Debate: Sabyasachi Bride or Not, Love Me Anyway

Dear Bhawna,

Your May 14 piece “Why I will never be a Sabyasachi bride” has all your spunk and energy. You have such a way with words and a strong determined voice. Kudos for a piece that is crisp, exciting and drives home a clear message.

Yet, what that message is to begin with is important. Because simplifying your complex thoughts, even if for an article, is not only a disservice to yourself, but to feminism as well.

What patriarchy does is box women into certain ideal types – beautiful, fair, timid, soft spoken, obedient, etc. In its attempt to move away from patriarchy’s box, old school feminism created a new box where women were independent, scientists, leaders, achievers, etc. Contemporary feminists have recognised that the problem is not one of which box women are placed in – whether that of the shy or the strong, or any other box for that matter – but the process of boxing in itself. To assume women are this or that, or that this is better than that, is to patronise, simplify, and categorise experiences.

You’ve recognised that there are several patriarchal issues, including internalised patriarchy among women, that shape how a bride behaves, yet the last three paragraphs of the article leave the onus on the to-be bride to make changes, to examine her choices, and to affirm her worthiness. Why not vehemently oppose those social-structural issues that you recognise to be problematic throughout? Your concluding paragraph and core message makes demands of the bride-to-be rather than the system that you claim oppresses her. Why?

The language used also seems to privilege the rejection of the Sabyasachi bride. For example, instead of calling salon treatments as pampering, as it may be for some, you say that they are an attempt to refine the body “as if it were a machinery”. This can come off as patronising and may even trigger women who, indeed, may have invested a lot in that salon experience and, in fact, struggled to have it.

While in the last line you allow women to choose marriage or not and to choose a Sabyasachi or pyjama wedding, earlier in the article you imply that a radical feminist must not be given to bridal fantasies. I think there could be many shades in between the dichotomy of those who reject Sabyasachi and those who don’t. And while I seek to acknowledge this variety, I also want to highlight what unites you and the one that continues scrolling through Sabyasachi’s Instagram – you both choose what you do.

Women for have been denied agency for far too long; agency to make decisions and manifest their true selves. One way of returning that agency, in a prefigurative way, is to assume that decisions made by women have been thought through and made by choice and awareness. In this way we can show radical acceptance, care and solidarity, while opposing forces that may constrain or restrict our full expression.

Also read: Dear Sabyasachi, an ‘Overdressed’ Woman is Not ‘Wounded’

So, if you still want that Sabyasachi wedding dress in a corner of your heart, even after years of identifying as a radical feminist, don’t beat yourself over it. Doesn’t that support the oppressor? Perhaps embracing and celebrating your fantasies, holding on to them for you deserve them whatever they may be, owning them, making them your choice, making yourself bigger and not smaller is resistance and subversion in itself!

Of course, the article is directed to an audience of a certain socio-economic background – otherwise the question of a Sabyasachi bride would not arise. But for many women, their wedding is their chance to dress up, to be in the limelight, to be made up; women who have always been told to be modest and subdued, to not spend on themselves, and denied self-expression through fashion. This is even more so for trans women, disabled women, women whose womanhood is constantly put to question who would find themselves as rather subversive in Sabyasachi or in any other flamboyant bridal wear.

This is not to say that they don’t face mounting social pressure and judgement, even from among the likes of us. But feminism dares us to acknowledge and rupture our own privilege. Feminists are the ones that brought the personal into the political, brought intersectional nuances into view. Doesn’t an inclusive feminist position then warrant a deeper contextualising of caste-class position rather than a cursory line on positionality?

Lastly, of course, there are many open questions the article raises, for example, Sabyasachi’s male gaze, inter-generational transfer of internalised patriarchy, etc. I think this is one of the article’s strengths, that it makes one think, and reflect on themselves and the world around them.

As feminists we must keep learning and unlearning or we risk becoming oppressors ourselves. Take the example of Kamala Bhasin’s latest interview where the ‘doyen’ of Indian feminism belittles women’s choices, disregards trans folk and trivialises Dalit experiences, without a passing thought to her own positionality. For any meaningful praxis of feminism, we must strive to be humble, accountable, mindful of multiple marginalisations, and simply to listen, learn and do better.

With love and solidarity,

Natasha Maru is a PhD researcher at the Institute of Development Studies, UK.

Featured image credit: Instagram/Sabyasachi: Editing: LiveWire