Discovering The Female Gaze

Often in her works, the famous author Gayatri Spivak emphasizes the importance of understanding the gendered nature of language, particularly in the translation of literary works featuring female protagonists within postcolonial contexts. When translating the term Bhartiya nari (which is often defined by patriarchal standards of femininity) into a feminist perception, the translator must navigate the complexities of representing women in a patriarchal society while challenging these very standards. Translating an Indian woman on paper requires sensitivity to the patriarchal lens through which femininity is often portrayed.


The term Bhartiya nari is a hyped package of societal expectations and norms that have historically constrained women within rigid gender roles, emphasizing qualities such as modesty, obedience, and self-sacrifice. However, when translating this term through a feminist lens, the translator must strive to challenge and subvert these patriarchal standards. Spivak’s insight seeks the need for the female translator to be acutely aware of the gendered language and representations present in the text. She must understand the portrayal of female protagonists as both products of their patriarchal society and as individuals striving for agency and empowerment within it. This requires a nuanced approach that acknowledges the complexity of women’s experiences and challenges conventional narratives of femininity. However, I must add that the Bhartiya nari will forever be in a certain kind of trauma unless she releases herself from the bondage of patriarchy which is a monstrous task in reality.


But why do I start with Spivak when I could have talked about Shashi Deshpande, very indigenous to her roots and works? She isn’t an Indian woman sitting among white feminists and talking about postcolonialism with the people who hardly understood the struggle of colored women. If I ever had a conversation with Shashi Deshpande, I must tell her about my mother. But, the question is why must I chat with Deshpande? What makes me want to chat with her about the struggles of my mother and the generational trauma she left on my sister who hardly recovered from it. What is with mothers transferring their traumas to their daughters? I am curious about Deshpande. Did she too, like the female character in her book The Dark Hold No Terror, go through a generational trauma left on her by her mother? I wonder if Spivak and Deshpande, who both wrote with their focus on the state of the subaltern of society [like the woman], can answer my questions about what is it with this patriarchal affair that prevents us women from being one another’s companion even when we want to be together. Will we still be subalterns if we were together?


Let me recount the encounter with a remarkable woman, amidst the piercing rays of the morning sun, which emerged with unexpected strength on what I had anticipated to be a simple, delightful day. She was no one but my mother whom I got along with me to explore my new college. I must say she was dissatisfied. But she smiled at me strangely. For all I must say, her dream did come true to see her children studying, especially her daughters. Weren’t there hard days of domestic labor, traveling from one location to another to finish her education, and then to come back home to three children of different generations? A crying boy, a sleepy daughter, and a responsible daughter who before leaving for her coaching made her other two siblings fall into deep slumber by singing Christian rhymes she learned in her convent college.


The sleepy daughter, on the other hand, was not so sleepy, she would pretend to though. She knew what was coming and that was hours of loneliness with her younger brother sleeping on the sofa until their mother returned by eight in the night from her teaching job which was at a far-off isolated location. And they waited to get on a call with their father who too was struggling to earn a livelihood in some different city. Their hard work did work for them and made them achieve security in life. My mother felt this security when I showed her my college campus. What disappointed her was the lack of seating facilities on the campus. “We should be seated well,” she said like there was some deep meaning to what she could be suggesting.


Amongst the many visible goddesses I have met in my life, I must always keep in my heart the two most imperfect goddesses. Quick question. What makes them a rebel? Their will to transcend the male gaze to bring out their very own female gaze. I do not mean to start a male gaze versus female gaze debate here. I write about the achievement of the female gaze not so perfect through the two imperfect women in my life. But, why must I call them imperfect, reader? It is because they haven’t completely settled as hardcore fearless women.


If I speak like my mother – they are not yet so comfortably “seated” in their skins. It seemed like they balanced, negotiated, and created their place, their gaze – the female gaze – is why these two women became such controversies in our family. A mother who left her children home alone for long hours, and a daughter who, through her many attempts, finally got away from the unsettled realms of conflicted family dynamics. A mother who lashed out at her kids with her bitter remarks, an unsatisfied individual who compensated her invisible losses by becoming a shopaholic. On the other hand, a close to runaway daughter who would hardly return home, who would look back only to cry the Ganges of tears for relations she almost lost.

What’s visibly empowering about these two ladies is that they chased what they wanted. They chased their dreams in the midst of being fearful about their rebellion. What mental violence their rebellion could bring to them. No, these were not women like Savitri Bai Phule or Kamala Devi Chattopadhyay who brought a wave of Indian feminist revolution in their ways. Phule and Chattopadhyay’s impact was on a broader level but still somehow not enough to be written down on the same paper alongside the many male achievers of their times like Gandhi or Nehru.


