Home 603Seminar in the Anthropology of Power


Week 2 Vincent, Focault, Marx

Week 3 Vincent II

Week 4 Kertzer-Anderson

Week 4 Essay 1

Week 5 Kertzer

Week 6 Anderson

Week 7 Scott

Week 8 Vincent III

Week 9 Said

Week 10 Crehan

Week 10 Essay 2

Week 11 Vincent IV

Week 12 Vincent IVb

Week 14 Swartz

Week 14 Mohanty Analytic Summary

Resource Links

Victoria Kline
Anthropology 583: Politics and Power
Instr: Dr. Ramona Pérez
December 1, 2005

Summary Analysis: The Force of Fractured Feminism

The US and the USSR are the most
powerful countries
in the world
but only 1/8 of the world’s population.
African people are also 1/8 of the world’s
of that, ¼ is Nigerian.
½ of the world’s population is Asian.
½ of that is Chinese.

There are 22 nations in the middle east.

Most people in the world
are Yellow, Black, Brown, Poor, Female
and do not speak english.

By the year 2000
the 20 largest cities in the world
will have one thing in common
none of them will be in Europe
none in the United States.
--Audre Lorde, January 1, 1989 (cf. Mohanty et al 1991:1)

    What does the world consist of? Mostly others. This volume is long and the subject matter diverse. For each chapter one could devote an entire essay. It is not within my power to give a complete picture of each author’s focus. Some of these authors are excessively wordy (in my opinion Mohanty), some are downright dense (Rey Chow was troublesome in this way), and some gushingly disparaging (Russo-oh please). I will attempt to pick out the major themes in each chapter, give a brief summary of each chapter, and summarize what I think are the major contributions and intertwining themes woven throughout the volume in an analysis at the end of the summaries.

Introduction: Cartographies of Struggle: Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism by Chandra Talpade Mohanty p 1-47
    I think point the whole book (about third world women responding to the demand by white EuroAmerican women that they take up the feminist struggle) is to cast light on how Western women are not going to be able to relate to information the same way as Third World women, some of whom have faced hardships beyond the imagination of white women from the first world, which is (according to these authors), the majority of Western feminists. Third world conditions also apply to the US and so the same gap in understanding and focus on “the problem” will occur within our own country. I have reason to believe this volume is going to explain either how to deal with the gap or to complain about the gap.
    As an introduction to this volume on Third World feminism and its intersection with Western feminism, the poem at the beginning is a reminder that the world is made up of mostly non-western, non-English speaking, and non-Christian people. Location seems to be everything, and we in the west should be thinking about our relationship to those in the rest of the world because even if we never make contact with them, we as purchasers of goods from other countries, and imbibers of tourism to other countries have a direct impact on the conditions that make up their lives. 
    Mohanty uses this introduction first to locate herself in the discussion: that of a Third World woman trained in the western tradition. Then to define several terms that come up in feminist discourse: feminism (continually contested term), third world feminism, the social category of third world women in terms of “underdevelopment, oppressive traditions, high illiteracy, rural and urban poverty, religious fanaticism, and ‘overpopulation’ of particular Asian, African, Middle Eastern, and Latin American countries” (Mohanty et al. 1991:6). This chapter of course introduces all the authors and the various themes confronted by the volume and how the divisions are made by the editors and why. Mohanty (15) says that her “aim is to suggest ways of making connections and asking better questions, rather than to provide a complete theory or history of third world women’s engagement with feminism.”

Part 1: Power, Representation, and Feminist Critique

Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourse by Chandra Talpade Mohanty p 51-80
    Mohanty says in her oh-so wordy way that educated, middle class women cannot assume the wants and needs of women in the third world, and gives many examples of how assumptions by Western feminists typecast third world women to be grouped as women who have the same desires and goals as Western feminist women’s fight against male oppression. Male oppression is assumed to exist everywhere and to be one of the major hurdles that third world women face also.
    Western feminism is hegemonic according Mohanty (51), and to move beyond this there must be dialog that checks the dominant discourse and allows other voices into the discussion. First, we must break down all assumptions (deconstruct), and then we must evaluate the parts, and reconstruct the discourse into one that encompasses all women’s concerns, not just some women’s. Some of the authors say that the discourse must involve all people. Of course it would not be feminism any more it would be humanism. I think it should encompass all living and non-living things and human interaction with them (environmentalism). But I digress…
    “Clearly Western feminist discourse and political practice is neither singular nor homogeneous in its goals, interests and analyses” (Mohanty et al 1991:52). Mohanty talks about trends in writing by western feminists about colonization and its affects, that “however sophisticated or problematical its use as an explanatory construct, colonization almost invariably implies a relation of structural domination, and a suppression—often violent—of the heterogeneity of the subject(s) in question” (52).
    Mohanty critiques Western feminism in three ways that western manifestations are assumed in the discussion of international feminism: 1) the assumption that women will all have the same “interests and desires” (55) no matter their location in the hierarchy; 2) the way in which support is provided for “proof of universality” (55) of goals and aspirations; and 3) the “homogeneous notion of the oppression of third world women as a group” (55) or the assumption of the “average third world woman” (55). 

