re:WRITE: A Panel Discussion

On the 20th of December, Gyaan Adab as a part of the Heroine’s Journey, invited three eminent personalities to be part of a panel, re:WRITE, that discussed the representation of women and femme people as heroines in media and literature. Our panelists for the evening were Pervin Saket; a poet and author of the acclaimed book Urmila, Snober Sataravala; professor and head of the department of English at the St. Mira’s College for Girls, Pune, and Zameer Badrunissa; a theatremaker and queer activist. With voices from three different streams of art coming together, this discussion promised to leave everyone with fresh insight about The Heroine’s Journey, and it definitely did.

Pervin began her introduction for the panel with an apt reference to her published poem, The Sculptor’s Guide to a Goddess, where she tackled the subject of the male gaze and the patriarchal expectations of women, casting a light reminiscent of Pygmalion and his Galatea. She then moved on to talk about the outline proposed by Maureen Murdock herself in her work, The Heroine’s Journey, which required a woman to take on masculine accomplishment to be considered successful, including the separation from the feminine to descend to the goddess ideal. 

Snober Sataravala chose to take a philosophical route to her introduction, referencing the work of Derrida and Foucault to explain the structures set up in society and how, to redefine the representation of women as a whole, a societal reform was needed. A more practical way to apply for this change in to instead facilitate a shift in perceptions through education and insight. 

She also went ahead to explain that as Foucault outlines, any sort of alignment to a liberal or open-minded thought process also, in essence, traps you in the differential but ultimately new structure you preach about. 

The moment of this change will depend,  as Jacques Derrida says, upon the chanciness of the encounter.

The discussion then took on a more literary route, touching upon the linguistic use of masculine terms as positive and preferential to feminine ones, often considered insulting or derogatory. In a key example, Pervin asked the audience about what came to mind when asked about the connotation of the word, ‘master’, and what came to mind when presented the female counterpart, ‘mistress’. The premium that masculine terms are afforded in even everyday language is astounding.

Then came Zameer, choosing to forgo a formal introduction in favor of a dramatic performance where he embodied a transgender individual, thus making a sharp point about speaking of the ‘other to the other’. 

His opinion on the subject took a largely LGBTQ+ perspective as it foundation to speak about the construct of gender. He poignantly points out that individuals who identify as transgender must take on the gender roles defined by a patriarchal masculine perspective and thus, reassign themselves in both practice and thought. This then diverged into a conversation about who as a collective has the power to influence and create social constructs, and as Zameer said, 

“If fiction is one’s imagination, who’s imagination is it that has the power to set up social constructs?”

References to writers like Mahashweta Devi, P. Sivakami and Pat Schneider were made, and he went on to speak of equality being axiomatic; unquestionable and undeniable, and explained further about how the ongoing fight for equality has been an age-old battle that will rest no later than we find more aspects of difference. 

He asks that we all reconsider what it means to belong to a gender, and how that has grown to embody a contemporary ideal in recent culture.

A thought-provoking question comes up.

Are we, as a society, mature enough to understand and accept diversity?

On that note ended re:WRITE, Gyaan Adab’s foray into literature and philosophy to understand the past, present and the future of the heroine.

Nityaasha Foundation