If I had to compare my mother and my sister to someone it would be Teejan Bai. For just like Teejan Bai, they stepped out of their patriarchal zones and sang and performed and raged in bright daylight about the struggles of Draupadi’s chirharan. Of their hurt and traumatized souls yet they are not being completely aware of the trauma of patriarchy that wanders secretly and laughingly in some hideous part of their psyche. Or what Sigmund Freud would like to call id. Why would that mother lash out at her kids? Why would she lose control? Was it because the sole burden of bringing up her three children which included two unwanted daughters was put over her shoulders, her body?


With regard to documenting the Indian women, my mind wanders not on the powerful figures much but on the lost ones who have been exploited and forever thrown into the dungeon of death as a violent blessing of patriarchy. The women in partition rights, the women in every community conflict, the women disgraced in the confines of their own homes by their kin. Are these women celebratory? Yes, they are. I will have to be one big psycho for these dying women made me realize how vulnerable womankind can be amid patriarchy and so how important it is to come out of it, to rebel, to speak through the rotten apples of silence patriarchy puts in our swollen mouths.


While I take joy at the sight of the two imperfect goddesses, my mother, and my sister, I must cry thousands of tears in honor of the women who were killed oh so brutally and reminded us why it is important to come out of our confines and protect our kind from the realms of being a subaltern; why it is important to be “seated” with freedom in our mind and body.

As someone who belongs to a decently privileged life, I never understood the fear of being kidnapped or abducted or worse unless my best friend pushed me to come out of my home for her little self-portrait photography adventure amidst an isolated farm. There my friend stood, my friend who would do anything to see a sunrise on the top of the scary mountain she took me to which had “Jauhar” written on its rocks in large bold orange Hindi alphabets. She would stand in her cropped, sleeveless top, her waist showing her perfectly shiny brown skin, and the edge of her ethnic skirt which she would hold between her teeth from its edge. She would pose with half of her lips open in all her sensuous glory in the middle of a farm. The farm which got me scared to death because of its isolated location. Never with my parents, I visited an isolated farm and surely their absence and their obliviousness of my location got chills on my skin. They weren’t there to protect me and neither did they know where my best friend had taken me to.


The climax of that day came when both of us ran away quickly from the farm on our scooty when two almost drunk boys chased the hell out of us. The farmer had informed us about them. I wonder how dedicated and brave my best friend was to come out to such far-off locations for the likes she collected on her portraits on social media. Though I thought it was some kind of foolish behavior, on reaching home I realized that being brave and chasing your dreams could count as foolishness or some kind of devotion to your own very happy self. That was the kind of brave step my mother took when she stepped out of the malfunctioned train at night with her colleagues and had to wait inside a jungle for the train to get repaired and start running again.

My mother knew to chase her dreams she would have to sign up for unexpected risks. Similarly, my sister to discover her individual space and voice had to go out in the wild and prove that she could survive being a rebel, she could survive being herself.

Through my reflections and introspection, I have come to realize a fundamental truth: while the male gaze fixates on the female form, the female gaze turns inward, seeking to unearth the depths of her own power and voice that have long been suppressed by centuries of patriarchal dominance. Unlike the male gaze, which operates with relative impunity, the female gaze carries the weight of potential violence and backlash, making rebellion inherent to its pursuit.

Therefore, the journey toward the female gaze is fraught with challenges, requiring acts of revolution and endurance against the oppressive forces of society. It demands the courage to confront one’s traumas, both mental and physical, and to raise a defiant voice against the status quo.

These remarkable women I have chosen to celebrate have fought through tears and battles to claim their rightful place within their own female gaze. In contrast, to the male gaze’s external focus, the female gaze centers on self-discovery and self-definition. It refuses to yield to the dictates of the male-dominated societal norms. It’s as if, in the quest for control, the oppressor first attempts to sever our connection with ourselves, detaching us from our emotions and self-perception. Yet, it is within our grasp to reclaim our autonomy.

I must say without the influence of these women in my life, I may have never grasped the substance of the female gaze—the introspection that precedes outward assertion. They have illuminated the path to self-discovery, reminding me that true liberation comes from within, in the silent depths where our truth resides. Hence, I must conclude on a note that the pursuit of the female gaze takes the first dive within than without.



  • Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. “The Politics of Translation.” New York, Routledge, 1993, pp. 179-200.
  • Spivak, Gayatri. “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Selected Subaltern Studies, edited by Ranajit Guha and Gayatri Spivak, pp. 90-104. Accessed 21 Mar. 2024, pdf (
  • Deshpande, Shashi. The Dark Holds No Terror. Penguin Books, 1980.
  • “The Id, Ego, and Superego.” Verywell Mind. %20the%20primitive,and%20realistic%20part%20of%20personality.



Variyata Vyas:

Variyata is a postgraduate in English Literature. She finished her higher education from Bengaluru City University. As a lover of words and storytelling, she self-published her debut novel “Teens on a Trip” in which she has covered features of young adult fiction. She aspires to craft narratives that appeal to the readers on both intellectual and emotional levels.