Violence in the Other Countries: China as Crisis, Spectacle, and Woman by Rey Chow p 81-100
    The essay begins with a remembrance of the violence at Tienanmen Square in Beijing June 4, 1989. Chow says that feminists would ask her how the gender issue is situated within this conflict. She responded that there was no gender issue at the moment of crisis, just Chinese. Using quotes from Benedict Anderson’s “Imagined Communities,” Chow supports her view that because China was a target of European Imperialism, the attack at Tienanmen Square was the result of the history of that traumatic imperialism and the modernizing process it began. She asks “How do these events help us recognize the anger often voiced by non-western women about the singular priority that is given to ‘women’ by bourgeois liberal feminism?” (Mohanty et al 1991:82) Chow then makes the statement that non-western women feel anger towards western feminists because of the focus they give to the gender issue of men vs. women and the assumption that they have the same issues to challenge (82).
    Chow is from the US and sees people from the US as “China watchers” that read about and watch news about China, condemning the violence in Tienanmen Square, and urging protest, but that the media, because of the American fascination with “the spectacle” of China, is overzealous in its news reporting, in showing faces and naming names of participants who wish to remain anonymous – for self protection. She says the loss of anonymity for people speaking out against government policies, results in violence and deaths. So, simply interfering in Chinese lives, for the purpose of entertaining western audiences, is not helpful.
    Chow tells us (85), “In the age of electronic and mechanical reproductions, the Chinese government’s resort to political repression should make us think not only in terms of their current violence, but of the global roots of that violence.” China’s labor force is in demand in the world market, the world market is a modernizing force, and the people are inhibited from resisting domination by the global economy by their own government.
    “The tragedy of the China crisis lies in the polarization, which is still inscribed in nativist and nationalistic terms (the Chinese vis-à-vis the rest of the world), between an obsolete cultural isolationism, currently supported by military violence and the paternalistic ideology of the governing regime, and a naïve, idealistic clamor for democracy ‘American style,” (85). 

The Truth That Never Hurts: Black Lesbians in Fiction in the 1980s by Barbara Smith p 101-132
    Barbara Smith is a Black lesbian writer, and wishes to put that out in front immediately. She says that “white male, Black male, and white female readers, teachers, and critics” (101) have largely ignored Black lesbian writers. In Smith’s view, the issue is most likely one of stereotyping the authors because of “homophobia.” Smith focuses her discussion on the change in acceptance of Black lesbian writing from 1977 when it was not acceptable, to 1985 when some barriers were breaking down for Black lesbian writers and their potential audiences.
After a very long introduction to the subject, Smith gets around to talking about portrayals of Black lesbians in fiction in the 1980s. She discusses the depiction of Black lesbians in three contemporary works to compare the treatment of Black lesbian relationships in contrast with the writers’ familiarity to real relations among Black lesbians. The first is the novel The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor, “composed of seven connecting stories” written in “beautifully resonant language” Naylor’s book contains a chapter about two Black lesbians in a committed relationship, with opposite personalities, and real conflicts that Smith finds convincing. Naylor allows her characters meet a brutal end. Why was this according to Smith? She does not really say, except that the portrayals of the two lesbian lovers is far from realistic, that it is too pessimistic, and that the message seems to be that lesbians cannot live very long, that they will reap the ilk of the neighborhood. For Smith, the characters in the book are not convincing, but the reaction to their lesbianism is.
    Next book is The Color Purple by Alice Walker, described by Smith as “a book with a Black lesbian theme by a Black woman writer” that “achieved massive critical acclaim, became a best seller, and was made into a Hollywood film” (117). To me, the Black lesbian theme was but a tiny thread woven into a story about life in the rural south and the relations between blacks and whites, and the black male’s dominance in the family, and the horrid conditions that some people had to endure, and that Celi lived through all of it and survived and bettered herself. It was a story that was very human.
    The focus of Smith however, is the way in which Walker writes about Black lesbianism. There is no end to the kudos that she gives this book. Walker is just a good writer and storyteller. However, the characters, although beautiful and idyllically positive, have no adverse reaction by those around them, which according to Smith is positively incorrect. 
Lastly the book Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde is an autobiographical work about the “African American lesbian experience” (122). This is the only one of the three that Smith says “approaches Black lesbian experience with both verisimilitude and authenticity” (122). The characterization of lesbianism is right on, and the attitude of normal society towards them is convincingly realistic.
    Smith’s analysis of these three books illustrates her point that the only authentic representation one can get in the depiction of the Black lesbian, is for the author to be Black and lesbian. The message of the text to give the reader hope for humanity, and the author’s lesbianism must be out in the open (which is why I believe she states her lesbianism at the beginning of this chapter). To create a realistic, and engaging dialog with the reader, the author must be living the experience she attempts to depict. The way this manifests in the texts: Naylor is a closet lesbian, Walker is not lesbian, but has many friends and acquaintances that are, and Lorde is openly lesbian and proud of it.

