Heat and Dust by Jhabvala portrays the fictional parallel lives of the writer, a British woman in the 1970s, and Olivia, a British woman living in India in the 1920s. Both women have affairs with Indian men and are consequently impregnated at different times. Although Olivia chooses to abort her child out of fear, the unnamed narrator is faced with a difficult decision and opts to keep hers. Olivia’s abortion effectively changes her life for the better, and she relocates to the Himalayan Mountains. The narrator in Perkins’ work, on the other hand, is constrained by her gender, and the women in the novel are portrayed as lacking motivation and seeking fulfillment in domestic tasks. Men, on the other hand, hold serious positions as a professional physician. Throughout the story, the narrator’s name is concealed to give a general worldview of women in and their predicament at the lack of opportunities and contentment. Both texts, upon closer analysis, portend adamant arguments on why feminism on its own is conceptually inadequate and sometimes discriminatory against the same women it tries to liberate and empower. Also, the women of varied diversities face different manifestations and scope of discrimination at different levels and aspects of life hence, need for intersectionalism (Nash 6).
Intersectional feminism is a concept that concentrates on overlapping societal identities and associated frameworks of supremacy, injustice, and discrimination (Yuval-Davis 200). As thus, this feminist sociological theory targets to assess and analyse degree to which injustice extends to build unique and diverse experiences of injustice against women. This is possible while taking into consideration multiple and multipronged prejudice based on collective, biological and cultural susceptibility like race, sex, ability and lack thereof, gender orientation, age, origin, class among others (Brah, and Phoenix 76). The idea of dividing feminism, therefore, seeks to highlight and focus attention on each and every aspect of the identifiable traits of women to fully encompass and conceptualise the routine and social unfairness and inequalities experienced by women in a way that is more than the sum of commonplace oppression against women (Denis 678). To understand the potential of intersectional feminism, it is important first to comprehend the fact that feminism alone as a concept is rather shallow and only highlights the plight of women as a homogenous group with enormous but almost similar problems of marginalisation and oppression. This paper aims to expound on why feminism must be intersectional to represent and champion the rights of women holistically. To achieve this, the research will delve into an evaluative analysis of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s book Heat and Dust and The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman in a complementary way to highlight the intersectional nature of oppression and injustice against women while incorporating the feminist perspectives of feminist writer and social commentator Trinh Minh- Ha.
Multifaceted nature of oppression
Although written in Victorian times, the Yellow Wallpaper brings to the fore some serious social issues as to the nature of deracination women face. The narrator explains about stumbling upon some technical words like “phosphate” (Gilman 98). This gives insight into the inadequacy of education the narrator suffered and experienced as a woman. In this particular instance, the narrator is unjustly denied opportunity to pursue educational endeavours. As if this was not enough, the author depicts the lack of sophistication that the women at the time have had to contend with, to the point of not seeing the need to know about phosphates. Moreover, the women of the time are perceived to be attracted to housework and gardening, as the narrator even describes the garden beside the house as “delicious”, clearly defining the place and standing of a woman is the society –in the kitchen. While a conventional feminist would lump all these together in the name of women rights, these are inherently very deep and particular aspects of discrimination, and each needs specific attention simultaneously. Even though achievement of these goals could be interrelated to a great extent, efforts to achieve them need not be lumped into one homogeneous voice in which some perspectives could be lost (Lykke 45).
In Dust and Heat, Olivia wants to free herself from a bondage marriage and has clear intentions to see Nawab constantly. Not only does society deny her the right to make the determination about who to be in a relationship with as a woman but also scorn her for close association with a Muslim. She keeps her husband in the dark concerning the frequency with which she sees Nawab because it is abominable for an Anglo- Indian to associate with native Indians without a chaperon (Jhabvala 67). In this instance, Olivia is discriminated by being a woman and further for being white, which limits her association with the world. In both cases, an intersectional approach to feminism is potent in creating a radical political agenda as it creates enlightenment amongst women themselves. This is in light of the many hurdles that stand in the way of equality among all groups in society. This is made adverse by the fact that these obstacles are entrenched and systemic that they are sometimes harder to identify even among women themselves, especially in light of the fact that gender itself is the reason for another layer of oppression in society. Like Minh admits in her perspectives, identity is important, and the difference is a value to appreciate from another point of view that could be leveraged on for to champion a course without necessarily creating division (Minh-Ha 417). As such, intricate aspects of feminism are best dissociated and isolated to be comprehensively represented and championed without breaking the feminist clamour (Davis 68).
Some commentators argue that women themselves and feminism are their worst enemy. This is because the feminism alone pursues empowerment of women using the same tactics employed by the forces of oppression. In as much as patriarchal society and the skewed gender roles and expectations have contributed immensely to the denigration of women, the active participation of women in their oppression and injustice is a far bigger problem. Women have been socialised to accept and embrace the fundamental tenets of oppression with a false notion of their possibilities and abilities. In this way, women are unable to account for their unlimited potential to progress fully. If this is the case, feminism, for all the best its intentions might be, can be seen as invasive and apprehensible to the women who feel it stands against their beliefs (Cole 70). As such, intersectionalism is the only approach with which to strategize and target the feminist message as it would be particular enough to focus on the mental imprisonment of women into their subjugation.
