Vol. 7 No. 1 (2022): Beginnings of Gender Discourses in Modern Keralam: Revisiting Early Women's Magazines
ISSN No: 2583-4347
This number is about early women’s magazines in Keralam that mark an important phase in the history of women’s writing, feminist movement, and modern gender formations. The last decades of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century witnessed an explosion in women’smagazines in the major languages spoken in the Indian subcontinent. Susie Tharu and
- Lalitha in their landmark work Women Writing in India (1991) identify the period as “a high point of women’s journalism.” They note that in the regional languages, women edited magazines for women. This trend across languages was generally the result of the projects of colonial modernity and reformist movements.
Curiously, many of the early women’s magazines in Keralam were edited and published by men. This changed subsequently as magazines were launched by women editors and publishers, many of whom had benefitted from the colonial education system. These editors were mostly first-generation scholars from the upwardly mobile castes. The complex social formations which were a result of the colonial rule, the English education, the rise of print media and press, the freedom struggle and the reformations which oscillated between tradition and modernity, had urged women to rethink their position in the society. The early women’s magazines from Keralam reflected this cultural turn, critiquing hierarchical relations of authority between women and men that had historically functioned to the disadvantage of women.
Magazines got published in Malayalam from the 1840s by missionaries and social reformers. However, women’s magazines started appearing in Malayalam only towards the last decade of the 19th century, and continued through the first three decades of the 20th century. Most economically and socially privileged communities which came to the fore during this period had their own women’s magazines. Several magazines such as Keraliyasugunabodhini (1886), Sarada (1904), Lakshmibai (1905), Mahilaratnam (1916), Mahila (1921), Sahodari (1925), Mahilamandiram (1927), Malayalamanika (1931), and Stree (1933) were in circulation during this period.
Early women’s magazines have played a crucial role in the formation and structuring of modern gender identities and social relations. These interventions of a generation of women who stood at the crossroads of tradition and modernity tell us about the negotiations, revolts and resistances they encountered in carving out a space for themselves. The women’s magazines urged women to recast femininity, instructing them on the new social/sexual contracts and duties. Women from the non-privileged sections of the society like dalits, tribals, transgenders, and sexual minorities did not figure in these discussions directly. It was as recent as the 1980s and 90s that the early women’s magazines were researched and studied closely, drawing attention to the sidelining of the non-privileged.
As more than hundred years separate us from the early women’s magazines in Malayalam, it is essential to revisit them to understand the significant factors that have shaped the formative period of modern gender identities in Keralam. The discourses that unfolded in the pages of the early women’s magazines interrogated the ways gender identities were constituted differently in different social classes/castes/sections. The present issue of Samyukta examines women’s magazines of the long nineteenth century, and reviews the ways these magazines imagined and advocated gender identities in Keralam as notions of gender are intrinsically linked to structures of gender relations in any society.
Guest Editor - SHALINI M