Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Obsession with Sita and Sight, Part 2: Global Trends and Feminism

So, a continuation from the last post: why, since the 1980's, has there been such an explosion of art and literature telling the great epics - in particular, Sita's story - from a feminist point of view?

We explore here the idea that it is due to simply the global trends of the time: the spread of the feminist point of view. All over the world, the idea of the strong female has slowly been coming to the forefront, the trend bubbling over to bursting point since the late 1960s/early1970s with the advent of women’s studies within academic institutions.(3)

It has hit the performance arts particularly hard, with several innovative and influential ideas, foremost amongst them the1975 publication of Laura Mulvey’s article on “the male gaze”,(4) completely catching the world by storm. This, coupled with reinterpretations of Greek mythology by Martha Graham from the female point of view became a platform for others to pursue the same ideas in other works.  I feel like the trend has even hit the mainstream, hitting extremes with hyper-feminist artists such as the Pussycat Dolls and shows like “Sex in the City” catching everyone’s attention, portraying their strength as females in the command over their sexuality and dismissal of men. India, with its close ties to the Western world, was, and still is greatly influenced by this rising trend and more specifically by Martha Graham, affecting artists such as Mrinalini Sarabhai and Chandralekha by self admission.(5) And, of course, with much of the second wave of feminism addressing inequalities and sexist stereotypes in performing arts, Indian Classical Dance was one of the first types of forms to take heed. Oddly enough, the trend left Bollywood untouched, its portrayal of females in films continuing to be from an entirely male perspective.

But perhaps this was because Indian classical dance is no longer in the hands of men. The great gurus during the Indian Renaissance, men as they were, passed their knowledge along to women. The global feminist movement that has been taking place since the 70s found their outlet through the now female dominated classical dances of India, with the newly-empowered Sita at the forefront.(6)

The fact that the female dominated dances are the only performing arts form that have taken steps in portraying the feminist point of view is a direct result of being one of the only female dominated profession in India. This trend has not been identified in the Kathakali or Sattriya forms of dance, which are exclusively male classical dances, simply proving the point further. Bollywood also continues to be dominated by men, with its most famous choreographers, directors, and composers all being male. As such, the trend has been lost upon the field, the female body continuing to reflect the male gaze.

And so we gain a little insight into the beginnings of the obsession with sight...but what of the obsession with Sita?

(3) "Feminism." Wikipedia. 15 Apr. 2008 .
(4) Mulvey, Laura. "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema." Screen 16.3 (1975): 6-18.
(5) As mentioned by Prof. Uttara Coorlawala, PhD
(6) From here on in, references to the Indian classical dance forms will be specifically in reference to female dominated forms.

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