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WHAT WOMEN REALLY WANT

PACKAGING FREEDOM: FEMINISM AND POPULAR CULTURE By Ipshita Chanda, Stree, Rs 450

“Every woman is an occupied territory” is the title of an article by Simona Sharoni published in the Journal of Gender Studies. The image, albeit a bit flashy, is evocative in that it reflects the fact that femininity today is a theatre of contested notions. Feminists all over the world are busy with women’s “causes”, but how do women — specifically the non-activist section of Indian women — respond to this' When it comes to selling a product — be it a product used exclusively by women or not — the female body has assumed enormous significance over the past few years. Does this imply that the commercial world is one of women, by women and for women'

In a way it does, because popular culture, which hinges for its survival on the capitalist market economy, takes it upon itself to familiarize some of the radical feminist causes to its female consumers. It projects the image of a liberated “modern” woman, defining modernity in a way that will enhance the unique selling proposition of the product. It seeks to make women more independent, and above all, more purchase-prone, selectively using the feminist ideas to expand the “social horizon” of consumers. This results in a blatant de-contextualization, even depoliticization, of feminist issues, which, for obvious reasons, has incurred the displeasure of feminists.

Ipshita Chanda is not terribly antagonistic to popular culture. Rather, she advocates a marriage of convenience between feminism and popular culture. She admits the potential of popular culture in carrying feminist goals beyond the boundary of fora and seminars. But she also warns against “media feminism”, which not only strives to accommodate its “liberated woman” within a re-constituted patriarchy, but also produces a doctored notion of feminism itself. Chanda’s research is based on an extensive survey of the consumption pattern of women in two cities — Calcutta and Jamshedpur.

Packaging Freedom focusses on the appropriation of feminist issues by women’s magazines, popular fiction, television serials and commercials (both printed and audio-visual) and women’s response to them. A large number of respondents were found to consider feminism as a kind of behavioral extremism. She attributes this to media feminism and the failure of women’s rights activists.

In her quest for a negotiable terrain between radical feminism and consumerist popular culture, Chanda suggests that the former should tap the resources from popular culture while the latter should posit an individual woman within a larger historical perspective without deterring its specific commercial interest. “The personal is the political” should be the slogan of both, even as their agendas differ.

One major shortcoming of the research — and Chanda herself admits this towards the end — is ignoring the male perspective on women’s issues. Since both men and women inhabit the same spaces, why is it so impossible to think that even a man can be a potential feminist'

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