THE GOOD WIFE AN ASIA HOUSE EVENT- THE GLOBOOKS REVIEW

The Good Wife Event held recently at Asia House brought together some notable figures  to wax lyrical on the changing roles of women in society. With changing societal dynamics taking place across the region, as people marry later, stay single longer or do not marry at all, just how do women fair in these more liberal times.  Ramita Naval  author of City of Lies  and Eif Shafak of Honour and the Forty Rules of Love bang the world to rights on what is a expansive subject , covering cultural political landscapes.

Just how are womens roles changing? Ramita Naval claims that young people are experimenting, partly against oppression, partly through taking control of their own bodies. Women are getting married later and divorce rates have tripled.

ramita
Author Ramita Naval

 

Interestingly enough there are no generational gaps preventing their parents supporting their children`s choice to divorce. Yet she goes onto reveal that there is now a trend for cohabiting couples or so called “white marriages”. Infact according to an article in LA Times (Feb 2016) Nita Ansari an expert on womens rights, mentions that “many Iranians cohabit before marriage. It’s economical. It’s a way to date and live together and not be bound by the heavy weight of marriage in a country that handicaps its youth at every turn.” ramita

Is education  the answer? Yet Ramita says that more women are going to university but it is not translating into careers for women and  that is the litmus test for any modern independent woman.

According to author Elif Shafak,Turkey is a country full of contradictions .”During the republican era, for the modernists, it was incredibly important to achieve genuine equality. It was the major goal of the new mission state. Women were expected to defeminise themselves. “

According  to Shafak,there are now lots of progressive laws. Yet in local and national politics, women are almost  non- existent, and those who are active, have to defeminise themselves. “In  society you always  have to respect the matriarch,once you are old, you are something completely different but then you are respected. However the matriarch does not help other women and therefore this maintains the status quo. In liberal circles, it is no different, especially in literature. what worrys me is that it is becoming more and more conservative in its fabric.”

elif
Author Elif Shafak

 

Are illiberal , conservative attitudes confined to the older generation?  “It doesn’t mean young women are more progressive. I wish it did. These  women are globally connected but there are women that are doing just the opposite. So we need to analyse how it works. Its a reaction to the West and a reaction to their parents.”    elif

 

 

Literature Programme Manager for Asia House  Jemimah Steinfeld explained just why it was important to hold the event.”Firstly its an important conversation to have. In recent years feminism has really been put on the map as evidenced by many different initiatives.. ”

jemimah
Programme Manager Jemimah Steinfeld

 

 

 

“But that does not necessarily mean we are witnessing enough positive change. Its important to continue these conversations in a bid to bring about the needed change.”

 

 “I for one walked away feeling like I knew a lot more about what was going on in India and Iran, whilst Elif Shafak is a very emotional insight into the rollback of women`s rights in Turkey felt like a call for action.”

Full of revelations, the debate shined a  light on the whole subject of womens equality or lack of it.  It provided irrefutable evidence of how far the pursuit of female equality has come but definitely how far it still needs to go. Shafak`s damming conclusion of a regression of women`s rights in Turkey made you ask just how will you halt that regression and just how soon will it happen  and more to the point, could we see it occurring elsewhere in the world?

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THE GOOD WIFE AN ASIA HOUSE EVENT- THE GLOBOOKS REVIEW

More or Less Asians? A debate on Stereotypes in Literature. An Asia House Event: The Review

Top Left to Right. Blogger and writer Anna Chen, Presenter Bidisha and Film maker Daniel York. Bottom Left to Right. Novelist Niven Govinden and Broadcaster Yasmeen Khan waxed lyrical on the night.
Top Left to Right. Blogger and writer Anna Chen, Presenter Bidisha and Filmmaker Daniel York. Bottom Left to Right. Novelist Niven Govinden and Broadcaster Yasmeen Khan waxed lyrical on the night.
Philip Chadha Founder of globooks.net which showcases the best in international fiction.
Philip Chadha Founder of globooks.net which showcases the best in international fiction.

Every once in while we have seminal moments in the arts and at times we return to seemingly well trodden roads and in particular the subject of stereotypes or in this case Asian stereotypes in literature, do they exist?

Are there more or less then before? It was the subject up for energetic debate at the recent event held at Asia House in London.

The debate provided a looking glass on the whole subject of Asian stereotypes in literature and gifted a moment of much needed reflection on the issue as the end of 2014 hurtles towards us.