What is Black lesbian feminist theory and practice?

Part 2: Public Policy, the State, and Ideologies of Gender

Redrafting Morality: The Postcolonial State and the Sexual Offences Bill of Trinidad and Tobago by M. Jacqui Alexander p 133-152
    Alexander explores the possibility that regulation of the social lives of women occurs presently as a by-product of globalization. In the necessity to control the female workforce in third world countries, the “political agenda has taken shape in the ideologies of international capital that attempt to legitimate the exploitation of predominantly female Third World workforce through symbols of docile and submissive womanhood” (133). Here, those in power seek to define sexuality in terms of morality. The data that is used to support the thesis that “to redraft morality requires feminist engagement” is that of the Sexual Offenses Bill “signed into law in Trinidad and Tobago” (133). 
    The Caribbean has a long history of colonialism and slavery, and management of the labor pool through a combination of “racialization and sexualization of morality” which elevated the white woman while forcing the black woman down. There was the “embeddedness of the colonial state in the slave plantation economy that assured the state managers a central roll in managing Black labor” (134). As nature would have it, the white plantation owners were taking up with black slaves, and were it not for the fact that the offspring began inheriting land from their fathers, there may not have been a change in law that rendered that coupling illegal and therefore the land could not be passed down to any but white heirs (!). The women (of color) were then considered whores by law. Sexual relations between a black man and a white woman was considered rape by law.
    With the end of slavery, a new problem occurred with the importation of Indian laborers. The Indian women who were bought in (as unmarried and without family) became defined as prostitutes by colonial government as well as their own men (!). In 1986, there was a bill to “Repeal and Replace the Laws of Trinidad and Tobago Relating to Sexual Crimes, to the Procuration, Abduction and Prostitution of Persons and to Kindred Offenses” (135). 
    Alexander’s focus in the essay was “to foreground the complicity of the state in sexual politics, demonstrating that the state is active in sexualizing relations between men and women, in normalizing and regulating relations within civil society…the state is not the neutral or dispassionate interest as it negotiates relationships between itself and civil society” (147).

