reading group

Remember how it feels to stumble upon a great article or a book, share it with your friends, discuss and dissect it for hours on end? The group is open to students, faculty members or absolutely anyone who wishes to discuss issues concerning gender, sexuality, identity and activism. These sessions are generally centred on one specific reading, with conversations and poetry readings, weaving in relevant films, books and other media.

session 1: Friendship as a Way of Life

Our first session began by thinking about musings on friendship in “Friendship as a Way of Life” in Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth. In this interview, Michel Foucault works toward discovering new fields of relationships between people, specifically through exploring the idea of friendship as a paradigm within homosexual relationships.

session 2: The Story of Love-Jihad

This session focussed on the historical development of “love jihad” and its associated controversies by looking at an academic piece by Charu Gupta, “Hindu Women, Muslim Men: Love Jihad and Conversions”, as well as a New Yorker piece, “The Year of Love Jihad in India”, by Rahul Bhatia in relation to the recent Hadiya judgement. The group talked about questions of women’s agency, the fraught nature of the marital contract and our overbearing perceptions of the “other”.

session 3: The Essence of the Hard On

The session was centred around “The Essence of the Hard On: Hegemonic Masculinity and the Cultural Construction of ‘Erectile Dysfunction” by Annie Potts. This article employs feminist poststructuralist discursive analysis to investigate the effect of the metonymic relationship between the penis and the phallus on the cultural construction of male “sexual dysfunctions.”

session 4: Sports and Masculinity

The reading for this session is “Openly Gay Athletes: Contesting Hegemonic Masculinity in a Homophobic Environment” by Eric Anderson (attached to this email). The paper interrogates sports as a site of orthodox masculine production that creates a culture of silence around gay athleticism by segmenting gay men’s identities and using homophobic discourse.

session 5: Science and Gender

‘Take the egg and the sperm. It is remarkable how “femininely” the egg behaves and how “masculinely” the sperm. The egg is seen as large and passive. It does not move or journey, but passively “is transported,” “is swept,”‘ or even “drifts”‘ along the fallopian tube. In utter contrast, sperm are small, “streamlined,” and invariably active. They “deliver” their genes to the egg, “activate the developmental program of the egg,” and have a “velocity” that is often remarked upon. Their tails are “strong” and efficiently powered. Together with the forces of ejaculation, they can “propel the semen into the deepest recesses of the vagina.”‘ (An excerpt from The Egg and the Sperm)

session 4: Gender in Stand-up Comedy

The session included a reading of “The invention of gender in stand-up comedy: transgression and digression” This paper explores gender in stand‐up comedy based on 20 months of ethnographic research in Finland. As stand‐up becomes more diverse, discussing gender requires a more nuanced approach going beyond a simple binary.

session 7: Men and Feminism

For the first reading group session of this semester, we read the introduction to a book called Men Doing Feminism in India. As the principal beneficiaries of patriarchal arrangements, what motivates men’s affiliations with a theoretical perspective which seeks to dismantle this system?

session 8: Feminist Practices in Education

‘This paper in many ways is a collection of “stories”; of our classrooms, relationships between students and teachers and the political frameworks which constitute these stories… a dialogue with fellow teachers on addressing caste and gender in the metropolitan classroom. The present set of stories has been put together from regular diary notings made on teaching, discussions with colleagues and students, notes written by students of their experiences – often in moments of disruptions or departure, comments made on formal course evaluation sheets, the comments they half scratch out from these sheets, questions raised in class and those asked hesitantly outside the class, their silences that one rushes past in the business-as-usual mode during peak periods of the semester and gestures that defy narrative expression.’ (Excerpt from Sharmila Rege’s Education as Trutiya Ratna: Towards Phule-Ambedkarite Feminist Pedagogical Practice)

session 9: Motherhood, Resistance and Politics

We organized a reading group to discuss the many aspects of motherhood as a public identity, especially in articulations of resistance — but also as a mode of mobilizing masses that ends up re-inscribing regressive notions of femininity and nationalism. The session was centered on three readings: the preface to The Mothers of Manipur, the introduction to Motherhood and its “lack” and a speech by Parveena Ahanger, the founder of APDP, Kashmir.

session 10: Sexual Violence and the Criminal Justice System

In light of ongoing debates on sexual violence and the death penalty, the Centre held a reading group session to discuss how crime, retribution and justice play out within the criminal justice system in India. We based our discussion on “Justice is Not Retribution“, a series of five consecutive social media posts by Pinjra Tod, opposing the invocation of the death penalty as a means to safeguard women; and excerpts from Matters of Judgment, a report by Project 39A, commenting on the death penalty from the perspective of the judiciary in India and highlighting the problems with the “rarest of the rare” principle.