In Heat and Dust, Olivia discovers that she is pregnant and decides to have an abortion to evade the societal stigma that is associated with the misfortune. She is also portrayed as a perfect British woman with standards and expectations, some of which are being a good housewife and gardening. Even though she is unhappy and unconvinced, she is forced to conform to these expectations until after she rebels and deviates. When this happens, society as a whole, including women, some of whom could be facing similar predicaments, scorn and vie her negatively. In the Yellow Wallpaper, the narrator is equally socialised to be a submissive Victorian wife with the unwavering sense of duty to her husband and simplicity. She believes in doing exactly as her husband demands. She blames herself for everything wrong with life and her husband and even admits that her nervous disorder is the reason for her being unreasonably too angry. Ironically, she has full control of her instincts but goes head to receive medical treatment for depression on the recommendation of her husband and other doctors even when she knows nothing is wrong with her. In both cases, we are introduced to women and societies that have been socialised to conform. They endure a great deal of sacrifice to maintain this societal expectation. In situations like these, women are turned to stand against their on emancipation. This calls to question the feminist ideal that all omen want freedom and liberation as some are ready to go a long way to reinforce their discrimination upon a fallacious premise that it I the right thing to do (Mehrotra 418). Intersectionalism would put this group of women into perspective by letting them understand the inalienable sense of self they have to make independent decisions.
Oppression by women and the curse of privilege
Contrary to popular beliefs that men and society are the sources of discrimination, women have had a huge role to play in the oppression and discrimination of other women. Even Heat and Dust gives a clear picture of the way privilege has been used as a stepping stone for injustice. At a dinner thrown by her husband, Olivia is put on the spot when she vehemently defends the Indian cultural practice of Suttee even though the conversation grew critical of the practice with other Anglo-Indians viewing it as barbaric distasteful. It is important to note that women were equally at the centre of mocking the Indian culture and considering it inferior. Even as conventional feminism may purport to represent all women, the level of discrimination, in this case, is dissimilar in the sense that while both the natives ad white women could be facing discrimination as women, the native Indian woman would face discrimination first as a woman then as a woman of colour. Even more shocking is the fact that the second layer of discrimination is actively facilitated by another omen with the privilege to be white in a context that gives prominence to white supremacy over locals. Veritably, privilege conceals itself to those who have and enjoy it to an extent they could join up forces with the opposition to undermine themselves (Hancock 249).
The Yellow Wallpaper, which employs allegory and imagery, depicts the hand of women in their self-imprisonment and discrimination in society. Even though the narrator feels trapped and held over a mental condition she know she doesn’t have, she reluctantly accepts treatment and confinement into the room where she comes face to face with the yellow wallpaper, a symbol of male dominance and higher societal standing where she looked up at it and it down at her. Indeed, Gilman makes a strong case for the hand of omen in the oppression of other women and this case, the allure of privilege in the form of false perception of more appeal to the narrator’s husband by complying with his every wish. As the events would prove, this conformity earned her confinement and not freedom, which is what result when women become tacit forces of oppression against themselves and other women.
These two contexts in the respective texts exemplify the dangerous, hollow and shallow attributes of predominant feminism- some sections of women lag behind while the universal conversation is misrepresentative of this fact. As a result, intersectional feminism becomes crucial in enabling every category of the women to highlight their disparities and focus attention on their specific exceptional necessity and have it incredibly conveyed as a fundamental part of the larger campaign for equality for women (Patil 248). In this context, the intersectional technique ensures that the veil of haphazard endeavors made without judgement when raising women issues is revealed to show the true condition of situations for all parts before declaring triumph on any given women issue. This protects women concerns against any unfortunate occasion where political debate is moved forward from a given concern when there are fundamental unresolved concerns.
From the study, many feminist issues are raised by the two texts and even greater depth is obtained when these issues are viewed from the perspective of Trinh Minh- Ha. By evaluating the texts, the mental invasion is a tactic used to pressure women to accept and conventionalize injustice, making them resistant to change from a position of weakness by the need to conform. Another arising issue is the multifaceted nature of oppression against women where a woman experiences discrimination in many forms and manifestations at once. Finally, the discrimination of women by other women from their comfortable position of privilege from where they are blinded from the full effect of their actions since it doesn’t concern them. Intersectional feminism is important to concentrate on corrective strategies where it is required the most. However, provided the number of women in the world, a lot can be conquered, but, no single authority can figure out the resources to balance scale with immediate outcomes as some challenges are deep-rooted and will take the continuous societal development in perception even among women themselves to proportionately solve. That said, it is not cumulatively correct that the whole female population globally is at disadvantage of any kind and is in need of repossession as great steps have been taken in particular areas concerning equality and justice. Need therefore arises to have consideration concerning requirements and urgency in a situational view, and this is only possible with the application of the strategies of intersectional feminism.
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