Building Politics from Personal Lives: Discussions on Sexuality among Poor Women in Brazil by Carmen Barroso and Cristina Bruschini p 153-172
    “Thousands of small groups of poor women in the large cities of Brazil have been fighting for their most urgent needs. Sex education has been one of those needs” (Mohanty et al. 1991:153). The purpose of the essay is to report on a project that Barroso and Bruschini were involved in that was developed by a group of researchers who desired to give support to women in Brazil’s large cities. One hurdle they had to overcome was the resistance by the state to programs involving sex education. The problems surrounding this issue have roots in the 1960s when population explosion was predicted and measures to combat out of control population expansion was the order of the day.
    Economic aid from the US became linked to population control policies aimed at the beneficiary nation’s poor. One argument for population control for working class poor was that with so many excess pregnancies and births, the proletariat would never be able to rise to middle class status. This contrasted to public opinion in Brazil that a growing population was a resource not an economic problem (Mohanty et al 1991:154).
    The Catholic Church was against population control. Liberation Theology, a “success seminar” for impoverished Catholics in third world countries, identified with lower classes and argued against the government effort at population control on the grounds that population control would not alleviate poverty, that couples have a right to choose their family size, and that Brazil should not yield “to foreign pressures to limit its population” (Mohanty et al 1991:155). In this way the church took a political rather than moral stance against “family planning.”
The US backed International Planned Parenthood, in the wake of this opposition, took a different tack through provisions of free birth control pills and family planning clinics as a “service” to communities.
    One aspect of family size the authors point out (156) is that there has been a huge migration from rural to urban areas. The large family strategy that may have worked in rural farming, is no longer of benefit when living in the cities. The expense of bearing and raising children in an urban environment is vastly greater compared to rural settings. So migration has an impact on family survival.
    Authors Barroso and Bruschini realized that past programs for family planning had the air of authoritarianism and coercion, and did not take into account the feelings or needs of those they sought to act on in relation to reproductive organs. Problems for Brazilians in terms of lack of information and access to contraception were true pickles. One answer to these problems was in the formation of the research project the authors became involved in. The thrust of the program was to begin with small groups of women who were interested in participating, and begin with what they believed would help better their situations. They wanted sex education and discussion about gender issues. The aim of the program was to construct a collective knowledge of sexuality and to share this among other groups of participants. I must interject that these groups were already meeting, for other social reasons like classes, and crafts. So through these pre-bonded groups of women, the program began by talking about drawings that participants made of whatever sexual topic they were focused on for that meeting. I have no idea what the members were asked to draw, only that they wanted to learn about body functions and anatomy, and I am sure that any lack of knowledge or misconception would show up through attempts to illustrate whatever was being discussed.
    From their meetings, five booklets were assembled so they could be distributed to other interested persons. The first booklet has pictures of naked people! That is going to cause some alarm I think. Or is it just me? Second booklet: birth control, childbirth, and raising children.     Third booklet:  parenting skills in regards to children’s sexuality; fourth: self-examination of breasts and genitals (I assume for STDs and breast cancer); final booklet: sexual pleasure. And of course, there were outcries against this kind of literature being distributed. In the compilation of the last book especially the authors say there was “a concerted attempt…to avoid the presentation of ready-made recipes, or the imposition of new patterns of right and wrong…the aim is to instill in each woman respect for her own experiences and values, and for those that differ from hers” (Mohanty et al 1991:161). They say the reception to the program was “enthusiastic.” With the leadership’s withdrawal from the program, the meetings continue with the participants. The booklets generated discussion and have been circulated to many small women’s groups. The program definitely challenges the usual hierarchical approach of development programs with poor third world women as beneficiaries: that of survival needs like food, shelter, or “bread first.”
    I think that the point of this essay: to give individual women some agency over their pregnancies is a start towards having some control over their lives. They do not have to remain victims of the system, but can seek to change the conditions in which they live, and this could reasonably begin with control over the number of children they are willing and able to nurture.

Women in Jamaica’s Urban Informal Economy: Insight from a Kingston Slum by Faye V. Harrison p 173-196
    This is a telling essay about the conditions in a Jamaican slum, how the conditions of post-colonization and globalization affect the women, and how the women have been able to adapt to those adverse conditions. “The West Indian legacy of colonialism and imperialism is the world’s oldest and possibly the world’s hardest” (Mohanty et al. 1991:173). Harrison focuses on the poor Afro-Creole women of Jamaica. Gender inequality, race and class oppression, and the roots of colonial oppression are the themes that Harrison wishes to treat by offering “a perspective on the positions occupied and roles played by women within what is sometimes called the ‘informal economy’ of urban Jamaica” (Mohanty et al. 1991:173).
    In this discussion Harrison “attempts to elucidate and provide a context for understanding important facets of the everyday lives and struggles of those women who occupy the lowest strata of the Jamaican class structure: women who represent some of the most marginal segments of the working class and petty bourgeoisie” (Mohanty et al.1991:174). She shows how the economic super exploitation of women in the Caribbean is directly related to the location of the Caribbean on the periphery of the world capitalist system and the disparities that location causes in distribution between genders. “Third World women represent a cheaper than cheap segment of the international work force” (Mohanty et al. 1991:174).
    Since the economic crisis years of the 1970s and 1980s there has been growth in the informal economic sector in urban areas; this includes street vendors and those that make their livelihood selling “ganja” or Jamaican marijuana! This activity is a response to the instability of employment and/or underemployment of many in Jamaica, in part caused by the surplus of labor. These informal economic activities enable the big corporations to maintain low labor costs, as the informal economy does its share of supporting the people with goods and services. Most women who sell are involved with the sale of domestic type goods: food, clothing, etc, not high priced items of luxury but everyday necessities.
    There are twice as many unemployed women partaking in the informal economy as men (179). There are differences in the way that men and women go about producing, reproducing, and distributing, and the markets they appeal to. Women tend to choose items of subsistence for household consumption, where men choose to barter in commodities (180). Another area of social differentiation in gender is in social networks, which are fluid and diffuse and act as a basis in informal exchange (182). “Sexual or gender inequality represents an essential and integral feature of social relations and cultural construction in Jamaica” (188).

