The land of ¡¥Gender Paradox¡¦? getting past the commonsense of contemporary Kerala / Sharmila SREEKUMAR
¡¥Gender paradox¡¦ in Kerala refers to the ¡¥contradiction¡¦ whereby women¡¦s high showing in socio-demographic indicators of development exists simultaneously with their low public participation and the increasing incidence of violence upon them. Given that ¡¥gender paradox¡¦ has become the overwhelming context for imagining women in Kerala today, this paper seeks to examine its anatomy. The paper argues that there are two divergent descriptions of contemporary Kerala which circulate with comparable energy¡X Kerala as utopia and as dystopia. Theorisations of paradox bring these two worlds together, but without having sufficiently reckoned with their internal dynamics. Consequently, the paper explores the interiors of these worlds. It examines utopia through two discrete, yet intersecting social discourses¡Xa) the Kerala model of development and b) tourism. It then proceeds to examine dystopia through the discourses around AIDS and sexual violence, which tend to be configured in analogous ways. The paper focuses on how women are gendered in these two worlds and concludes that they evoke two very different kinds of women. In the light of these explorations the paper goes on to lay out some of the implications and inadequacies of using gender paradox as the condition for speaking about women in Kerala. It argues that instead of serving as a site for radical critique and productive feminist politics, gender paradox often become an occasion for conservative re-telling.
Sharmila Sreekumar teaches in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences, Indian Institute of Technology Bombay.