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anna winham

Professor Coly
Colonial and Postcolonial Masculinities
Friday the 24th of May 2013
(Rewriting Herstory)
Despite writing women into his story, Midnights Children,
Rushdie articulates a postmodern, postcolonial, postnationalist politics
centred around the man Saleem Sinai, who writes himself as
metonomy for India, who writes his story as Indias history. Though
theorists such as Cynthia Enloe in Nationalism and Masculinity argue
for the necessity and possibility of feminist nationalisms, feminist
nationalism is impossible because, as Anne McClintock argues in
Imperial Leather, the nation mimics and mirrors the inevitably
patriarchal domestic family structure, forming the patriarchal family
tree of the nation. However, the patriarchy inherent in nationalist
movements does not stop patriarchy from existing outside nationalism.
Rushdies postcolonial, postnationalist narrative carries critique of
postcolonial nationalism in India and on the subcontinent generally,
and while a variety of women with varying levels and expressions of
power appear in this narrative, Rushdies feminist politics are complex,
subtle, and somewhat noncommittal. Rushdies postnationalism
introduces instability into male-domination, though his critique of
nationalism questions history, religion, and homogeneity much more
explicitly than it questions patriarchy. The figures of Reverend Mother,
Indira Gandhi, and Padma play complex, diverse, and subtle roles in

what are ultimately the postcolonial feminist politics of Midnights


Children as navigated through domestic patriarchy, public patriarchy,
and the writing of history.
Postcolonialism and feminism have a tangled and complex
history. Drawing from Kimmel and McClintock, imperialisms ties to
masculinity lead to a feminisation of the colonised land and of the
colonised native; this native, though, is irrevocably male. In the
discourse of imperialism, women are absent while native men are
feminised, emasculated. That is, until primarily male European
colonists began using a perversion of European feminism to justify
colonialism. As Leila Ahmed explains in The Discourse of the Veil,
Muslim intellectuals called for reforms in matters of polygamy and
divorce in the 1870s and 1880s and even earlier without provoking
violent controversy (315). These calls for reform took place around
the same time as early modern European feminist movements;
pictures of Muslim society as backward in terms of feminism seem
unfounded. Muslim feminisms existed even during European
occupation. Ahmed continues, by the 1890s the issue of educating
women not only to the primary level but beyond was so
uncontroversial that both state and Muslim benevolent societies had
established girls schools (315), demonstrating some Muslim societies
ahead of the curve compared to some European ones. In the Arab
case, as in the Muslim-Indian, Hindu-Indian, American, Oceanic, and

African cases, the European males mission became to save the


native woman from the native man. Womens bodies became not only
an excuse for imperialism but also the battleground on which
imperialist wars were fought. Colonised women and their bodies thus
became politicised symbols, and their traditional presentation came to
indicate anticolonial resistance. Thus, resisting masculinist imperialism
became linked with traditional treatment of women; non-European
feminism became an anticolonial project. However, many postcolonial
nationalisms, including Indias, actively oppressed women yet
European feminism had been used to actively oppress women.
In Nationalism and Masculinity, Cynthia Enloe argues that
women must demand a place in nationalist movements as otherwise
these movements will exclude them. It is true that if women do not
demand a place in nationalist movements, they will be relegated to
being the metaphors of the nations, the bearers of culture. However, it
is also true that nationalism is founded on the premise of the
patriarchal family and thus must oppress women. According to
McClintock, the cult of domesticity so prevalent in European society
became not only a space for the demonstration of imperialism but also
a social relation to power and a historical genealogy, following the
links between domestication and domination (34-5). The European
domus became imperial as well as the justification for imperialism.
When the people from colonised lands first threw off their colonisers,

they retained the structure of the nation, the structure of the


patriarchal domestic family. Michael Kimmel makes a similar argument
when he refers to two types of patriarchy: public patriarchy and
domestic patriarchy (417). Domestic patriarchy, he says, refers to the
emotional and familial arrangements in a society, the ways in which
mens power in the public arena is reproduced at the level of private
life (417). Kimmel, unlike McClintock, argues that public patriarchy is
reproduced in the private sphere, which supposes that public
patriarchy is somehow prior indeed, he claims that they are not
coincident, and that an decrease in one is likely to lead to an increase
in the other (417). McClintock argues otherwise: each patriarchy
reflects and reinforces the other. In detailing the Family of Man (50),
McClintock demonstrates how domestic patriarchal ideology transfers
into a racialised, imperialist, public patriarchy.
In Midnights Children, both domestic and public patriarchy are
questioned within a nationalist framework, yet ultimately confirmed,
through a female head of household, Reverend Mother, and head of
state, Indira Gandhi. Reverend Mother finds her power as she grows
larger to fill her shriveling husbands place, simply replacing him at the
head of the patriarchal family. Indira Gandhi finds her power through
physical violence which Kimmel argues is the guardian of patriarchy
(417) as well as through a monumentalist reconstruction of history,
falling into the patriarchal myth of great men steering history, as

