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A New Take on Advocacy and Appropriation

For Sharmila Lodhia ’94, what started as a legal career in women’s civil rights soon morphed into a successful teaching career hinging on legal advocacy for Indian women, thanks in part to first earning a Ph.D. in women’s studies.   

A newly tenured professor in Women’s and Gender Studies at SCU, Lodhia’s work focuses on the ways in which ideas about women and violence vary across a range of legal, cultural, and geographic borders—and how this impacts the ability of people to advocate for them. While her work is India specific, it also takes into account the experiences of Indian women living in the U.S. and the access they have to legal frameworks around gendered violence.

Because Hinduism has long been part of U.S. popular culture, Lodhia has also focused her research on cultural appropriation in the U.S. and how best to navigate it. In 2015, she published the paper “Deconstructing Sita’s Blues: Questions of Mis/representation, Cultural Property, and Feminist Critique in Nina Paley’s Ramayana,” which considers how a feminist-informed, animated representation of the Hindu epic the Ramayana spurred battles over cultural authenticity.

“The paper actually first came to me when my daughter was watching the film Sita Sings the Blues and started asking questions about the story,” says Lodhia. “I began paying closer attention to what was going on in this retelling of the Ramayana, taking in what was going on in the film, which engages a body of critique about the epic’s teachings on virtue, righteousness, and idealized gender roles.” 

By thinking through questions of religion and culture, Lodhia developed a critical analysis for people outside of a given society who hope to engage respectfully with that culture. “Interestingly, I hadn’t examined my own religious and cultural identity in scholarly work up until this time,” she says.

Next up for Lodhia: “New directions of my work will be looking at innovative advocacy strategies that are being undertaken across the world, for instance the use of innovative social media campaigns and graphic novels that transmit stories about varied forms of gendered violence,” she says.

And when it comes to the classroom, Lodhia is currently enjoying teaching her “Women and Law in the U.S.” course.

“I teach it like a law school class, calling on people at random, tracing the evolution of women’s rights and arguments around sex discrimination and seeking to historicize and contextualize the gendered ideologies that shaped the law over time,” she says. “It reminds me of being back in law school, reading cases and doing legal writing. I really enjoy it!”

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