G C Lichtenberg: “It is as if our languages were confounded: when we want a thought, they bring us a word; when we ask for a word, they give us a dash; and when we expect a dash, there comes a piece of bawdy.”

H. P. Lovecraft: "What a man does for pay is of little significance. What he is, as a sensitive instrument responsive to the world's beauty, is everything!"

Martin Amis: “Gogol is funny, Tolstoy in his merciless clarity is funny, and Dostoyevsky, funnily enough, is very funny indeed; moreover, the final generation of Russian literature, before it was destroyed by Lenin and Stalin, remained emphatically comic — Bunin, Bely, Bulgakov, Zamyatin. The novel is comic because life is comic (until the inevitable tragedy of the fifth act);...”

Werner Herzog: “We are surrounded by worn-out, banal, useless and exhausted images, limping and dragging themselves behind the rest of our cultural evolution.”

John Gray: "Unlike Schopenhauer, who lamented the human lot, Leopardi believed that the best response to life is laughter. What fascinated Schopenhauer, along with many later writers, was Leopardi’s insistence that illusion is necessary to human happiness."

Justin E.H. Smith: “One should of course take seriously serious efforts to improve society. But when these efforts fail, in whole or in part, it is only humor that offers redemption. So far, human expectations have always been strained, and have always come, give or take a bit, to nothing. In this respect reality itself has the form of a joke, and humor the force of truth.”

विलास सारंग: "… . . 1000 नंतर ज्या प्रकारची संस्कृती रुढ झाली , त्यामध्ये साधारणत्व विश्वात्मकता हे गुण प्राय: लुप्त झाले...आपली संस्कृती अकाली विश्वात्मक साधारणतेला मुकली आहे."

Friday, October 14, 2016

र. धों. कर्वे आणि वंडर वुमन...R. D. Karve and Wonder Woman

2016 is 75th birth-year of Wonder Woman and today October 14 is 63rd death anniversary of R. D. Karve (र. धों. कर्वे).

Marathi (मराठी) translation of the following post was first published on a web-only  Marathi magazine "Aisi Akshare" (ऐसी अक्षरे) in their issue named "पॉर्न ओके प्लीज!" (Porn Ok Please!) dated May-June 2016.

Feminism Made Wonder Woman:

When ‘Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice’ was released in March 2016, majority of reviews were lukewarm towards it. But they were almost unanimous in praise of ‘Wonder Woman’ performed by Gal Gadot in it.


Courtesy:  Warner Bros. Pictures, 2016

Some have argued that feminism is on decline worldwide. When in early 2016, Kim Kardashian and Emily Ratajkowski justified posting their nude selfies on internet as a form of feminism, one wonders if it is true.

But it was not always so.

Prof. Jill Lepore writes in her magisterial ‘The Secret History of Wonder Woman’, 2014:
“...Wonder Woman isn’t only an Amazonian princess with badass boots. She’s the missing link in a chain of events that begins with the woman suffrage campaigns of the 1910s and ends with the troubled place of feminism fully a century later. Feminism made Wonder Woman. ..”

R D Karve Launched Modern Feminism In India:

The first name that comes to my mind on the subject of feminism in India is: R D Karve ( धों कर्वे) 1882-1953.

Most Indians think of Karve as only a social reformer who worked on the issues like birth control, family planning and sex education but very few know that his first goal was that women achieved as much sexual freedom as men.  Birth control was only the by-product of it.
Karve also was a rationalist- in the mould of Gopal Ganesh Agarkar (1856-1895), an art critic, a thinker, a college teacher.

The late M V Dhond (. वा. धोंड) has argued that because Karve never shied away from promoting sexual freedom of women, his work on birth control suffered. He was persecuted by the government of the day and some sections of the civil society.   He and his wife personally suffered a lot. Dhond felt Karve should have focused only on birth control. India was ready for that, and not for women’s sexual freedom. 

"....विवाहसंस्थेची अनावश्यकता, स्वैरसमागमाची इष्टता, अप्राकृतिक संभोगाविषयी उदारता, इत्यादी ( धों ) कर्वे यांची मते आजही भारतीयांना मान्य होणे कठीण. मग ४०-५० वर्षांपूर्वी या मतांबद्दल त्यांची कुचेष्टा झाली, तर ते स्वाभाविकच म्हटले पाहिजे. कामशास्त्र, संतातिनियमन गुप्तरोगप्रतिबंध यांविषयीची माहिती कर्वे यांनी तत्कालीन समाजास दिली, हे त्यांचे कार्य मोठेच म्हटले पाहिजे; परंतु संततिनियमनाचा प्रचार त्यांनी ज्या भूमिकेवरून केला, ती कामस्वातंत्र्याची भूमिका त्यांच्या कार्याला मारकच ठरली."
(. वा. धोंड , ‘जाळ्यातील चंद्र: समीक्षालेखसंग्रह, 1994/1998)

Karve often tried to reconcile sexual freedom with birth control. He argued that venereal diseases and unwanted pregnancy were two hurdles in the path of sexual freedom and the latter was faced only by women and hence if that was removed, women would find it easier to achieve the sexual freedom. 