Women and Crime in the United States by Juanita Diaz-Cotto p 197-211
    Why are increasing numbers of women arrested since the 1960s? Diaz-Cotto wishes to show in her essay that “economic, social, and political forces which shape women’s lives…may lead to their increasing arrest and incarceration” (Mohanty et al 1991:197). Further, she believes that some of these women are actually doing other women a favor by challenging “the limited roles and opportunities available to women in general”(197). In order to make her arguments, she gives a history of women’s prison reform, and discusses the events that led to the separation of prisoners by gender.           
    Women’s Prison Reform – “During the 1820s, Protestant women prison reformers in the United States” (197), visited prisoners with the intention of “saving” them, or converting them to Christian ways. Instead they found conditions so horrid for the women (and sometimes their children) that they began to offer services to the women. Services mentioned by Diaz-Cotto were sewing, writing, job skills classes such as secretarial, and the opening of halfway houses for released women prisoners that also offered help in finding legal means of support (finding a job).
    The push from these Christian women reformers was for all women’s prisons, where the training and rehabilitation could happen in an intertwined way. That is with women as guards, women administrators, and women in all areas of contact with the prisoners. Not just any women, but white middle to upper class women, with Christian ethics and ability to teach the wayward prison women to become solid citizens and realize their place as “ladies” among the populace. This would be in contrast to impoverished white or women of color being placed in leadership rolls.
    Profile of Women in Prison – Diaz-Cotto gives a “sociodemographic profile of incarcerated women” (Mohanty et al 1991:199) in yearly increments. Then, she looks at three specific years: 1965, 1978, and 1984 as to types of crimes committed and the changes in those proportions over time. This statistical study of today’s women prisoners could be used as a way of predicting those women most likely to be arrested, and the trends in type of offense committed. Firstly, a division by race, then a division by socioeconomics, then a breakdown of offense types by gender.
    The whole point of showing all the statistics is that there was a misconception that the women’s movement and the subsequent uncertainty of women’s rolls in society has been blamed for the rise of crimes committed by women, and also blamed as causing women to become more violent in respect to the crimes committed. The statistics do not show a trend towards more violent crimes. Instead there is a distinct move towards crimes that violate the self as in prostitution, a clear indication of lessening economic stability and marginalization of women. Most women that are arrested are not active feminists, so how can their movement away from normal, legally acceptable occupations of women be caused by the women’s movement?

Part 3: National Liberation and Sexual Politics

Women’s Equality and National Liberation by Angela Gilliam p 215-236
    Gilliam begins, “One of the major challenges for those people concerned with women’s equality is the development of a unifying theoretical focus that connects local concerns with national and international issues” (Mohanty et al 1991:215). What is necessary, she says (and other authors in this volume agree) is that there has to be a way to let in or “incorporate the previously excluded” (215) thus to become more human. Her essay examines “national liberation and women’s equality” from the viewpoint of the “previously excluded” (Mohanty et al 1991:215). Women outside the privileged perspective may have different issues that are more important and this she seeks to show. The women’s liberation movement in the US has been mainly a struggle for equal access for women in the US.
    What else should it be I wonder? Well according to most of the women in this book, it should encompass more than the inhabitants of your own country especially when US feminists travel to other countries for the purpose of forwarding the feminist agenda. A problem arises when they are preaching about equality and equal access, and the choir needs food and shelter, or access to health care, or more sex, or less. Something that US feminists may not think is important, but those they seek to enlist, do.
    For instance in Africa, Gilliam refers to African Americans and their rallying around nationalism as a central theme in civil rights “sometime based on a longing to find African kings and queens in the African past” (216). In other words their focus is the search for roots embedded in royalty, a way to define whom they are in the present. And has more to do with cultural self-value than equality between gender or economic issues.
    The US feminist movement transforms men into enemies according to Gilliam, which allows the spokeswomen of the organization to avoid confronting the issue of women oppressing other women (216-217).
    Another problem of the US feminist movement is that it allows the argument for sexualism to take center stage. That is the argument that the rights of women to choose their sexual partners and practices, and the rights to orgasms is the most important issue. Logically, we would know this is not even important in the slightest, as it is self- indulgent in the extreme. Gilliam notes that for sexuality to be important it “must be tied to the political and the economic; otherwise women set themselves up for another kind of domination” (217). She says “it is my position that the global class question must be central in the struggle for the world’s resources, goods, and services, and that women’s equality should be defined within this overall struggle” (217), adding that it is hard to avoid sexualism in our culture because sex is used to market all kinds of products to us on a non-stop basis.
    Another focus of US feminists has been the practice of clitoridectomy and infibulation of female gentalia, which on the surface of it is a good rallying point for opposing female oppression. Gilliam says that the problem for this is the continued hammering of the point to obsession, the ways in which US feminist presenters of the facts refer to the practice as barbaric and backward (as opposed to modern, forward progressive, and better western practices). And she points out that there is exoticization of the practice that draws more attention to it, which then relegates to the background other issues that may be more oppressive, like for instance the economic woes caused by the exploitation of third world female labor by multinational corporations (218-219). “Multinational companies oppose national liberation movements because they challenge a status quo that is in the interest of big business” (220). Gilliam points out there is a direct link between national corporations, the resources of a country, oppression of women, and national liberation movements (220). 

