O P I N I O N – L I T E R A T U R E
What do you really expect from your favourite male author? Fairness? Unprejudiced from male instincts? Incapable of stereotyping women? Extremely sorry for the high hopes, but that will not always happen. Maybe, internally, they try earnestly to write something while eliminating their personal agenda or stereotypical outlook on women. However, history suggests that the huge amount of literature created by men were oftentimes misogynistic. Vivid, charismatic, and audacious female characters were rare most of the time.
If we want to look at how women have been “printed” by the opposite sex over the years, we don’t have to go too far. Let’s look at some of the works of popular and one of the most beloved writers of all time, Humayun Ahmed. In his novels, sexuality is articulated as male fantasy, and the novels are often clogged with middle-class morality. His fair-skinned, talented, and young female characters always flourished around or with men. And, at certain times, female characters get vulnerable for absolutely no reason. I might be being too mean to judge works of Humayun Ahmed, and must admit that many of his bold female characters depict how women from middle-class or even from the upper-class families need to struggle to sustain both the family and the job simultaneously.
In the 90s, feminism was not a widely recognised subject in a third world nation such as ours; writers like Humayun Ahmed, who were accustomed to writing for publicity, surely had to create novels which were in favour of cultural appropriation. That is why, perhaps, Humayun Azad never succeeded in being as famous as Humayun Ahmed. Because, when he wrote about sexuality, he did not value the cultural irony of Bangali morality.
Bringing a dynamic female character in fictional life is, undoubtedly, too intimidating for writers of the opposite sex. However, in the late 20th century, prominent writers like Sunil Gangopadhyay, Samaresh Majumdar, and contemporary writers such as Imdadul Haq Milan and Anisul Huq tried their best to establish female characters who are comparatively more complex and confident. Sunil wrote of those women who battled it in a patriarchal male culture to build-up their own positions without giving in to the different social stresses, by not overlooking the struggle that occurs in the life of a common woman. Samaresh’s novel Satkahan highlights the position of women in a patriarchal society in the middle of the 20th century, as well as the feminist consciousness. Both Imdadul Haq and Anisul Huq have written several pieces where they tried to portray the feminine side of their strong female protagonists with utmost sympathy.
Now, I am not saying that they are the perfect epitome of feminist male writers, and I am not in any position to judge their masterpieces through a feminine point of view. Nevertheless, the current male writers of our country do need to follow an example to start from somewhere, don’t they? Some of us may not agree, But I fondly think that however prejudiced the male authors might be against women, they must acknowledge the uncompromising true nature of Bengali culture at some stage: The political and societal objectification of women by men.
There is also another question that arises whenever you think about these through and through analysis of a man’s writings from a woman’s perspective. Can these over-analyses impede a male author’s imagination and will, in some way, threaten the right to freedom of speech? Unfortunately, yes. Some feminine views of literature are based on individual experiences and the belief that all other women are, likewise, experiencing problems. So, many reviews and observations might be contradictory and can undermine the real artistic side of the fiction written by male authors.
In most of the cases, it can be harder to write through gender as an author needs more study and modesty. A writer can struggle or get ‘called out’ for making the prejudices appear, or being naive. Some people advise concentrating simply on crafting characters while ignoring gender. But if you ask me, gender is going to come out, no matter what, even if the interpretation turns out to be perfect. However, an ability to consider and empathise with those who are part of the opposite gender, allows one to grow as an author and as an individual. Therefore, when you read another novel of Humayun Ahmed or any other lightly sexist male author next time, try to bypass the female characters and enjoy all the other things.
Tahmid Shuvro prefers watching philosophical and psychological videos to sleeping.
*The writer’s opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the organisation.