Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

A Feminist Counter-Reading of Indian Women

Academic journal article International Journal of English Linguistics

A Feminist Counter-Reading of Indian Women

Article excerpt


Critical linguists, including feminists, argue that language is not a value-free medium reflecting the world but a medium of constructing it. In every use of language, writers have at their disposal a wide repertoire of options, albeit within a restricted set of parameters. The selections they make are calculated and signpost ideological positioning. Stylistics offers a systematic approach to the analysis of language use and the description of ideological positions and three of its ambitions have been identified: to support existing interpretations of texts, to suggest new interpretations, and to establish general points about how meaning is made (Barry, 2002). In this paper, I demonstrate how stylistic analysis can be used to investigate women representation in texts and offer a feminist counter-reading of an existing interpretive claim. The analysis in question is Prabhat K. Singh's interpretation of Indian Women by Shiv K Kumar, which he saw as a glorification of Indian women's integrity, richness and faith. Singh also argues the women in the poem serve as a "metaphor for feminine beauty, chastity, patience, love and trust" (Singh, 2001, p. 107). However, detailed linguistic evidence reveals the tensions and inconsistencies in Singh's reading, and demonstrates how his positive construction of Indian women is based on a few selected details that do not allow a more thorough and coherent view of the poem. Stylistic analysis is used to demonstrate how a particular interpretation has been privileged and other interpretive possibilities downplayed, and provide an alternative reading sustained by a consideration of all aspects of the linguistic make-up of the text. The image resulting from the analysis is much less favorable than the one provided by Singh's interpretation. Kumar has indeed constructed Indian women as powerless, inactive and silenced, thereby reinforcing traditional gender roles in patriarchal cultures.

Keywords: stylistic analysis, feminist criticism, Indian poetry, literary interpretation

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)

1. Introduction

1.1 Feminist Criticism

Feminist criticism is a branch of literary theory which attracted much scholarly attention in the 1970s, though the origin of feminist activism is traceable to more than a hundred years earlier. Its aim is to "examine the ways in which literature (and other cultural productions) reinforces or undermines the economic, political, social and psychological oppression of women." (Tyson, 2006, p. 83). Feminist critics argue that women are oppressed by traditional gender roles and that this sexist ideology in patriarchal cultures goes unchallenged. Women are given marginal stereotypical roles, their presence is restricted and their voice silenced. In their work, feminist critics problematize these stereotypical representations and the construction of feminine identity.

According to Mills (1995), feminists believe that society is organized to the advantage of men, and manifestations of culture, including language, portray this sexist organization. Like other critical linguists, therefore, feminists argue that language is not a value-free medium reflecting the world but a medium of constructing it. It is a means of ideological control. The choices that authors make, therefore, are calculated and signpost ideological positioning. In male-authored texts, language is a tool of masculine dominance. It is used to promote a world view in which men are central and women peripheral. The point of view, the choice of pronouns, transitivity and agency choices, and the semantic prosody of lexical items all contribute to the construction of sexist ideology.

In this context, feminist criticism becomes a form of resistance. Feminists criticize the construction of women as feminine in literary texts, and resist this 'enforced' patriarchal order. Because this stereotypical construal of women is maintained through linguistic choice, the primary form of resistance is language. …

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