite difference between men and women is that of their bodies. The gynocritics believe that women’s body and its experience are a source of immense energy and power for women. They thus opine that women are different from men and so have a different set of biological experiences, which do not get manifested in their writings.
* Women’s writing and Women’s language:
The study of language in which women express their feelings and emotions is a very important aspect of gynocentricism. Feminist critics believe that women should completely discard the present language and invent a new language for their purposes. Gynocritics refuse to believe this idea but instead desire to work on strategies, which can provide equal access to the same language for both the genders. They aim at studying the difference in usage of the language and not in changing the entire language.
* Women’s writing and Women’s psyche:
The gynocentrics aim at revising the conventional Freudian and Lacanian approach to make it gynocentric. They do not accept that a woman’s writing is inferior at all. gynocentrics believe that a mother-daughter relationship has a lot of influence on a woman’s psyche. They provide a psychoanalytical model to explain the similarities in writings of women all over the world in spite of the cultural and social differences.
* Women’s writing and Women’s culture:
The gynocentrics believe that the idea that women form about their bodies are well linked to the cultural environment in which they live. This theory sees women bound together through a collective experience making their own culture in the dominant cultural whole. The gynocentric reading of a text thus reads in a woman’s double -edged discourse that within it the heritages of both worlds.
The fact remains that education for women is not just learning to read and write, it is her gateway to the knowledge that she too has equal rights to everything and she cannot and should not be exploited by men or society. Education is then a means through which women have been able to unknot themselves from the bindings of society and its norms.
I am going to look at this topic with the reference of ‘Amar Jiban’ an early nineteenth century autobiography written by Rashasundari Devi, a Bengali woman writer. Devi was perhaps the first Bengali writer in 19th century India.
Devi, as an ordinary housewife does not conform to the typical “I” in the male dominated canons as an ideal candidate for writing an autobiography. The whole text, is a clear citation of her womanhood, and being an uneducated woman with no writing skills as such, the way she portrays her emotions and frustrations at the society in which she lives is a constant reminder to the reader of her diminished and limited existence as a woman.
That takes us to the definition of a woman’s language as put by irigaray in the essay ‘a woman’s language’. According to her a woman’s language:
“…has affinities with the dreams”
She has identified the woman’s language with the unconscious, the excess whose repression is necessary so that the conscious is defined, and therein lies the double syntax of conscious rational thought and the unconscious feminine repressed. A typical feminine language is not didactic, it does not offer any theories or explanations. It is in a true sense as put by Christiane Rochefort, in her essay ‘ The Privilege of Consciousness’,
…a specific category, not because of the biology, but because it is, in a sense, the literature of the colonized.(Rochefort: 21)
A woman’s writing is
…a double voiced discourse that always embodies the Social, literary, and cultural heritages of both the muted and the dominant. (McCarty: 368)
The text ‘amar jiban’ has a unique standing, it stands for the entire community it represents because as a woman and as a woman in a colonized country devi’s experience can never be isolated in its own, either as a woman or as a member of a colonized community. Feminist theorists like Rowbotham have already given this concept of group dynamics to feminism. They have stated that writings of women are often rooted in their group identities. Therefore the achievements and defeats of each and every woman directly relate to those of their entire clan.
As said by Rowbotham, a woman is always aware of her identity in a group, that belonging to a suppressed class in a male dominated social strata.
Ah, what a sad thing it was! Such misery, only because she was a Woman! We were in any case imprisoned like thieves, and on top of that, reading was yet another crime. It is good to see women having an easier time of it now. even if someone has a daughter these days, he educates her carefully.(Sarkar:171)
Rashasundari’s above lines are enough to state the condition of women in the early 19th century India. Women were considered to be intellectually inferior to men in every way and hence they were not given any right of say, whether it be politics, law, education or even a purely domestic matter. Women’s writings have always argued that men had conspired to keep them away from some precious resource by positing a basic difference in the matters of intellect. There is a pervasive feeling of something that they have lost, something that had been cruelly withheld from them, some inflicted wound that only formal knowledge can heal.
Devi lived in the 19th century India where a lot of changes were taking place. It was the time of colonial rule and India was a dominated colonized country then. In ancient India women were considered to be the weaker sex which was supposed to be dominated over by men and used as objects for the selfish purposes by the stronger sex. Women had none or very little say in almost all the walks of life. To look at it this way, women were doubly marginalized and doubly colonized then, once by the males who ruled them, and secondly by the British who were the colonizers in India.
Women in ancient India had little or no rights regarding almost anything in society. They were looked upon as caste or class objects. In those days women neither inherited their father’s nor their husband’s property. Without this right, women felt inhibitive about claiming their identity that caste, class, lineage offers to men. They remained incomplete caste and class subjects.
Their money was a reduced to ‘Stridhan’ or bridal gifts which they received during marriage. They were people without incomes, more dependant economically then any other way. Within the family they were provided service and deference and were engaged in very heavy daily labour at home. This allocated a woman to perhaps the worst exploited social categories of that order. Jyotirao Phule, the 19th century reformer, had bracketed the Brahmin women along with ‘shudras’ (or extremely low caste/status) as the victim of Brahminical domination. Her oppression was thus double. On one hand, they had very little money of their own.
On the other hand, the upper caste affluent women were of high caste, important families and had a great deal of overall economic security. They had power over servants and day labourers. But, they were people poor even the poorest of day labourers. These extremes of privation and labour, even within the privileged order, detached women from processes of exploitation and full class and caste membership.
Thus the women, even of a class and caste that enjoyed privileges, authority and power might have felt an inhibition about claiming the identity that class and caste and lineage confer to them. It aligned her to the worst exploited social categories of that order. Even among women, the infertile, the women without sons, the widowers, and the old maids suffered a sharper dishonour and material differentiation than the others.
