Sangeeta Bandhyopadhya’s Panty: Feminism and the Female Gaze

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By Manasa Shetty

Panty is a quick but intense read (a mere 121 pages!), originally written in Bengali by Sangeeta Bandhyopadhyay (SB). Told from the perspective of an unnamed female narrator through interconnected but not necessarily chronological chapters, the book is about a young woman exploring her independence in metropolitan Calcutta, India.

SB is described as “the woman who reintroduced hardcore sexuality into Bengali literature”, so I was both intrigued and a little apprehensive of what was awaiting me. Thankfully, I fell in love with Bandhyopadhyay’s no-nonsense book that simultaneously questions what it means to be a feminist and creates a valid space for female sexuality.

Female Sexuality    

Fifty Shades and Co. should take notes. I hated Fifty Shades because it was  apologetic about female sexuality and cast its protagonist entirely through the male gaze of an idealised ‘sexy sheepish librarian’ stereotype (although, of course women can also want to be sexy librarians). All this and more is why I disagree with endorsing Fifty Shades as a feminist text. On the other hand, there is none of this artifice with SB’s bold writing, which presents an unabashed female gaze. The book successfully blurs the lines between love, lust, the physical and emotional (see the below) in a way that will certainly take you out of your comfort zone.

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Feminism

Something that stood out to me in this book was how real the protagonist’s character is. While Panty is about an independent woman, it is also about her involvement in an affair, where she cast as the outsider. I love that SB gives her protagonist this depth; it resonates with some of the pressure I feel about being a feminist but not always feeling like I’m living it fully. It highlights the complexity and need for modern day intersectional feminism, which takes a different form for each individual.

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About the Author

Hi all! I’m Manasa, born in India and bred in East London, like most of us I’m currently grinding it out in the corporate world. I turn to fiction for salvation and believe that diverse, international and feminist literature can change the world! The rest of my time I spend eating and rewatching Modern Family and Game of Thrones.

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