The ‘gender and sexuality’ by John Storey, explores the significance of emergence of feminism in Western society

The ‘gender and sexuality’ by John Storey, explores the significance of emergence of feminism in Western society. The advent of feminism, its belief system and philosophy have perpetually altered the gender roles in our society for the better. Over the centuries, women have struggled with their defined domestic roles in the society and have suffered an oppressed life. Storey delves into the struggles of feminism as a movement to claim women’s natural and legal rights in society.

Deliberate and conscious exclusion of women from cultural and societal norms has changed the ideologies of the modern world and its notions regarding history. Women have spent their lives challenging the interpretation and sexual hierarchy that prevails in the society. Feminism has diversified into a number of theory groups with their individual approach towards female subjugation. Some of these feminist perspectives include radical, Marxist, liberal, socialist, psychoanalytic, existentialist and anti-racist.

Storey analyses mass produced fantasies for women such as Romance novels, gothic books, book operas and women’s magazines that have further domesticated women’s role in the society. The four major mediums critically explored include popular film and cinema, romance novels, soap operas, women magazines. My perspective revolves around one particular medium, romance novels as well as the conflicts that I personally experience from the social practice of feminism.

Storey presents Tania Modleski’s perspective on mass produced fantasies indulged by women such as Harlequin Romances, gothic novels and Soap operas. She points out that women’s obsession with these particular mediums stems out from their general dissatisfaction with life. The roles that have been assigned to them and living by these roles have led them to an unhappy or frustrated reality and these mediums provide the escape route for these women. As Modleski states:

‘The contradictions in women’s lives are more responsible for the existence of harlequin than Harlequin are for the contradictions’. 120) I concur with Modleski’s perspective on these mass produced pleasures for women as a much desired and seeked escape from reality. I myself inadvertently came across Harlequin romances during high school. At 16, sneaking into my older sister’s room to read a romance novel was an exhilarating because it was like consuming the forbidden fruit. These novels not only presented sweet happy-ending fairy tales but also played a pivotal role in my education on the physical feature of love.

Sex is considered a very taboo topic in almost every household and there is no sex education in schools or colleges unlike US and Canada. These novels were my way of seeking answers to the ‘mysteries’ regarding physical love. And now more than two thousand novels later, the excitement has considerably ebbed away but the satisfaction of reading a redundant happy-ending fairy tale is still stronger than ever. The predictability of knowing a happy ending feeds to my emotional need for contentment and motivates me to pick up a similar book with a recurring tacky cover.

This satisfaction also comes from the diversion that they novels provide from the stresses in school and personal life. These books that are easy on the eyes and mind provide are my source of mental relaxation and a break from my course textbooks. In Storey’s chapter, Rosalind Coward reconnoitres women’s pleasure in popular culture. She discusses the remorse that women often experience when indulging into these pleasures and it becomes as a part of an endless cycle of guilt and pleasure for most women.

Guilt used to consume me when I started reading these novels because I felt I was learning something considered as sinful and forbidden in society as a cardinal rule. But now my feelings have averted to guilt for not reading more literary acclaimed books like The English Patient or not concentrating enough on my textbooks but wasting my time on these novels. The guilt as suggested by Coward is further embellished by people attitude towards the romance genre. I have personally received a fair share of eccentric glances while reading on the subway or picking novels at the public library.

Many people scoff at the associated intellectual and the saccharine characters but I praise romance writers such as Carole Mortimer, Nora Roberts and Penny Jordan for creating these fairy tale plots and providing women with much needed emotional and mental resort. On the other hand, I think romance novels tend to bait women to believe that the only secure path towards endless happiness is through social conventions that often romanticize male dominance through marriage and childbearing.

They bolster the traditional role of men as breadwinners and protectors and reinforce women as the rulers of the home and moral role models. Reading feminism as a social practice and understanding the importance of feminism as a political movement and its role in our contemporary society is indeed a conflicting experience. Radical feminist as defined by Storey will find male dominance at its pinnacle in South Asian countries like Pakistan. Understanding feminist perspective generates conflicts within personal thoughts and beliefs because of the contradictions between the prevalent culture and religion.

A culture that endorses male dominance in almost every aspect of life. Pakistani culture indoctrinates women to be subjected to all sort of oppression from emotional silencing to extreme physical abuse. Man is the uncontested ruler inside and outside the house and women are raised to abide by men as religiously as possible. Consequences of opposing the accepted norms in various parts of the country are extreme i. e. lynching, gang rape and honor killing.

At the age of 9, a ‘wise’ man used to visit our home on regular basis to impart his ‘wisdom’ onto the lesser mortals like us and on one of these visits, he looks deeply into my eyes and then at my palm and in a very stern voice advices my parents and paternal grandmother that ‘this child (me) needs to be controlled, guard her for her streak of independence will be a threat to the honor of this house’. Experiences like these ones do not contest rising against the patriarchal system and its supporters but embeds these beliefs well into young minds.

Male scholars of Islam have irrevocably interpreted the teachings of Quran to establish male dominance into the society. Women are considered as mere objects and are forcibly segregated from many aspects of life such as religious practices, higher education and employment. For instance, women are not allowed to pray Salat1 in front or along side men and it is considered atrocious to raise voice higher then the men. On the other hand, Islamic values if directly interpreted from the holy book Quran, present a contradictory perspective and many feminist will assent with these values.

For instance, in the eyes of Allah, men and women are equal. The Quran says: ‘And for women are rights over men similar to those of men over women’. (2:226) During Hajj2, men and women pray side by side in the house of Allah unlike its unacceptability within the culture. Unlike other religions, which regarded women as being possessed of inherent sin and wickedness and men as being possessed of inherent virtue and nobility, Islam regards men and women as being of the same essence created from a single soul. With the advent of Islam, women were no longer considered as mere chattels, but as an integral part of society.

For the first time women were given the right to have a share in inheritance. In the new social climate, women rediscovered themselves and became highly active members of society rendering useful service even during the wars. It became a common sight to see women helping their husbands, carrying on trade and business independently, and going out of their homes to satisfy their needs. In Islam wife is fully entitled to initiate or pronounce divorce though the procedure is different from that of her husband.

I believe that women’s desire for equality and acceptance in every part of society is well represented in Islamic values. Sadly, it is the dominant culture that has embedded its ideals into the society and made it intricate for women to live by feminist values. Storey critically examines the patriarchal values in popular culture that have relentlessly challenged the demands of feminism as a political and social movement. He discusses the consumption of popular cultural such as watching soap operas and reading women magazines that have further domesticated women’s role in society.

Feminism as a social, political and cultural practice had a wide impact on societal norms and has succeeded in overcoming many challenges of acceptance in every segment of life. 1 Salat is the name for the obligatory prayers which are performed five times a day, and are a direct link between the worshipper and God. 2 The annual pilgrimage to Makkah – the Hajj – is an obligation only for those who are physically and financially able to perform it. About two million people go to Makkah each year from every corner of the globe.

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