Sensible and Sensuality is a collection of essay by renowned Indian Feminist writer Sarojini Sahoo. Published in 2010, the book contents author’s view on feminism. Sahoo is a key figure and trendsetter of feminism in contemporary Indian literature. She has been enlisted among 25 exceptional women of India by ‘Kindle’ English magazine of Kolkata. For her, feminism is not a "gender problem" or confrontational attack on male hegemony and, as such, differs from the feminist views of Virginia Woolf or Judith Butler.
Feminism has often been misunderstood as a bunch of stereotyped hysterical man-hating fanatics who seek power and control rather than true equality. But to the author, ‘feminism’ is not just a movement for the liberation of women, but rather a broad social movement striving for the equality of each individual worldwide. Feminism should emphasise the importance of such values as cooperation, tolerance, nurturance, and the freedom for each person to achieve her or his full potential. The author thinks feminism should not act in opposition to men as individuals. To her, feminism is against oppressive and outdated social structures which forces both men and women into positions which are false and antagonistic. Thus, everyone has an important role to play in the feminist movement. It seems ironic that feminism has been characterized as anti-male, when in fact, it seeks to liberate men from the macho stereotypic roles men often have to endure such as the need to suppress feelings, act aggressively, and be deprived of contact with children. I think we should emphasize our femininity rather to impose the so-called stereotyped feministic attitude of the second wave. Redefining femininity with Eastern perspective, Sensible Sensuality explores why sexuality plays a major role in our understanding of Eastern feminism. As an Indian feminist, many of Dr. Sarojini Sahoo’s writings deal candidly with female sexuality, the emotional lives of women, and the intricate fabric of human relationships, depicting extensively about the interior experiences of women and how their burgeoning sexuality is seen as a threat to traditional patriarchal societies; this book is rare of its kind and has covered the topics that never be discussed so far in any Indian discourse. Her debatable concept on feminism, her denial of Simone De Beauvoir’s ‘the other theory’, make her prominent feminist personality of South Asia and for which KINDLE Magazine of India has placed her among 25 exceptional mindset women of India.
Excerpts from the book on Sexuality
I can say only in Oriental perspective. I think, sexuality has a major role in understanding feminism. Let us consider a girl’s condition in adolescent period. If she becomes pregnant, the male partner is not blamed for his role.it is the girl, who has to suffer.If she accepts the child, she has to suffer a lot in socially and if she goes for any abortion, she has to suffer emotionally for the rest of her life.In case of married woman, there are many restrictions with respect to sexuality whereas her male partner is free from these restrictions.Even now a days in Oriental countries, you can find most of the married woman are un known about their feeling of orgasm.If a female admits about her sexual pleasure, there may be every chance to misunderstand her as a bad woman by her own husband.She may be misunderstood for having pre marital sex.In the time of menopause, though except some biological phenomena, nothing has changed in sexual life , but a woman has to suffer a lot mentally thinking herself disable for sexually meeting with her husband.I think till now in Asian and African countries ,the patriarchy society has its control over sexuality .So, the women need two type of liberation. One is from financial slavery and another from sexuality. Women are always victims; men are oppressors. I believe in theory that "a woman's body, a woman's right."that means women should control their own bodies and people should take them seriously.( Page 16-17)
Like anger, fear, hatred, humour, love is also an emotion. This emotion, however, is different from other emotions because material elements like marriage, childbirth, divorce, dating, etc., build up upon this emotion to give a person's life a definite direction and shape. Love is the only emotion that channels itself into paving a path for our life. It is an integral complementarity of men and women, rather than the superiority of men over women or women over men. It is the sharing ness of emotions and of life. I think that it's more important to be a complete human being than a writer, or a feminist or any other label one may be known by but I also realize the reciprocal nature of living and writing. I believe that living gives you material (pleasure, pain, angst, loneliness, joy and what not) for writing while writing helps you interpret your existence in a meaningful way. I live, I write, I grow and live some more and write some more and hopefully grow some more)...That's my theory!(Page 138)
Monogamy is always a double standard activity by masculine world. It is deliberately an extremist idea which is built into its core rule that men can have multiple spouses but women cannot. Even worse, traditional polygamy is always used by the masculine world to exploit feminine world sexually. Women these days expect and demand to have the same standing in relationships as men. To which polygamy denies and women find a lesser status in such traditional polygamy . Either the polygamy turns to polyandry , where a single woman is sexually used by men or very soon she is rejected by her lover .The purity of love and the emotional bondage does not act in polygamy . On the other hand , by allowing monogamy we make ourselves confined to a double standard system created by masculine world .( Page 33 to 34)
Our feminist thinker always tries to skip the idea that offspring begging is a natural instinct of a woman and it is related to our ecological and environmental situation .Anything against it may resulted to disaster ,We find , a woman has to pass through a different stage in her life span and there is a phase where a woman feels an intense need of her own offspring .Feminists of second wave feminism have always tried to pursue a woman against the natural law because it is seemed to them that motherhood is barricade for the freedom of a woman . But if the woman has her own working field , doesn’t have it mean that her working assignments would demand more of her time ,of her sincerity and of course of her freedom ? If a woman can adjust herself and can sacrifice her freedom for her own identity at out side her home, then why she shouldn’t sacrifice some of her freedom for parenting, when parenting is also a part of one of her social identity ?And it could also be solved by rejecting the patriarchal role of parenting, .We have to insist the idea of the division of labor in parenting .This equally shared parenting is now common in Western ,but still in South Asian countries we find it as a taboo factor rather because of economic inequality between men and women, our crazy work culture, and the constrictions that are placed on us by traditional gender roles. (Page 40)
In this so called ‘sex war’, I think, the actual importance of the issues like ‘sexual freedom of a woman ‘ or ‘woman’s right over her body’ had been demoralized and became insignificant. . The sex negative feminists often forget that they accept the sex-negative characterization of feminism that has been imposed on us by people who are not feminists, and who in fact are generally our opponents . On the other hand the sex positive feminists also always forget that the value of sex depends on the people involved, what they want to get out of it, whether they’re able to achieve that, and whether they are causing harm to themselves or others. That requires the ability to think again while they are supporting pornography or prostitutions or BDSM .
