Book Review of “Womanism The Adventure of Being A Woman” by Eva Bell
by Geetashree Chatterjee
(A Review of “Womanism The Adventure of Being A Woman” by Eva Bell) - Reviewed by Geetashree Chatterjee
Publication: Indian Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge (ISPCK)
Price: Rs. 110/-
How often do we celebrate womanhood? Being a woman, the question assumes greater significance for me. I am not talking about one lone day in a calendar year – A Mother’s Day or an International Woman’s Day – but every moment that we live and breathe, are we aware of ourselves as women? How much of our souls are alive to the fact that we are God’s special creation nurtured in His dream, fuelled by His endless love, groomed with immense care and empowered with the greatest gift of creativity and fortitude? This is what Eva Bell’s “Womanism The Adventure of Being A Woman” makes us realize – a candid discourse that takes us on an unstoppable journey from the much flaunted, but eventually disappointing and regressive feminism to positive and progressive womanism - its various facets - a woman as a girl child, on the threshold of adolescence, in youth’s prime basking in the generous bounties bestowed upon her by the loving hands of the Lord, duelling with emotional and psychological turmoil in the pre-autumn of her existence and introspective, wizened and mellowed, eagerly awaiting to “embrace eternity” in the fading light of life. A woman is no more the poet’s mystical imagination or a painter’s enigmatic portrayal on canvas or a mythical deception eulogized by the bard in his soulful renditions. She is very much a creature of flesh and blood. Sometimes well in control of her life and sometimes blundering her way ahead – but above all she longs to be needed, recognized, cherished as a fellow human being and seeks an equal foothold alongside her male counterpart in society. “I am only human. I’m just a woman. Help me believe in all that I am…” - the plaintive plea which drove Eva to straighten the perspective to view woman as woman.
In her corporate (read professional) avatar she (a woman) is sharp, educated, aware, informed with well-focussed ambition, her potentials finely chiselled and honed to take on the various challenges and hazards of her profession. In addition, she is also the loving mother who may even sacrifice a lucrative career to look after her children and home. Not to be pitied or looked down upon for being confined to her hearth, home-making comes naturally to her – a responsibility she shoulders to perfection – as she rears the future generation with tenderness and warmth. She is also the doting sister, the daughter who makes her parents proud, a dutiful wife and a soul mate to her husband and a “godly grandmother” too – in all her roles she is unique, giving and leaves an indelible intuitive “woman’s touch” which make every function that she performs special and different. However, the pressures of modern living, the reversal of roles, the greater expectations from women in her dual capacity as a working home-maker, her inner cravings to express her own individuality, her desire for financial independence and social status viz. a viz. her accountability to her family as wife and mother sometimes confuse and confound her into making mistakes and choosing the wrong path.
Moreover, society has not always been kind to her. “Patriarchy and cultural aberrations” have derogated her to being servile, relegated her to being a “beast of burden”, a “domestic drudge”, pushed her, punished her, humiliated her, trampled upon her and progressively diminished her self-esteem. She has been burnt on her husband’s pyre to be hailed as “Sati”, martyred for dowry, married off to dogs (Santhalese tribal practice), to older men of her father’s age and even as toddler (child marriage), forced to bear children much before her body is prepared to bear the burden of pregnancy and widowed even before she can understand the full import of marriage. With such shameful legacy of “civilized” torture women have come to be circumspect of their own self- worth. It is here that Eva’s long and varied experience working in different social set ups, as a gynaecologist and obstetrician that has come handy and useful. Working in India and abroad has widened her horizon and given her the incisive wisdom mixed with forthrightness to deal with complex issues like foeticide, child marriage, blood taboo, female celibacy, female sexuality, gender stereotypes, step-motherhood, midlife crisis, women empowerment etc. “This book will serve its purpose if it helps women achieve a greater equity by using their wisdom, generosity and strength…We have a choice and we have a voice” writes Eva.
On one hand, she blatantly criticises feminism which over a period of time deteriorated into “masculinization of women”, on the other hand she urges women to forge a symbiotic sisterhood – a friendship that is founded on the art and craft of “knitting one’s souls to another so that both become stronger by virtue of their relationship.” Eva does not beat around the bush when it comes to tackling controversial issues like lesbianism and extra marital affairs. She does not flinch to call a spade a spade. Her approach in every chapter, on each topic, is lucidly analytical bespeaking of a scientific temper undoubtedly acquired from her disciplinary background. Her language is aesthetic, her writing style is upfront without being didactic or preachy and the flow of her narrative is smooth unhampered by, and in no way depreciating, the seriousness and complexity of the subject. The strength of the discourse lies in the fact that while extolling and upholding womanism, not once does Eva belittle or deprecate the menfolk. Rather, in her own words, “Womanism spurns anti-male and anti-marriage rhetoric and never loses sight of reality. The focus is not to control or reform but to relate to each other harmoniously – an interdependence born of mutual respect and need.”
Above all, it is Eva’s deeply religious approach in addressing contemporary contentions that elevates the book to a higher platform and adds a new dimension to readers’ contemplation. Beyond the day to day materialism of life, familial duties and societal responsibilities, Eva’s clarion call for all women is to rise from the ashes of carnal and earthly aspirations like the phoenix and revel in the image of the Supreme who has created women “with much love in His heart and expertise of His hands.” In short, women, in all the roles she has been entrusted with and all the chores that she handles with acumen, should endeavour to attain the highest goal – her spiritual worth. Eva wants every woman, her ‘sister in friendship’, to be a “modern day Deborah” motivated by a “divine purpose…of dignity, equality and stewardship.” Quoting Oprah Winfrey, Eva sums up, “Don’t be mundane or mediocre…Dare to be different. Be the kind of woman who in the face of adversity will continue to embrace life and work fearlessly towards the challenge. Make your own choices and rule your own domain – your home, your family, your offices – with a loving heart. Take ownership. It gives you power.”
The book however, could have done well to devote a little more space to the political history and government’s role in the economic emancipation and upliftment of women without compromising on or politicising the key note of the content. Notwithstanding, in the Indian context, the book has a universal appeal for both men and women.
Overall an enlightening and educative read!!!