Gender: Portraying women as victims only

Women authors from India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Singapore share their writing journey and perceptions of the world

 Courtesy: United Nations

Courtesy: United Nations

LAKSHMI Narayan, Indian writer who published her début novel - Bonsai Kitten, last year noted a marked difference between how Asian women authors portray their female characters compared to the women authors in the West. “We invariably tend to portray women as either a victim, or somebody who has been a victim and is now fighting to change the system in an Asian society. Whereas, in Western creative works, you find all kinds of shades in female characters. This probably is a reflection of our respective societies,” she said. Narayan was speaking at the panel discussion - Asian women write back!

Ameena Hussein, Sri Lankan writer of the famous book, The moon in the water, told how in her country the situation of women has actually worsened over the years. “Because of the prolonged civil war, every group had to reassert its identity to survive. And when you face an identity-crisis, you tend to become more orthodox. For example, Hijab is a very new phenomenon in Sri Lanka. Muslim women in my country never used to wear it before the conflict.”

Ovidia Yu, Singaporean writer of mysteries - Miss Moorthy Investigates and Aunty Lee's Delights, and Cheong Suk Wai, senior correspondent with The Strait Times, while noting that women in Singapore have fared much better than their Asian sisters, agreed that Asian women writers need to come out of the “victim-mindset” in portraying their female characters.

For example, I have heard mentions of a widely-feared sea-pirate who used to rule the Malaya seas in the 19th century, and later turned out to be a woman. Similar is the case of 'five dragon ladies of the Standard Chartered Bank' who broke all stereotypes and rose to top positions of the Bank in 1980s in Singapore. Why don't we write stories of such women is my question?” Narayan asked.

Another famous woman writer who attended the SWF was Fatima Bhutto, Pakistani writer of - The shadow of the crescent moon. Apart from discussing how “elites in Pakistan have wounded the promise of Pakistan in one generation”, Bhutto also informed the audiences about the situation of women in her country. “Before Zia-ul-Haq started the Islamization of Pakistan in late 1970s, it was a secular and inclusive society. Now, it looks scary, more so, if you look through 'Western' lenses.”

And women suffer the most in such situations, being the more vulnerable sex. Which is sad because they are the ones making sacrifices for a society's progress because of their profound sense of belonging to a particular place,” Bhutto concluded.

[Newzzit has published a detailed story on gender issues in Singapore in one of our earlier issues]

 

 Fatima Bhutto with Trina Liang-Lin, president of UN Women Singapore

Fatima Bhutto with Trina Liang-Lin, president of UN Women Singapore