Sexuality and Sexual Politics: Conflicts and Contradictions for Contemporary Women in the Middle East by Evelyne Accad p 237-250
    “Sexuality seems to have a revolutionary potential so strong that many political women and men are afraid of it” (Mohanty et al 1991:237). This next chapter is about the dismissing of the importance of sexuality in preference for more obvious causes of inequality such as “class inequalities, hunger, poverty, lack of job opportunities” (237). However, Accad’s thesis is that “sexuality is much more central to social and political problems in the Middle East than previously thought, and that unless a sexual revolution is incorporated into political revolution, there will be no real transformation of social relations” (237). So, the focus of this chapter is pretty opposite to the previous one. However, her definition of sexuality is more a description of familial love and intimacy than one of the sexual act between consenting adults. The way in which we treat one another at home is the foundation for relations later in life. The focus becomes minute in scope, down to the level of individual relations, different from sexual freedoms that other authors promote.
    In my opinion, if women keep their attention on their families, they will continue to be subjected to exploitation and subjugation. However, the premise of the essay is a good one. It is only logical that between members of your closest relations, that healthy and positive interaction with them will promote healthy and positive outlooks on life by all involved. This is where I see Bourdieu’s habitus and cultural capital come in to play. We are reflections of past experiences; why not make those experiences good rather than horrid and fearful. That a good healthy well-rounded childhood be a foundation for a good healthy well-rounded adulthood only seems reasonable. Respect those within the family, be positive and encouraging in your discourse, and the foundation will be laid.
    When so much attention goes to other members of the immediate family, we are unlikely to be wary of what goes on outside the family, in the structural functioning of the society, acting towards the extraction of tithe from the productivity and resources of the family. Those on top do not care about the individual. And women always care about the individual. This is a conundrum for women who believe they should be able to get ahead on their merits. To get ahead one must exploit other’s labor. This works, as you will see, because so many are unable to set up a schedule for themselves that they will stick to. A manager must step in to regulate the individual’s productive capacity. If this were not so, everyone would be self-employed. Why subject yourself to the exploitation of others? Because we are looking for security, and we cannot always provide that for ourselves because we are not self-regulating. Other events interfere with the best intentions, the family and care of members of the family, and care of ourselves gets in the way.
    By extension of the love of family would come nationalism – “belief and love in one’s country” and that should manifest in respect and love as within the family, rather than of possession, which is damaging to family relations. With the focus of the chapter on the Middle East, Accad says that here “nationalism and feminism have never mixed very well. Women have been used in national liberation struggles…only to be sent back to their kitchens after ‘independence’ was gained” (238).
    Accad has attended several conferences on feminism and discussion of third world feminist viewpoints and says that many arguments break out over the rifts in what the major issues are. In the Middle East, Accad believes the central issues are sexual in nature, embedded within the relationships of family members. At one conference in Tunisia, it was clear that issues of sexuality were not discussed openly but taboo topics. If they were not spoken of, how could any problems concerning them be addressed? Essentially, women, as girls are taught to reject the pleasures of the body. The female body is sacrificed on an alter of guilt. The body, the self is not something to love. Women of the Middle East grow up with and are aware of the suffering of those women who surround them and precede them. The women grow up with self-hatred that is expressed through gossip and jealousy (241-242).
    So for Accad “it seems obvious that if sexuality is not incorporated into the main feminist and political agenda, the struggles for freedom will remain on a very superficial level” (243). 

