by Veda Handa
As a part of its lecture series, the Gender Circle on the 26th of March invited communist feminist- activist Ms. Kavita Krishnan to the University for a Talk on “Gender Roles – From the Family to the Factory”. Secretary of the of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA), and editor of ‘Liberation’, the monthly publication of the Communist CPI-ML, Ms. Krishnan engaged in a fascinating discussion on the internalisation of gender roles in the familial set up that get mirrored in the workplace.
Illustrating her views with the example of the women employed in Victoria Secret’s lingerie manufacturing factories in rural Tamil Nadu, Ms. Krishnan spoke of the problem inherent in the “rescue narrative” provided by capitalists as to how globalisation liberates women from the clutches of patriarchy. This narrative ignores the actual working conditions of the women employed in the garment industry and their terms of employment. By fraudulently recruiting teenage girls under the now abolished “Sumangali Scheme”, and keeping females under prison-like conditions, with restricted movement and social interaction, the employers provide assurance to the families of the workers of “protecting” their girls and ensuring that they remain “good daughters”, thus strengthening the internalisation of the gender roles assigned in patriarchal homes to girls.
Ms. Krishnan spoke further on how problematic such promotion of traditional gender roles becomes, when it is enforced not by traditional forces like Khaps, but by “modern” capitalists, motivated by the desire to prevent the workers from organisation and mobilisation. The ruling party further endorses such gender roles by “encouraging industry owners and labourers to embrace the concept of ‘Industry family’ through its manifesto. She then elaborated on the concept of “self-compliance” that flows from the concept of family, wherein the employers are expected to comply with the laws on their own and govern their organisations smoothly, with minimum external interference from the State.
Drawing attention to the plight of women employed in the industrial sector worldwide, Ms. Krishnan spoke on Melissa Wrights’ concept of “Disposable Women” used to describe the (lack of) importance and condition of female workers in China. With the rise of capitalism in China, there has been a revival of feudal patriarchal gender roles, and industrial employers urge female workers to leave work and get married by a certain age, failing which, they are labelled as “yellowed pearls”. Moreover, female workers are immediately fired on marriage or pregnancy.
The discussion concluded with Ms. Krishnan stressing that the importance of discourse on such a theme lay in the fact that the division between the cultural and the economic is not watertight, giving rise to the need to come up with new ways to fight these structures.
Ms. Krishnan then addressed the questions of the members of the audience, especially those relating to the recent protest against the sexist jokes during comedian Abhish Mathew’s performance at the college’s cultural fest Kairos. While lauding the courage of the protestors for taking a stand in the face of an overwhelming majority of students enjoying the show, she did not delve much into the “right” form of protest. Instead, she chose to emphasise the trouble that lies when issues like domestic violence and sexual harassment are joked about. Presenting such evils in a humorous light, according to her, has the effect of internalising harassment and legitimizing violence.
Jokes such as Mathew’s or the “Balatkar Speech” from the movie 3 Idiots, as per Ms. Krishnan condition the audiences to objectification of women and sexual violence, and hence cannot be regarded as acceptable under any circumstances, least of all, under the guise of humour.