ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Boxed In No Longer

Even as praise continues to be showered on our Olympics women athletes, perhaps it is time to think of how to disassociate gender with achievement and focus on personhood.

For a long time in India, achievements have been linked to gender identities. For instance, you may hear women achievers sharing how they broke “glass ceilings,” and others will marvel how achievements like medals or promotions were won “despite” being a woman, or in spite of the pressures and discrimination that women face. It’s perhaps a sign of our newly confident times that this simplistic argument is being challenged. In many ways, women now want to be recognised in their achievements outside of the gender box; they don’t want to talk about glass ceilings, only their work. The question is problematised further with the ownership of what happens after a woman’s achievement; and how identities post-achievement are constructed and enforced.

The 2016 Olympics are a case in point. The two medal winners this year are women. P V Sindhu and Sakshi Malik won medals in badminton and wrestling, respectively. They are now being hailed as India’s daughters, being feted with awards and prizes. Suddenly, it appears that everyone loves these girls, these “daughters.” Two problems have been articulated with this approach. The first is the articulation of a woman’s role vis-à-vis a man, that is, either as a sister, a mother, or a daughter. Can the woman not exist as just an individual, divested of familial roles? Is it not good enough for her to be a person, or must her personhood be delineated in the familiar, warm, and safe tropes of family?

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