Sex never was introduced first in Human history as a tool for any exploitation or any hegemony. Sexuality is always an integral part of the personality of every human being. Its full development depends upon sharing ness of the satisfaction of basic human needs such as the desire for contact, intimacy, emotional expression, pleasure, tenderness and love. (Page 43 to 44)
The writing process is a sexual process. When a writer wants to expose a physical life or an energetic life, a creative tension and a flow of energy is generated in the creative process. This creative tension can be experienced as a sexual tension and the flow of energy creates life or describes a new life. Religion or society never cares for any artistic sensibility as Plato’s domination and so this inherent sexual influence over creativity has also always been denied by our sexual gurus. So, we find there are descriptions of fetishism, voyeurism, exhibitionism in the writings after the Second World War. We also find our writers/artists/musicians always have an inclination towards their sexual orientation and sexual behaviour and we encounter how much sexual desire they have.(Page60)
What I want to point out is that Kafka’s relationship with those close to him has always remained under suspicion and through his physical intimacy with other gender (say Gregor’s sister), it kept him away, mentally. This may be why Kafka didn’t find any particular success with relationships in his love life. Unable to reconcile his physical urges with his romantic longings, he had a series of prolonged, probably chaste, engagements that invariably ended in his breaking off the relationship. It makes a clear distinctive reason that the ‘suppressed libido’ of Kafka may have caused him to write a porno book along with all the other masterpieces he created. (Page 145)
It is interesting to note Radclyffe Hall’s Well of Loneliness has been declared as obscene and pornographic. I have never found any sexually explicit descriptions or the so-called ‘obscene words’ in that book. Nowadays, it is unbelievable to think that 80-90 years ago, the author was taken to court.
I am never a supporter of ‘porno’ and I always believe that it makes woman a ‘product’ always associated with male-dominant consumerism. But it is also true that every sexually explicit topic is not ‘porno.’ I would be happier if Alan Moore would have used the word ‘erotica’ instead of ‘porno’ for his novel Lost Girls. ( Page 152 to 153)
If the myths are in any way to be considered as the reflection of ‘social ideas’ of any group or society, then we can say that with the development of patriarchal control over feminine civil rights, the sexual freedom described in those myths was cut down from the women’s world and transferred to the men’s world with anti-feminist moral milieus which gradually made the female a sex object, however powerful they might be in their goddess perspectives. This is a strapping point, I believe, that the sex negative feminists have to think of before raising their voice against the sex role attitudes of the female.(Page 55)
Though Milton appeared as a pro feminist in his free verse epic Paradise Lost, critics blame him for his misogynist attitude (See: Gallagher, Philip J: Milton, the Bible, and Misogyny; Publisher: Univ of Missouri Pr (April 1990), ISBN-10: 0826207359; ISBN-13: 978-0826207357) whereas there was no evidence of misogynist nature of Balaram Das. The sexual right is the main topic for Eve in Paradise Lost. Though Balaram Das wants to skip the sexual topics, still both the poets have made their stand nearer to the social right and social freedom of the feminine masses.It is also an amazing fact to mark that the pro-feminist voice was raised in Eastern world at least hundred years before the Western could think over it. ( Page 130)
Art is not what you see but what you make others see. What is important is how one views life as a whole and hence, the reader's psyche has indeed a lot to do with how the work is interpreted. I don’t blame Joyce, as some feminist critics did, for being unjust to Nora. Writing is a total difficult and complex process. An author has to make himself/herself a multi-winged personality -- one goes above the surroundings and canvas so that the author him/herself could observe everything with full objectivity. Another enters into the character. And the third one assimilates an author’s self with the character.
So, when Joyce tries to paint Molly in Ulysses and Bertha in Exiles, we find not the Nora, but the Joyce with his ‘manly woman’ personality. As Richard Brown explains about Molly, she “surely does represent a new kind of fictional woman: massive, potent and self-possessed. Though few modern feminists have wished to avail themselves of that image of femininity, it was evidently one which Joyce constructed out of his own version of feminist literary tradition, and its obtrusive sexual dimorphism is conceived as a vindication of, rather than an attack on, femininity. ( Page 161)