Gender and Islamic Fundamentalism: Feminist Politics in Iran by Nayereh Tohidi p 251-265
    An enlightening story about how Iranian feminists helped put Khomeini in power, thus making conditions worse for themselves, not exactly the result they were working towards. Tohidi writes of this phenomenon in the history of Iranian women activists. In 1979, there was opposition to the Shah and the desire to end his tyrannical rule. The replacement for the Shah was to be Khomeini, a spiritual leader. Women of various walks of life risked their safety to protest against the Shah. As Khomeini took over leadership of Iran, the cultural items that Iranian women activists thought they were fighting for slowly eroded away, leaving them in worse shape economically and less equal than before!
    Of those rules and laws that have changed to worsen the daily lives of women there are: the requirement to wear the veil, and to cover the body completely (Islamic Hejab); sex segregated public areas including schools and universities; prohibition of married women attending school (!); legal marriage age for girls lowered from 18 to 13 to 9(!); the legalization of a type of marriage that involves payment and can last for just a few minutes – ahem! That’s prostitution; women cannot seek divorce, if the husband divorces her – she looses the children (!); abortion is illegal; “women convicted of adultery are stoned to death” (Mohanty et al 1991:254); and the worth of a woman is equal to half that of a man. Some women support the Islamic Republic of Khomeini, Tohidi questions why, as she asks why women do not protest the wearing of the veil as well as other restrictions on their gender. Another question she has is that of equal suffering because of subjugating treatment by all Iranian women across class boundaries.
    Tohidi explains the support of women for Khomeini to replace the Shah as a series of assumptions on the women’s part that ended up being incorrect. The beginning of problem solving for women began with the process of modernization and the move towards capitalist development. These economic dynamics were beneficial only to upper class strata. At the lower class levels capitalism and Westernization extracted benefits from shopkeepers, artists, and traders, causing them economic distress. So adverse were the mechanisms of modernization that the Shah supported and pushed forward, that traditionalism looked really good. Khomeini was the embodiment of tradition. Khomeini would lead the country away from modernization and Westernization and let them return to the old economics that were beneficial to them.
    Well, Khomeini’s traditionalism went much further than was anticipated and the new traditions are backed up with physical force.

Part 4. Race, Identity, and Feminist Struggles

The Construction of the Self in U.S. Latina Autobiographies by Lourdes Torres p 271-287
    Beginning with a critique of publishing houses berating them for not publishing Latina writers, Torres talks about how some publishers (USA and Latino) have come to their senses and now selectively publish. Also, there are some small independent presses now offering the Latina writing that she must prefer. This essay compares three Latina autobiographies for content, style, and sexual preference. Two authors are lesbian, and two form a mother and daughter team in writing the autobiographies that are a new form of writing genre mixing poetry, personal history, and myth in non-chronological presentation as well as “essays, sketches, short stories, poems, and journal entries” and “challenge traditional notions about the genre of ‘autobiography’ in their form and their content” (272), the traditional autobiography being orderly and chronological.
    The three readings she compares are: Loving in the War Years: Lo Que Nunca Pasó Por Sus Labios by Cherríe Moraga, Getting Home Alive by Aurora Levins Morales and Rosario Morales, and Borderlands/La Frontera by Gloria Anzaldúa. There is also the mixture of language used in the new autobiography: Spanish, English, and “Spanglish” (272). What we get out of a critical reading of these texts is a new way of exploring “the question of identity and the presentation of the self” although “complicated by the problematic of the fragmented, multiple identity” (273). Readers must tease out that identity from the text. Identity politics is an important component of this essay. Torres points out (275) the importance of stressing “what identity politics means to these authors. All recognize that the most radical, activist politics develop when one comes to understand the dynamics of how one is oppressed and how one oppresses others in her daily life.” Only then will a connection with, and an understanding of oppressed peoples become possible. 

Socialist Feminism: Our Bridge to Freedom by Nelly Wong p 288-296
    This one is whacked out. Says that socialism is the only way that women will have rights and equality. Says that global capitalism is the force that is taking away rights, services, and privileges in third world countries, and that third world women are the ones who bear the brunt of the oppression caused by changing economic conditions.
    Factory workers in South Korea work in poor conditions of long hours without breaks with wages that won’t buy a days food. For the production of modern western style goods, the slavish life of a factory worker goes unnoted. The manufacture of electronic goods, textiles, and shoes are their main export using a mainly female workforce. Author Nellie Wong urges these workers to unite in a worker’s revolution. Without workers these factories would cease to exist.
    Factory proprietors own all the equipment and make the deals that allow workers to make wages. Without the owners or managers, the work would not exist. If you have ever tried to manage your own business you know how hard it is to collect payment in some instances. However, for Nellie Wong, the answer is feminist socialism, which she calls the bridge to freedom. Wong seems to think that power would be distributed more evenly, and no woman would be left out be it because of “race, class, sexuality, age, or disability” (290).
    Wong says, “Our oppression as workers is rooted in the capitalist system” (292). Conditions are not the same around the world. She goes on “We have been subjected to humiliations and brutalities unknown to most whites or even to men of color” (293). So for this author, racism, sexism, and exploitation in the workplace must be tackled simultaneously, and that feminism must be open minded and take all situations into account to be successful in overcoming subversion. The way to do this is through socialist feminism to make the world right for everyone, equal access, and opportunity for those who are interested in developing their cultural capital, because they certainly won’t be making any excess economic capital for their efforts.  

