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Nandy, A. (1976). Woman Versus Womanliness in India: An Essay in Social and Political Psychology. Psychoanal. Rev., 63(2):301-315.

(1976). Psychoanalytic Review, 63(2):301-315

Woman Versus Womanliness in India: An Essay in Social and Political Psychology

Ashis Nandy


At the level of values, human progress can be seen as an expanding awareness of the subtler and more institutionalized forms of inequity and the suffering born of it. Person-to-person aggression and personal sadism have been punished since almost the dawn of civilization. For its survival, every society had to do that. But, as Bertrand Russell was fond of pointing out, social ethics always lags behind private ethics, so slavery, racism, colonial exploitation, and genocide were not only permitted, but often encouraged. Of course, some controls were maintained. The sacred texts everywhere defined social rights and social wrongs and prescribed limits to group violence, but the observance of such limits was not informed with an understanding of the less obvious forms of ill treatment of man by man and of the social institutions and psychological defenses which supported them. Civilization grew for many centuries before men such as Owen, Marx, and Kropotkin formulated ambitious explanations of intraspecies aggression in terms of social groupings till then seen as “naturally” different. Today the idea of a continuum between the exploiters and the exploited, between the aggressors and their victims, is commonplace. It was not so only a century ago.

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