As If Women Matter: Review of The Essential Gloria Steinem Reader

by Neha Yadav on April 9, 2014

As If Women Matter
Author:Gloria Steinem
Publisher:Rupa
Year: 2014
ISBN: 9788129131034
Rating: ★★★★½
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Why do we need Feminism? Here are a few statistics and facts from the book:

In India, only five women feature in the list of the 100 richest individuals in India, according to Forbes magazine’s index of 2013. Of these, only three control their own wealth.

According to the Gender Gap Index 2012, India stands 123rd out of the 135 countries surveyed.

Of the 111 million teenage girls in India, 45 percent are undernourished. The reasons cited for this deficiency are discrimination, son-preference and the low value placed on girls.

India has become the third largest user of Internet Pornography in the world in the last ten years.

16 December 2012- A female student from JNU is brutally gang-raped in a moving bus and left for dead.

As a student of one of the premier women’s institutions in Delhi, I have lost count of the times the word ‘feminist’ has been used in a pejorative manner around me. Girls, boys and grown-ups alike labour under the misconception that a feminist is a shrieking harpy ready to put down men literally and figuratively at the slightest chance that presents itself. Or alternately, a ‘loose’ woman by which they mean a woman with the morals of a man. I would like to take this opportunity to clarify that a political movement does not gain the kind of traction that Feminism has if its sole aim is to propagate perceived vices or harass half of humanity.

Feminism is a collection of ideologies and movements aimed at defining, establishing and defending equal political, economic and social rights of women. Simply put, it is a belief that the female half of the world’s population has as much right to life as the male half. And the statistics stated above illustrate why we need it even now, decades after its formal inception.

This book is a collection of essays written by feminist icon Gloria Steinem through her long career of fighting the good fight, edited by Ruchira Gupta to make it pertinent to the Indian situation. In the book, Steinem covers topics ranging from inequality and discrimination within work and home, the tragic careers of Marilyn Monroe and Linda Lovelace, the politics of food consumption, Feminism’s significant impact on vocabulary, the difference between erotica and pornography and her brief career as a Playboy bunny.

The blurb of the book promises ideas, outrage, seriousness and laughter- and a friend- and I am happy to say I found it all here. Steinem writes with intelligence, compassion, insight and warmth. She doesn’t hesitate to delve into her potentially embarrassing, sometimes painful private life for relevant anecdotes and observations. Two chapters that I especially like are ‘In Praise of Women’s Bodies Again’ and ‘Romance Versus Love.’ The former is a commentary on the multi-million dollar beauty industry that thrives on making women feel insecure about their appearance and the gender norms that support it. She speculates how spending a “few days in the intimate company of women: dressing and undressing, talking, showering, resting” might open our eyes to the non-airbrushed, non-photo shopped reality of women’s bodies and the beauty that lies there. It might, wonder of wonders, make us comfortable in our own skin. The latter chapter is a deconstruction of the concepts of ‘love’ and ‘romance’ and how a patriarchal society defines and maintains such a seemingly private thing.

This book is absolute mandatory reading for all of humanity. Without talking down to her readers or assaulting them with unintelligible jargon, Steinem manages to convey the complexity of the goals and problems of Feminism. If you read just one book this month, please make it this one.

To learn more about Gloria Steinem, please visit her official website or read this wonderful article or this account of her panel at JLF 2014.

Written by Neha Yadav

Self-avowed Brontesauras, cinephile and bookworm. Drinks more coffee and browses more internet than is healthy for anyone

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