Menon is known as 'Nivi' to most of her students and peers. She belongs to an upper-caste middle class family, and was brought up in different parts of India, including Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi. Menon's sister is the queer activist, Pramada Menon. Their brother is Dilip Menon, who is a historian at the University of Witwatersrand, South Africa.
Menon is a feminist scholar who has taught at the International Studies School of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in Delhi since 2009. Before moving to JNU she was a teacher at Lady Shri Ram College for 15 years, and the political science department at Delhi University for seven years. Menon says that the Indian feminist movement she was exposed to in college, as well as the writings of global feminists, helped her evolve a better consciousness with respect to issues of sexuality and politics. She was greatly influenced by the work of global feminists like Betty Friednan, Germaine Greer and Gloria Steinem.
Menon has written or edited several books about feminism and politics, including the 2004 volume Recovering Subversion: Feminist Politics Beyond the Law. She also writes on current issues in the journal Economic and Political Weekly, the online news blog kafila.org, and several newspapers.
Seeing Like a Feminist, released in 2012, received favourable reviews. It also had high sales, partly due to uproar following the 2012 Delhi gang rape. The title of the book is a play upon the title of Seeing Like a State by James C. Scott. A review in The Hindu said that the book "[dissected] social institutions, policy, and common ideas to explain the many ways the process of “gendering” occurs — here making a distinction between ‘sex’ as the biological characteristics and ‘gender’ as the set of cultural meanings that are arrived at over time." Writing in the journal Economic and Political Weekly, feminist scholar Mary John said; "Written in a highly engrossing style, [the book] takes on very serious issues while also frequently making the reader smile. Nivedita Menon has managed to condense some of the most complex challenges facing the women’s movement in contemporary India and elsewhere in the form of a series of short reflections that are organised within six chapters." A review in The Guardian noted that "Menon succeeds in shattering some deeply-engrained myths, and her efficient gathering of the intersectional strands makes it a breezy but sharp read."
Menon is known for her staunch opposition to nuclear power. Menon has commented on the different portrayals of the Kashmir conflict within India and outside it, and has criticized the Armed Forces Special Powers Act.
During the protests in JNU in March 2016, Nivedita Menon made a speech titled "Nation, a daily plebiscite" in which she discussed nation formation, nationalist aspirations, and Kashmir's accession to the Indian Union. The lecture was part of a series about nationalism. The speech was criticized by members of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after a video surfaced of a quote from her speech, in which she stated that "Everyone knows that India is illegally occupying Kashmir. It is said the world over. Everybody accepts". The youth wing of the BJP filed a complaint against Menon and Kanhaiya Kumar, saying they made "anti-national" statements. Menon later stated that she had not said anything anti-national. The video clip was highlighted by the news channel Zee News, which labelled Menon "anti-national". The incident led to her being targeted for her views by the BJP and other groups.
The video of her speech and the reactions to it also led to Menon receiving widespread support online. A number of activists published a statement saying that Menon was being vilified by the media and the police, and that the complaints against her constituted harassment. Friends and students of Menon created a Facebook page in her support. The controversy led to her being described as a figure of dissent against the Hindu right.Power and Contestation: India since 1989 (Global History of the Present) (2007).
Seeing Like a Feminist (2012).
Recovering Subversion: Feminist Politics Beyond The Law (2004).
Gender And Politics In India
Sexualities (collected volume)
In 1994, Nivedita Menon won the A. K. Ramanujan Award (Instituted by Katha) for translation from Hindi and Malayalam into English 1994.