Gender and Shame

Molly Yancovitz '98, English 27, Postcolonial Studies, Brown University, Autumn 1997

What are the ties between gender and shame? What links national, familial, and sexual shame?

Veils and shawls are utilized by Bilquis and Rani, respectively, to unman men, to cover their gender, to uncover their shame. "Your son became a daughter," Bilquis tells Raza, "so now you must change shape also." (278) Thus, "Raza Hyder [is] unmanned by wife-sewn veils" (284). Likewise, Rani, in her epitaph of wool, displays "The Shamelessness of Iskander the Great" (201).

What about the symbolism of the umbilical cord: the woman's body is a tool of death. The umbilical cord is a noose, and the noose an umbilical cord. Raza's son dies within Bilquis: "An umbilical cord wound itself around a baby's neck and was transformed into a hangman's noose (in which other nooses are prefigured)," (81). Iskander later understands his death as Raza's avengance of this still-born son.

The father should be superior and the son, inferior. But now I am low and he, high. An inversion: the parent become the child. He is turning me into his son. His son. Who emerged dead from the womb with a noose about his neck. That noose seals my fate. Because now he understands the cell, the throbbing walls, the smell of excrement, the drumbeat of a foul invisible heart: death's belly, an inverse womb, dark mirror of a birthplace, its purpose is to suck him in, to draw him back and down through time, until he hangs foetal in his own waters, with an umbilical cord hung fatally round his neck. He will leave this place only when its mechanisms have done their work, death's baby, travelling down the death canal, and the noose will tighten its grip" (244).

Yet, between Rani and Biquis, "[t]he deeds of men had severed that link between the women, that nourishing cord which had, at different times, carried messages of support first one way, then the other, along its unseen pulses" (200).

Is it so that for men life is long (97) and for women life is shit (164)? Men have the power to decelerate (Sufiya 100), and accelerate (Pinkie, Rani, Arjumand 190) the ageing processes of women. Wives become mothers, and daughters become wives. Sex is shameful, barrenness is shameful, shame is a woman. Yet for a man to live, he must drown in a woman (209). Shame is a root of violence (118), yet savagery is freedom (270). Is there hope for women in the world?

See also questions posed by the Spring 1997 class

Postcolonial Web Pakinstan OV Rushdie OV Shame OV