By Vaishnavi Varanasy
WHAT IS WESTERN FEMINISM?
For most of its history, feminist movements and the theories which had been coined as a result were predominantly centered around middle-class white women who grew up in societies influenced by British traditions and educational standards. The crux of their feminism was created upon their personal experiences which were then used to weave political theories. While western and intersectional feminism is two sides of the same coin, western feminism excludes the voices of BIPOC women while dismissing the integration of imperialism, race, homophobia, and social class.
This is an issue because gendered analysis of issues within feminism is seen as independent under western feminism. While it’s true these issues are distinct and change according to demographics, the scope in which feminist philosophers view them is too narrow. This is harmful because it not only stalls the solutions of these issues, but it dismisses the structural and systematic that women of all nationalities face.
Although the women coining these theories are disadvantaged amongst society for their gender, their privilege in race and class offers them resources to share their voices with the world which many women from Eastern and Oriental societies were not given. Therefore, the voices of only a select group of women were heard, seen as modern and empowered, and were somewhat respected while the individuals viewing this were predominantly exposed to the feminism these women practiced. The voices of other women were ex- included, therefore they “didn’t exist” in this dogma set by women in the western world– overall, this led to a disconnect.
Alternative feminisms had been brought up by women of other ethnic backgrounds, however, western feminism was seen as the epitome of feminism- in other words, it a lens the majority of white feminism activists and the people they were preaching to, perceived feminism. It was not that BIPOC communities were not advocating for the essential, lest watered-down definition of feminism we were all taught– equal rights. It was that these voices were regarded as an afterthought. When they were heard (if at all), their Western sisters supported their campaigns in lieu of rethinking the groundwork of their own theories. This also adds to the white savior complex overdrew by Western education systems.
While these alternative feminisms had always been proposed through history, they were most notable after the Civil War with the most popular theories being “Post-colonial” and “Third World” feminisms. Prof. Chandra Talpade Mohanty and black feminists (e.g. Angela Davis) were critical of Western Feminism due to its ethnocentrism. [insert definition]
Postcolonial feminism and third-world feminism are tied together due to the concurring time period, and it too is critical of western feminism. Feminist writer Nadje Al-Ali defines postcolonial feminism as “characterised by a series of transitions, a multiplicity of processes and developments towards decolonisation and de-centring of the ‘West’”. The aim of postcolonial feminism (especially in the 20th century) was to decolonize the legacies of western feminism and de-center the eurocentric perspectives that had created western feminism. Postcolonial feminism bridged the gap between these perspectives and the rest of the world and addressed how the concerns of feminism changed in correspondence to the groups they affect- e.g. while one concern of western feminism may be sexism in the workplace, that may not hold true for other countries. To sum it up, postcolonial feminism does not see feminism as a determinate standard.
Postcolonial feminism is a branch of intersectional feminism because it apprehends the different forms of equality (e.g. unpaid domestic duties, domestic violence, the objectification of women in pornography) while looking at it through numerous lenses. It reminds us that the overall goal of feminism is to unify.