Women chained by unwanted pregnancies. From Margaret Sanger’s Birth Control Review, 1923

Courtesy: Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University

In order to counsel his readers, especially women readers, on this subject, Karve created a fictitious character called ‘Sharda’ (शारदा) and created a column called ‘Sharda’s letter’ (शारदेचे पत्र) in his magazine ‘Samajswasthya’ (समाजस्वास्थ्य) 1927-1953.  


Issue of Samajswasthya dated January 1951,

Is she Karve’s ‘Wonder Woman’ Sharda?

Sharda not only publicizes sexual freedom, she enjoys it too.

She has no hesitation in enjoying sex outside marriage. She is ready to live like Mahabharata’s  Draupadi if she ends up loving more than one man. She enjoys moving around naked at home. She asks women to enjoy as much sexual freedom as they get today and not wait for some revolution.

Karve’s contemporaries Ms. Marie Stopes 1880-1958 from UK and Ms. Margaret Sanger (1879-1966) from US were doing work similar to his. They both are mentioned by Dhond in his book and by Y D Phadke (य. दि. फडके) in his Karve’s Marathi biography “Ra. Dho. Karve” (र. धों. कर्वे), 1981.

Dhond has argued that these two women were far more successful than Karve because they promoted family planning on the platform of happy family and emancipation of women. (“पण त्यांनी संततिनियमनाचा पुरस्कार केला तो कामस्वातंत्र्याच्या भूमिकेवरून नव्हे, तर स्त्रीदास्यविमोचन सुखी कुटुंबसंस्था या भूमिकांवरून)

In the same essay, earlier, Dhond says: Karve used to advertise his book as ‘Key to Women’s Liberation’ (स्त्रियांच्या स्वातंत्र्याची गुरुकिल्ली) while Sanger’s book was titled ‘Family Limitation’. This difference in titles explains the difference in their approach. 

Unfortunately Dhond got it very wrong when it came to Margaret Sanger. As we shall see soon, Sanger's approach was no different than Karve's (or the other way round).


Margaret Sanger, A Wonder Woman:

Prof. Lepore: “...The “basis of Feminism,” Sanger said, had to be a woman’s control over her own body, “the right to be a mother regardless of church or state...
... In 1912,...Margaret Sanger wrote a twelve-part series...called “What Every Girl Should Know.” It covered, matter-of-factly, the subjects of sexual attraction, masturbation, intercourse, venereal disease, pregnancy, and childbirth...”

Sanger believed in free love, which meant she believed in sex outside of marriage, and considered marriage itself a form of oppression.  She strongly believed that women’s equality and sexual autonomy were the only way forward for humanity. In the 1930s, Margaret Sanger was the best-known feminist in the world.
“When the history of our civilization is written, it will be a biological history and Margaret Sanger will be its heroine,” H. G. Wells predicted in 1935. (Sanger had decades-long affair with H. G. Wells). Like Karve she also had run-ins with the local law.

Reading all this, I feel Karve’s approach to women’s liberation was no different than that of Sanger and at no time she was defensive about either her goals or her methods to achieve them. Indeed she (and her lover the British sexologist Havelock Ellis) and their concept of ‘erotic rights of women’ must have inspired Karve and firmed his resolve in continued use of his methods.

Sanger unlike Karve was a celebrity. In London, Sanger met with J L Nehru; in India, she debated Mahatma Gandhi. In 1937, she was featured in Time and the Nation; in Life, her life story was told in a four-page photo spread. It's likely her 'success' in contrast to his 'failure' was one of the reasons Karve became increasingly bitter.

William Moulton Marston (1893-1947) created Wonder Woman in December 1941. His partner was Olive Byrne.  Olive was the daughter of Ethel Byrne who opened the first birth-control clinic in the United States with her sister Margaret Sanger.