David Price argues (99). Rushdie approaches this discourse on


patriarchy, experimenting with strong female figures and their ways of
accessing power, but no female subverts the patriarchal nation; they
instead work within it, replicating it: Rushdie seems to confirm that
feminist nationalism is impossible.
While Rushdies postnationalist narrative critiques patriarchy
through a critique of nationalism, it presents the possibility of feminist
postcolonialism with more ambivalence. In many ways, postcolonialism
must be feminist, simply because imperialism is a manifestation of
patriarchy. However, as detailed above, European feminism through its
use as a tool of patriarchal imperialism becomes anti-feminist. A
postcolonial feminism must not be a European feminism though it
cannot ignore its interactions with it and also cannot be a
postcolonial nationalism. Though Salman Rushdie critiques the violence
of postcolonial nationalism throughout Midnights Children, especially
in regards to war with Pakistan, religious riots, and the murdering of
the Midnights children, neither he nor Saleem make suggestion for the
form of postnationalism. Like postmodernism and postcolonialism,
postnationalism becomes a collapsing of history, of category, of
politics. Indeed, this collapsing is demonstrated by Saleems narrative
style he story-tells by referencing yet subverting European traditions,
beginning I was born in the city of Bombay once upon a time (3),
referencing ancient Greek and Roman epic poetry, old Indian traditions,

and the Bible throughout the novel. Saleem also links the story of the
nation to his own story, engaging in a critical retelling of history
shaped around the history he wishes to inherit (Price 101). Though
Saleems narrative, through which Rushdie launches his critique of
nationalism, is focused upon himself, a man, the ever-present but
parenthesised character Padma fundamentally transforms the
narrative and thus the history.
While it is obvious that Saleem focuses the narrative he is writing
upon himself, tying his family history, his genealogy, to Indias,
Rushdie writes Padma in. Though the postcolonial nationalist man the
one who is India, no less writes himself into history, to the almost
complete exclusion of his wife, Rushdie does not. Rushdie insists upon
her presence and her influence. Though parentheses, in which Padma
is contained, often indicate side-thoughts unrelated to the rest of the
sentence, these parentheses serve to mark her presence, to draw the
readers attention to her. They also acknowledge that she is outside of
the dominant narrative; she has been excluded. Saleem, then, is not
the only man practicing critical history; through writing Padma back
into this history yet acknowledging her separation, Rushdie also
constructs a preferred history, one constructed from and in fragments.
Padmas constant disapproval of Saleems writing demonstrates a
disdain for this kind of purposeful disseminating of history: But what
is so precious about all this writing-shiting? Padma snorts. Wrist

smacks against forehead (20). Padma, then, refuses to disseminate


her own history, refuses to assert her narrative as history, but Rushdie,
a man, writes her in anyway. A tension in postcolonial postnationalist
feminism thus arises: what is it to speak on behalf of? What is it to
refuse speech? What is it for a man critically rewriting history to voice
a voiceless woman? As Saleem is approaching the end of his story, the
intersection of his history and his presence, he declares that he
married Pavarti-the-Witch and which point Padma becomes taught
as a washing-line (465). Padma clearly influences the mode of storytelling, as Saleem admits Women have made me; and also unmade
(465). This statement reveals similar tensions as before why does
Saleem get to write this history when it is women who, almost invisibly,
have made him? What does it mean that in this narrative, Rushdies
narrative rather than Saleems, women are almost invisible, but make
shaping guest appearances? Midnights Children asks these questions
rather than answers them: Rushdies postnationalist politics are clear,
but it is unclear how feminism falls into these politics, what form a
postnationalist feminism can take. Rushdie presents to us tensions,
fragmented, but does not show us how to arrange or navigate them. In
this way, Midnights Children is truly subversive: going beyond even a
critical construction of history, Rushdie forces agency upon the reader
to participate in history, to participate in the construction of this very
narrative.

Works Cited
Ahmed, Leila. The Discourse of the Veil. Postcolonialisms: An
Anthology of Cultural Theory and Criticism. Ed. Gaurav Desai and
Supriya Nair. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University
Press, 2005. 315-338. Print.
Enloe, Cynthia. Nationalism and Masculinity. Bananas, Beaches, &
Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics. Berkely,
Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1990. PDF.
Kimmel, Michael. Globalization and its Mal(e)contents: The Gendered
Moral and Political Economy of Terrorism. Handbook of Studies
on Men & Masculinities. Thousand Oaks, London, New Dehli:
Sage Publications, 2005. PDF.

McClintock, Anne. The Lay of the Land: Genealogies of Imperialism.


Imperial Leather. New York: Routledge, 1995. PDF.
Price, David. Rushdies Use and Abuse of History in Midnights
Children. Ariel: A Review of International English Literature 25.2
(1994): 91-107. PDF.
Rushdie, Salman. Midnights Children. 1981. New York: Random House,
2006. Print.