Reflection 8, Jaymes Winell
October 21, 2010
I want to focus on Chandra Talpade Mohanty’s two chapters in Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity (2003). I will try to connect what I have conceived “feminism” to be with how Third World feminists have engaged with and shaped feminism(s). Mohanty’s two chapters cover an incredible amount of ground, and as such it would be disingenuous to try to summarize or analyze all main arguments. I instead will try to focus on a few particularly illustrative points made in the two chapters and discuss how they will/have shaped my understandings.
I suppose my interest was peaked in this article because I have been wrestling with how to understand and articulate the relationship between the immigrant rights movement and the reproductive rights movement. A major stumbling block was that I had been viewing the movements as somehow separated, somehow distinctly messaged and struggled. I find this to be a critical, unexamined distinction that I had come to hold through contact with media, communities, messaging of movements and, of course, academia. I assumed a division that I found to be troubling since, after all, the reproductive rights of immigrants are profoundly impacted by immigration policy. But it goes way beyond that. Given Mohanty’s discussion of how “women of color” or “Third world women” are political alliances, rather than biological or sociological (49), I am trying to conceive of ways to discuss overlapping movements such as the “immigrant right’s” or the “reproductive rights” that don’t reinforce binaries, perpetuate cultural imperialism or miss key points.
Firstly, we must look closely at how we define “problems” or “achievements.” I, along with many others, fall into the trap of measuring regions or struggles in terms of visible, preferably quantifiable (like access to health care) road marks. Mohanty writes of the dangers of “defining Third World women in terms of their ‘problems’ or ‘achievements’ in relation to an imagined free white liberal democracy” because this process “effectively removes them (and the liberal democracy) from history, freezing them in time and space,” (49). With this in mind it is clearer to see how taking a report card type approach to the current opportunities and obstacles for the immigrant rights/reproductive rights movement runs the serious risk of simplifying or erasing histories of struggles, assuming aspects of our ‘liberal democracy’ and, as Mohanty warns, freezing Third world women in time and space. I seriously think that the midterm project I was considering was running a lot of these risks. It is interesting that many activists discuss and fight for reproductive rights while at the same time, policy analysts pursue plans of population control – in tandem making fertility the most studied aspect of women’s lives in the Third world (48). This has repercussions since language shapes our conceptualizations and as such, those women’s bodies are scrutinized under western eyes and in western minds.
Is “feminism” still a useful or constructive ground upon to build? Can it be a politicized oppositional identity that can productively be held in common? I ask this because not too long ago I had a very interesting conversation about the term “feminism” and it’s history of cultural imperialism, not to mention outright racism. However, while I do believe that a critical perspective on feminism is very necessary, discussion “it’s” history as something singular is detrimental. It is detrimental because, as Mohanty puts it, Third world women (which includes women of color in Western nations) have always engaged somehow with feminism, “even if the label has been rejected in a number of instances” (50). For myself as a white woman, I feel a complicated pull towards the word feminist. I think it can be a powerful term: a shorthand way of signifying an oppositional politicized identity. But whether or not that identity is engaged in struggle against sexism, racism, and imperialism cannot be assumed when someone uses the term ‘feminist.’ Instead, is must be “fought for, created and proven,” (77). If the practice of scholarship is “a form of rule and of resistance,” (76) how can white feminist scholars engage in solidarity through their work? How can we push our communities to recognize the objectionable history of ‘feminism’ while simultaneously fighting for a world where many feminisms can fit, whether we end up using that term or not?