Marston has explained why he created a female superhero:
“A male hero, at best, lacks the qualities of maternal love and tenderness which are as essential to a normal child as the breath of life. Suppose your child’s ideal becomes a superman who uses his extraordinary power to help the weak. The most important ingredient in the human happiness recipe still is missing—love. It’s smart to be strong. It’s big to be generous. But it’s sissified, according to exclusively masculine rules, to be tender, loving, affectionate, and alluring. “Aw, that’s girl’s stuff!” snorts our young comics reader. “Who wants to be a girl?” And that’s the point; not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength, power. Not wanting to be girls they don’t want to be tender, submissive, peace loving as good women are. Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weak ones. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.”

Jill Lepore informs: “...Marston, who at a press conference in 1937 had predicted that women would rule the world, and had named Margaret Sanger as the second-most-important person on the planet (second only to Henry Ford), as measured by “contributions to humanity,” knew very well who he had in mind for a female superhero...”....Margaret Sanger!



Look closer, Margaret Sanger is NOT bouncing off a trampoline but a springy contraceptive diaphragm

Artist: David Levine, 1978

 “The philosophy of Margaret Sanger’s ‘Woman and the New Race’ 1920 would turn out to be the philosophy of Wonder Woman, precisely.
With the beauty of Aphrodite, the wisdom of Athena, the strength of Hercules, and the speed of Mercury, she brings to America woman’s eternal gifts—love and wisdom! Defying the vicious intrigues of evil enemies and laughing gaily at all danger, Wonder Woman leads the invincible youth of America against the threatening forces of treachery, death, and destruction.

Women should rule the world, Sanger and Marston and (his wife) Holloway thought, because love is stronger than force...”



In 1929, when Margaret Sanger visited Boston to lecture at Ford Hall, city authorities banned her lecture, so she appeared on stage with a gag over her mouth

Courtesy: Corbis Images 


Wonder Woman and her mother gagged. From “The Four Dooms,” Wonder Woman #33 (February 1949)

Courtesy: The Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division











Karve and Sanger:
 Although Sanger and Karve met only once at Mumbai in November 1935 at Sanger’s invitation, nothing significant seems to have come out of it. I would really like to know more about this meeting and what transpired between them. Has Karve written about it?

I also wonder if Karve knew Wonder Woman comics and, if he did, did he discuss it with Sanger?
Is Karve Still Too Hot To Handle?:

I think although India as a country can  claim some success in the area of family planning, I feel even in 2016 we as a society find it hard to accept Karve’s views on the futility of marriage as an institution,   desirability of sexual freedom and liberalism about all kinds of sexual acts.

Homosexuality is mostly a taboo subject in Indian civil society and for the government. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code makes sex with persons of the same gender punishable by law.

I have not read or heard an open debate on the subject of masturbation. Marathi newspapers report a lot that is happening around the world but I have not seen any news item on a report such the one published in Independent, UK on September 11 2015.

It says: “Masturbation is good for you, scientists explain/ Self love increases your fertility, makes you happier and helps you fight disease.” 

In year 2016, Marathi newspapers went over the board reporting gravitational waves. They often get excited about any ‘significant’ scientific development or scientists in general.

 But I have never read anything like what renowned American palaeontologist, evolutionary biologist, and historian of science Stephen Jay Gould says in the essay ‘Male Nipples and Clitoral Ripples  in his book ‘Bully for Brontosaurus: Reflections in Natural History’, 1991:

“...As (Alfred) Kinsey had said earlier with his characteristic economy and candor: “The techniques of masturbation and of petting are more specifically calculated to effect orgasm than the techniques of coitus itself.”...
...Anatomy, physiology, and observed responses all agree. Why then do we identify an issue at all? Why, in particular, does the existence of clitoral orgasm seem so problematic? Why, for example, did Freud label clitoral orgasm as infantile and define feminine maturity as the shifting to an unattainable vaginal site?
Part of the reason, of course, must reside in simple male vanity. We (and I mean those of my sex, not the vague editorial pronoun) simply cannot abide the idea—though it flows from obvious biology—that a woman’s sexual pleasure might not arise most reliably as a direct result of our own coital efforts...”

There also was no word on a recent survey reported in Independent, UK on December 19 2015 that said:

"Masturbation is the 'most successful' way for women to achieve orgasm......Despite its international reputation for romance, France has topped a survey for having women most likely to fake an orgasm.
Out of a survey of France, the US, Spain, the UK, Italy, Canada, the Netherlands and Germany, French women struggled most to climax with their partner. Experts said this might be due to a culture that is still wedded to the classic sexual practice of vaginal penetration - which does not commonly induce orgasms in women...."

I am sure Sharda would have had a lot to say about these surveys in her letters in Samajswathya!

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