Gender in Post Colonial India - Parameswaran - Journal of Communication December 2002 Reading Fictions of Romance Gender Sexuality and Nationalism in

Gender in Post Colonial India - Parameswaran - Journal of...

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832 Reading Fictions of Romance: Gender, Sexuality, and Nationalism in Postcolonial India By Radhika Parameswaran This ethnographic study explores the implications of romance reading for young Indian women’s gender, class, and national identities in one urban setting in South India. The project demonstrates that the practice of reading Western ro- mance fiction is deeply embedded within patriarchal discourses of feminine re- spectability that exert control over women’s sexuality. Young women’s fascination for the commodities of Western material culture in imported romance fiction is located in their desire to experience their identities as cosmopolitan, global con- sumers. In negotiating the boundaries of tradition, Indian women readers con- struct romance fiction as modern manuals on sexuality that afford them escape from the burdens of preserving the honor of family and community. The contra- dictory character of women’s interpretations of sexuality in Western romance nov- els highlights the complex dialectic between postcolonial audiences’ resistance to and collusion with the hegemony of global culture. Media studies has been slow to recognize the rich insights of postcolonial theories and approaches that have gained currency in history, English, and anthropology. In the past decade, however, a small body of empirical work on media texts and audiences has seriously engaged the deconstructive project of postcolonial theory to challenge and advance models of culture in international and development communication research (Breckenridge, 1995; Mankekar, 1999; Rajagopal, 1996). My own entry into the emerging field of postcolonial media studies seeks to bring questions of colonial history, nationalism, and sexuality to bear on audience re- ception of Western popular literature in non-Western settings. In my ethnographic research among young women in South India, I analyze the cultural space occu- Radhika Parameswaran (PhD, University of Iowa, 1997) is an assistant professor in the School of Journalism, Indiana University, Bloomington. Her research interests include feminist cultural studies, audience research, international media studies, and postcolonial studies. The author is grateful to the young women and other informants who generously volunteered to participate in this study. An Indiana University Research and University Graduate School Summer Fellowship supported the writ- ing of this research. The author thanks Andra Alvis for her insightful comments and suggestions on an earlier version of this paper. Copyright © 2002 International Communication Association
Reading Fictions of Romance 833 pied by the practice of popular romance fiction reading in women’s everyday lives. As imported fiction that Indian women read in the English language, a lasting legacy of British colonialism, the consumption of Western romance novels in India signifies the enabling of postcolonial leisure practices and neocolonial economies of publishing by the trajectories of colonial history. The popularity of

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