Women-Only Liquor Shops: A Feminist Inquiry into Gender Exclusivity

Conversations are circling the national capital about the city’s first ‘women-only’ liquor shop. Established in a shopping mall at Mayur Vihar, the owners are branding it as a ‘space’ for women to buy liquor without becoming privy to verbal slurs directed at them by male buyers at other liquor shops.

The very existence of this idea points towards the existence of concerns and apprehensions that give birth to such ideas. So, when I consider the analysis of this idea important for a feminist inquiry, I cannot ignore the significance of the psychology that breeds such an idea as well as the rationality that would evaluate its consequences in a broader sense.

So, what is women exclusivity and why in the context of liquor? Another extension of this question can be the rationale behind creating such exclusivity at the first place. To answer all these questions we need to understand the concept of women exclusivity from all perspectives and try to understand it from a feminist viewpoint.

Scholars of black studies such as Jessica Mathews talked about the issue of exclusivity within the women community[1]. In her recommendations for extending the scope of ‘representation’ in Literature studies, she wanted to dismantle the exclusivity of discourses that white women have created throughout the years by focusing the subject matter on their perspective and reasoning. In order to tackle this malaise, which she referred to as ‘white woman exclusivity’, she suggested the process which now exclusively centres upon the voices of the coloured women. She believed that this ‘reverse-exclusivity’ approach would tend to keep coloured women at focal point of the study of their literary heritage, but in the longer run, it would positively contribute to the cause of inclusivity in Literature studies. So, according to the concerned scholar, discriminatory exclusivity shall be tackled with rehabilitatory or reformatory exclusivity in order to create an inclusive discipline. 

The idea proposed by Jessica Mathews might sound borderline radical. However, one cannot simply alienate it from the relevance of her cause and concern that reflects the degrees of social depravity she must have observed in her study. This stance is democratically modified by another Black Studies scholar William Ackah who goes on to say that studies about Blacks (Afro communities) must be institutionalised as a separate discipline, although, it must not be reduced to any racial exclusivity. Every person, irrespective of their race or sex, shall be exposed to Black Studies for it will open up possibilities to explore various dimensions of racial depravity and violence through diverse inter-disciplinary scopes such as gender and queer studies.

Glyn Hughes[2] in her essay[3]talks about the importance of including ‘men’ in gender studies classes for not only allowing a diverse perspective in class but also to enable the ‘female’[4]  students to test their understanding from diverse perspectives, practical applicability and possible responses. The exclusivists would challenge this by arguing that the very reason we create such exclusive forums for women to discuss their issues is to provide them a space where they are independent, comfortable and unafraid to share their views about the themes that concern them. However, this argument would again be challenged by Glyn Hughes by the assertion she makes with – ‘Moving from Women to Feminist Spaces’. Under this head she argues that such gender exclusivity would only create more problems because women issues would get more and more isolated and men would never get to acknowledge or reason with the sexism that exists in the society. She believes, that there’s no point of allowing exclusive spaces for women to discuss the themes such as feminism and gendered discrimination because it would remain in the conscious of the set of people who are at the receiving end of societal sexism and would not be able to positively bring out any change in the mentality of those who associate themselves with superior status in term of sex. This anti-exclusivity argument becomes the subject matter of my analysis. However I shall provide other works on the same theme for understanding the procedural or methodological application of this ‘positive change’ that Glyn Hughes had talked about.

Madonne Miner[5], someone I would call an anti-exclusivist, goes on to say that having men in discussions centred on women issues would make them realise how it feels like to be marginalised in discourses. They would be exposed to the depravity women face in public and educational spaces where they are discriminated against or face neglect of their opinions. Miner rationalises that since these discussions would give centre stage to women, men would get to feel the dimensions of sexual bias.

While Gayatri Spivak[6] agrees with the argument line progressed by Miner, she goes a step ahead and points out the cautious attitude we need to develop while challenging women exclusivity. Talking in the context of classrooms for gender studies, she says that minority position in such spaces for men may get aggravated to an extent that they start feeling marginalized which may lead to a kind of ‘reverse discrimination’ that can obstruct the course of affirmative action . Power relations in classrooms are apparent to a teacher but they do not get to the notice of male students for they often find themselves at hegemonic positions. Therefore, in a situation where these power relations are completely reversed, men would proclaim themselves to be ‘victimized’ or ‘hounded’ and would further develop negative sentiments towards gender activists by calling them femenazis. Glyn Hughes solves this problem by suggesting that we need to take away their marginality from them and should replace it with skills set that gradually make them aware of their privileged status.

So, its evident from the works of prominent scholars from disciplines such as Gender Studies and Black Studies that exclusivity is not a way forward for establishing equal power relations in the longer run. As we saw in the case of black studies literature, creating exclusivity would make a whole community aloof of the privileges it enjoys and the discrimination it inflicts. Applying the same principle for the undertaken study of women exclusive liquor shops, I shall argue that such exclusivity falls short of serving the purpose of feminism in the longer run.

Spaces such as these are not an act of reclaiming public spaces that most feminists and gender activists fight for. Such an establishment is just a space within an already existing space designated for women. The impact of ‘women- only’ liquor shops on the larger issue of gender equality is not momentous for it ceases to go beyond the conscience of women community itself. Men would remain aloof from the issue and would continue to occupy public spaces such as liquor shops. Receding presence of women buyers from local liquor shops would further swell the patriarchal perception that prevails in the status quo for it fails to normalise the presence of women in such shops. As we saw in the case of gender studies class, this women exclusivity needs to go for making men systematically aware of their privilege, and in this case, the redundancy of their hegemonic attitudes. It makes them aware of the fact that the power relations they had created in the institution of market and the one they continue to maintain with constant sexist intimidation and stigmatization is no longer affecting the beings on the receiving end of such sexism.

It is true that the inconvenience faced by women in such places cannot be denied or ignored. However, excluding themselves from such situations by finding recourse to exclusive zones is only making situation worse for them. They are getting further isolated from the debate of gender equality and such lures might derail their journey to find spaces for women in public life. Therefore, the choice that stands at the disposal of women is the one that offers a dichotomy between short run incentives and long run structural changes. Which ones’ to choose is entirely at their agency.

 

[1] Women of Colour and the Women’s Movement

[2] From University of California

[3] Revisiting the Men Problem in `

[4] Simon de Beauvoir, The Second Sex

[5] (1994:456)

[6] (Spivak and Rooney 1993: 19)

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