“We Cannot Live Without Our Lives”: White Women, Antiracism, and Feminism by Ann Russo p 297-313
    This chapter is by a white, United Statesian, (woman) feminist, who says that race is not a topic of major concern within the dialogue of western feminism, and that it should be. She ends up admitting that she is a lesbian after a particularly enlightening feminist conference where those in charge of the conference were white women and definitely wanted to keep control of the conference in content while giving lip service to other agendas.
    While Russo has good intentions with this paper: to say that all women should be equally represented and given agency through participation in women’s feminist conferences such as the one which she was involved – the “Common Differences” conference, the language of the plea breaks down into a guilt ridden monolog essentially expressing the belief that all white women behave in the same goal oriented manner in the desire to maintain control over situations, and do not want to allow other dialogs into the equation. In other words, white women all seek to maintain status through control over institutions such as the academic conference. So for Russo, it is all about white women giving up their power. They need to learn to share the power.

Common Themes, Different Contexts: Third World Women and Feminism
by Cheryl Johnson-Odim p 314-327
    As a close to the volume, there are basic issues that Johnson-Odim wishes to address. One is that indeed western feminism has correctly located its focus of resistance in that “the oppression of impoverished and marginalized Euro-American women is linked to gender and class relations,” while the struggles for Third World women are most likely different (314). And there is the perception by Third World women that “the feminism emerging from white, middle-class Western women narrowly confines itself to a struggle against gender discrimination” (315). Gender discrimination alone cannot address the problems that Third World women face. There is the “problem of extending the definition of feminism” to make it relevant to both worlds of women (315). Johnson-Odim sees the problem of two distinct feminisms resulting from the 1970s push by Western feminists to take the movement international. The third world was just beginning to emerge from colonialism, and the west from its own civil rights movement. 
    The Western feminist women’s movement has the funds and the time to make some of the cultural changes come to fruition that are necessary for a more egalitarian existence for people. “We must discontinue reproducing our own oppression in the ways we treat one another, in the ways we raise our children, in our misdiagnosis or half-definition of the problem” (326).


    I did an overview of each chapter first so I could read through them and pick out unifying themes. The themes that seem to be represented throughout the volume are the fracturing of the focus of feminism, the Western dominance of the feminist program and agenda, and differences in desired end results of struggle, (or why struggle?). If we think about the title of the first chapter and the poem presented first, there is the suggestion that the location or origin of the feminism will have everything to do with its perceived goals. This is not how Western feminists approached women in other contexts, located in other cartographies. Instead they assumed relationship through the category of gender. According to authors and speakers from the Third World that have experienced the conditions there, the assumptions by Western feminist discourse have been shown to be off target.
    Other authors point out limitations in perception. Barbara Smith in her discussion on Black lesbian representations and how those authors though all averring to represent the same relationship between lesbian women and those women in relationship to society, result in different messages and varying reality according to the authors experience with the subject (their location within the discourse).
    In Barroso and Bruschini’s Brazilian study, their approach was to go “grass roots” to stay away from controlling every aspect of the study, to let the “subjects” direct the study and subsequent project. Their write-up made their attempt to keep the guidance to a minimum, and allow active input and participation sound like there were some avenues to plausible solutions to problems that did not require total domination by Westerners.
    Harrison’s descriptions and analysis of life in Jamaica’s Kingston slum, showed the resistance to economic strife and political and gender domination and the resilience of Jamaican women to adverse conditions.
    Women in Iran protested domination by the Shah, only to have him replaced by a more insidious and pernicious form of domination of their women’s rights through the religiously represented domination of Khomeini, and the loss of some of the gains they had made forcing them into a worse position.
    A chapter about women’s crime in the US shows that previous attempts to blame the increase in women’s criminal activity as well as the increase in violence in women’s criminal activity on the women’s feminist movement, to be totally false. Author Juanita Diaz-Cotto shows the inconstancies of fact with empirical evidence in the form of statistics, to show that while there may be an increase in women’s crimes, statistical evidence shows that they are not more violent, and are more related to changing economic conditions for the marginalized portions of society, which points to a more realistic reason for the increase, as economic need caused by declining economic conditions.
    In Lourdes Torres piece on the comparison of three Latina autobiographies, she shows how Latin women are redefining themselves in a constructive and creative way through writing. At this point you can see how diverse the subjects are in this volume. But the underlying theme is one of construction of the other using invalid assumptions as the foundation for the discourse. Educated Western feminist scholars must be aware of their dominating tendencies, and to make an effort not to force their own agendas on others.   

Mohanty, Chandra Talpade, Anne Russo, and Lourdes Torres Eds.
1991    Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism. Indianapolis: University of Indiana Press         

Copyright © 2010 all rights reserved Victoria Kline victoriakline.com
last updated on October 9, 2010