Sharply delineated power lines ran among the women that shifted course according to domestic status, changes in life cycle and marital circumstances. For the Brahmin upper caste women the alignment was temporary. With the onset of middle age, the woman attained power. She no longer had to work as hard. She would exercise considerable power over the new generation of women. Patriarchy thus operated through far more complicated trajectories with criss-crossings of power lines. Thus the same woman goes through extremes of helplessness as well as authority in her lifetime. They get to know both subjection and rule.
But if we see the circumstances that surrounded her when she wrote, I mean for the writing woman of her generation of the first educated, the act of writing itself reconstitutes her subjectivity in extremely radical ways. Devi declares her independence from all the resources made conventionally available to her and by her simple act of writing, breaks the set boundaries towards her newfound world of freedom.
Devi lived in the 19th century India where a lot of changes were taking place. It was the time of colonial rule and India was a dominated colonized country then. But even besides this, the women had a very little say in almost all the walks of life. To look at it this way, women were doubly marginalized then, once by the males who ruled them, and secondly by the British who ruled India. On the other hand a lot of reforms were taking place in the fields of education and politics.
Her resistance to her inherited and self imposed world to an extent, lies in her act of writing itself, and amidst all the medieval chaos of a Bengali Brahminical household, Amar Jiban, as rightly put by Tanika Sarkar is a very early text of modernity.
We tend to absolutise male and female writings and observe them as seamless blocks those forming opposites of total power and total powerlessness. Patriarchy however, operates far more complicatedly then that. This is the reason why women are for the most part the complicit subjects of patriarchy. In the Hindu religion, the ‘Sansar’ is the realm of the householder.
The rules of religion varied according to caste and gender. They were spelt out by Vedas and the Sruti literature. The woman enters the sansar through the only sacrament available to her- marriage. For her sansar is the never-ending flow of domestic work and responsibilities and female duties of ritual observances. The scriptures defined a typical woman, who was confined to her house, which was not her own property. She was given the task of looking after the house and her sole purpose was the happiness of her husband.
She had little to look forward to and was shown no sympathy if she ventured out of her traditional role. Subtle strategies power were thus written into shaping and differentiation of the feminine in everyday practices of family and other areas like law and education. Religion played a major role in forming and conditioning roles of Indian women. The traditional image of ‘Radha’, who devoted her whole life for a polygamous male, became the ideal. The woman thus remained trapped in an inescapable condition.
Durga, on the other hand is a figure of majestic splendour, both as the Divine Mother and the Demon Slayer. The women were given two places, one of the protector mother and other of the eternal lover Sacrificer. There was no scope for them between the pedestal and the porch. They were not allowed the place of a mortal. This to them forced the conditioning and they regarded it as their fate. Through these various circular movements, the Canonical paradigms of practices were laid out according to which the woman would/should regulate her inner as well as outer behaviour.
Girls were forbidden to read or write even in literate well-educated households.
Education was looked upon, as a physical attribute were transference to women would make them masculine. It stood for male power and now it was neatly switched around. The men identified their masculinity in terms of the written word. If masculinity required a self-differentiation from feminine, then recreating female subjectivity as educated becomes dangerous gift.
It would undermine the marker of necessary difference and allow the surfacing of the repressed feature that would de-stabilize the ordered society. Education for women who had been divorced earlier from business, Army, administration, and politics, threatened the comforts of assured peace at Home as it allowed women to prove their worth, and self-esteem and establish initiation in the public realm so far been dominated by men. There were also fears of loss of the solace, that of the childlike ignorance of the wife. The grown man can be sure of his masculinity only if the woman remains a child forever. To possess the child in the woman was to be a man in the colonized world.
The power politics of word and speech played a major role in sexual domination. Women were empowered both verbally and physically through culture created myths and beliefs manufacturing a golden web, which was a prison in disguise. They were provided with light, harmless entertainment and games to prevent their minds to grow in seriousness. They were a refuge for the men from the insults at work. The women thus, were the makers of an omnipotent white male through her act of submission at home.
A woman is twice marginalized. She is dominated and ruled over by the men and not given any basic rights in the society, she is also dominated by the colonizers who rule her country. She is both a ‘woman’ who is the weaker sex, and she is the ‘oppressed’ who is the weaker subject in the eyes of the colonizing government. As a woman she had to be angelic and stay at home, be either a housewife, a doting daughter, sister and mother to the men of the household. She had to look after the other members of the family and do the household chores and manage the household. She had to suffer the domination by each and every member of the family and outside. On the other hand if she belonged to a country which was under the colonial rule, she is oppressed by the ruling country.
She is always lower in the hierarchy and she is always placed after the colonizers. She is denied privileges like education and work and is given no right to speak her mind in the society. So not only does she get oppressed by her male counterparts at home, she gets denied any status by the colonizers. In countries like India which have social systems consisting of class and caste distinctions, the situation becomes even more complex. Women belonging to subcastes or lower castes are even lower down the social status because they then are marginalized not only by men and the colonizers but also by the upper class women who have more social rights than they do. In the first case the men are the patriarchy and in the second it’s the colonizers who are the dominating class. A woman is
…simple, unchanging unity, always confronting
the same kind of monolithic patriarchal
Patriarchy here is a univocal, non-contradictory force that prevents women from expressing their real nature. And that here stands both for men and the colonizers. Thus my argument that women writers in a colonized world are doubly marginalized and doubly colonized and they have to find their way out of a maze of multiple dominations which makes their survival and their success even more important and celebratory.