Tag Archives: books

“Seeing Like a Feminist” Book Should Be Required College Reading

Lady in the Ivory Tower post by Lakshmi Sarah on May 6, 2013 – 11:43am; tagged academiaacademicsbooksIndia.

 

Some books are easy to read, yet stay with you long after you’ve finished the last chapter. Nivedita Menon’s Seeing Like a Feminist(Penguin/Zubaan, 2012) is a timely work that explains a complicated subject without over-simplifying it.

 

When one “sees” the world like a feminist, Menon writes in her introduction, it is like “activating the ‘reveal formatting’ function in Microsoft Word. It reveals the strenuous, complex formatting that goes on below the surface of what looked smooth and complete.”

Reading Seeing Like a Feminist made me think: what if we all, especially in academia, thought like feminists? What would the world look like then? To be a feminist is to understand the position of the powerless, as Menon writes, “to imagine occupying the marginal, relatively powerless position with reference to every dominant framework that swallows up the space at the centre.”

Menon is a professor of political thought at Jewaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. whose previous books include Recovering Subversion: Feminist Politics Beyond the Law (2004). She divides Seeing Like a Feminist into six main chapters: Family, Body, Desire, Sexual Violence, Feminists and Women, and Victims or Agents. Menon relates each of this big issues to a simple dynamic: choice.

The book is definitely aided by Menon’s position as a woman who has lived with India’s legal and cultural systems. As she points out, the Indian penal code criminalizes sexual activity that is “against the order of nature” (whatever that means). Menon’s perspective is powerful, precisely because it is based on feminist scholarship and debates in what she calls “my part of the world.” She highlights many non-Western assumptions and goes beyond other Zubaan books that have a historical focus. The book looks “directly on the gendered nature of power.”

In the end, like Rainer Maria Rilke’s quote on loving the questions themselves, her aim is not to provide answers, but new questions. Menon wants each to shift her or his lens. To see like a feminist is “not to stabilize, it is to destabilize. The more we understand, the more our horizons shift.”

If only Seeing Like a Feminist was required reading for all college students—and professors.

 

Read the rest of this guest blog series on feminism in academia.

Lady in the Ivory Tower: If You Pack Only One Book, Make it a 570 Page Hardcover on Race and Class

I brought just one book to India: It was a 570 pages hardcover on race and class. It is true, I did consider that it could be used as a weapon or a seat if needed. Still, it got me through a 30-hour train ride. I call it my “survival book”—without it, the long, hot days of travel would have been unbearable. What would your survival reading be?

Before embarking on a trip of any extended length, many of us privileged enough to read this screen have an important choice to make—what book to bring? Yes, of course, those who have a kindle or tablet can essentially pack an endless number of books in their bag. But for those of us who prefer print or can’t afford the alternative, choosing the one or two books to haul along with us is a crucial decision. What did I choose on my most recent trip? Presumed Incompetent: The Intersections of Race and Class for Women in Academia (2012, Ohio University Press) was the book whose 570 pages would keep me company throughout my trip to India, and help me sort out my thoughts as I delved further into academia by drafting a Ph.D application.

It’s rare to find a book worth hauling across a foreign country. Though I was a bit embarassed at the weight of my bag, Presumed Incompetent deepened my understanding of the challenges women in academia face.

Presumed Incompetent has been four years in the making and maps a history that mirrors the history of higher education in the United States. The book’s more than 40 essays examine the working lives of women faculty of color. Using personal narratives, qualitative empirical studies, and scholarly essays, the authors discuss challenges that stretch beyond pay equity and overt sexual harassment. The book focuses on resilience in the face of adversity and developing supportive networks, as well as what academic institutions need to know to improve the tenure process. As Kimberlé Crenshaw, a prominent figure in Critical Race Theory and current professor at UCLA School of Law and Columbia Law School said, “It reminds us that the mere passage of time is not enough to create equitable workplaces for anyone facing institutional subordination.”

You can preview the book here, I suggest picking up an actual copy. I do not necessarily recommend picking up an actual copy and hauling it around India, but in my experience, it makes not only a good seat but also an excellent mental support.

If you were to pack only one book for a long trip, what would it be?