GloBooks supported the sell-out event , attracting large numbers. Its topic clearly resonated  with the audience.
GloBooks supported the sell-out event , attracting large numbers. Its topic clearly resonated with the audience.
There was the ever clear and present danger of the event possibly rankling a few observers through heated debate and if you were of the persuasion that things were just fine and dandy then you were likely to have your quiet non-plussed persuasion punctured.This was not going to be BBC light entertainment fodder for Saturday night television by any standards. One was almost expecting effigy burning of every publisher who said no, every publisher who said maybe and every publisher who said could be. Forgive me though for a moment of jocularity. I thought it might make for a good diversionary tactic from being overly serious or being hangdog. However the inescapable fact is that even in a multicultural, multi-media liberal leaning 2014 Britain, we still need to debate and interrogate the whole idea of stereotypes in the arts and in particular in literature.Presenter Biddsha asked presenter Yasmin Khan just what stereotypes were expected of her during her professional life.
Presenter Bidisha presided over the proceedings.
Presenter Bidisha presided over the proceedings.
She recalls a production meeting and recounts what one programme commissioner apparently said to her during a meeting. The commissioner apparently told her “Its great that that you bring us stories but don’t feel that you cant bring other stuff, stories about your community..” and right there was the first seemingly outmoded word “community”. The idea of Asians being part of an all-embracing, homogenous community is undoubtedly an urban myth. The impression of Asians being representative of communities has always been around. How are Asians though by the very nature of the fact that we are Asian, somehow representative of all communities? Does that make us qualified to talk on ethnic matters ? possibly; to be somehow flag bearers for all things Asian or even standard- bearers possibly not, since the ethnic make-up of areas up and down the country are affected by a multitude of influences including political, social, cultural; socio-economic or otherwise.

So from a literature standpoint, its not difficult to be riled slightly, even for the more phlegmatic ones amongst us. Author on the panel niven Bidisha underscored the point of how there are certainly very familiar narratives in Asian fiction; the forced arranged marriage being the most popular one et al and possibly making the cosily more common stories more “publishable” then others. Govinden commented “If you are far more singular about your work then you don’t have to work in that way.” You might ask the genesis of stereotypes in literature normally is with the very publishers themselves, leading one to think that there are not enough ethnic minorities within the publishing industry. Niven revealed how the trade publication The Bookseller did a follow-up to a study done a decade ago, highlighting the problem of a lack of ethnic minorities in the publishing industry and guess what? Things have not changed a decade later. Just what are the concrete things that need to be done asked presenter Bidisha. According to Niven “It begins at university and encouraging more people who are about to graduate to join the industry.”

Frankly if that didn’t get your jowls jarring, then there is the slightly noxious combination of literary fiction and seemingly colonial or genre based Asian stereotypes. Whilst it could be vigorously argued that the South Asian fiction panorama is very much alive and kicking with Jhumpa Lahiri`s The Lowlands.lowlands and Neel Mukherjee`s The Lives of OthersNEEL shortlisted for 2013 and 2014 Booker Prize respectively. According to Niven however, there is an inherent risk of writers simply comforming to a set of literary rules or a genre, just to make their book publishable.”The danger is that you don`t nurture the development of writers who work outside the tradition. Its not challenging work. Its an easy sell. If you spend the kind of attention on writing different kinds of work, you have a far more interesting landscape.”

Asia House Literature Festival Organiser Jemimah Steinfield. “More or Less Asian was a lively and thoroughly enjoyable event. Led by Bidisha, the panellists presented a disparate and interesting range of views, raising important issues in terms of identity and creativity in the UK today."
Asia House Literature Festival Organiser Jemimah Steinfield. “More or Less Asian was a lively and thoroughly enjoyable event. Led by Bidisha, the panellists presented a disparate and interesting range of views, raising important issues in terms of identity and creativity in the UK today.”
My fear is that in satisfying the commercial whims of certain publishers who like theatre producers need to get bums on seats,like film makers need to shift cinema tickets; writers might be implicitly expected to produce stories that use cosily familiar stereotypical images that lets face it sell. Historical, political stories with high drama and tension- fuelled communal relations might be exquisitely written and deemed Booker prize worthy, but it might be argued are they really examples of fresh, challenging fiction?

Perhaps that`s a debate for another time. Yet its not all literary doom and gloom. Hope does spring eternal. There are books that are challenging that romanticised, chocolate box image of South Asian writing with redefining work that delivers a big fat Glasgow kiss so the charming expression goes, to all stereotyped or genre based fiction. Deepa Kapoor`s Bad Character was in my mind, a game-changer of a novel with its story turning the image of the young stay-at- home Asian woman on its head and presents an uncompromising image of the under-belly of Delhi.

Deepti  Kapoor`s first novel Bad Character
Deepti Kapoor`s first novel Bad Character
We now need a new generation of authors to rewrite the rules on South Asian literature with exciting and enduring stories that give stereotypes a wide berth.
Marvel-logo-oficial Like a band of literary iconoclasts, ridding the publishing world of trite stereotypes and protecting challenging literature, super heroes to rival even Marvel,s finest, we will hopefully have novels that are a rollicking good read, bring in the greenbacks and challenge hackneyed literary characters in the process. Now wouldn’t that be a marvel ?

All The Days and Nights Published by The Friday Project and Bad Character published Jonathon Cape Random House are both out now.

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More or Less Asians? A debate on Stereotypes in Literature. An Asia House Event: The Review