WOMEN’S/HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE NEW IMPERIAL GLOBALISM
Written for the International Conference, “A Feminist Perspective
on Human Rights and the New Global Order”, Seoul, Korea,Ewha
Woman’s University, October 2003.
Prof. Zillah Eisenstein
Ithaca, New York, U.S. A.
NOTE: This address is written in the spirit of opening up and
unraveling some beloved feminist constructs–like women’s rights–
used across the globe today. I write out of the activist
struggles of women for the last quarter century for `us’; for
those already engaged in global politics and wondering what is
next. So this a particular forum: women already committed to
building a network that GENEROUSLY reaches and stretches across
differences in order to think/act in newly BRILLIANT ways. If
we, the big `we’ can do this, feminisms will become the `really
real’ democratic promise of this decade.
I wish to apologize for not being able to write and speak in
Korean. I have written this talk trying to take into account the
problem of translation–words like gender, patriarchy, misogyny,
etc. are often not easily translatable. Words that I use like
glocal–for noting the simultaneous presence of global and local
sites; and polyversal–my term to connote the differences that
exist within any unity (as opposed to universal) may cause
Thank you so very much for inviting me to participate in
this discussion. I hope that our dialogue may assist me in
furthering my understanding of Korean women’s activism as part of
the larger global community.
Sections of this talk are taken from my forthcoming book,
Against Empire; feminisms, race and fictions of `the’ West
(London: Zed Press, 2004).
THINKING/SEEING IN IMPERIAL MOMENTS
How does one speak at this particular moment–during the U.S.
wars of/on `terror’–in 2003 in Korea, for women and girls, to
encompass a just globe for people of all colors, yellow, black
and brown? My head fills with cacophonous noise. I must first 2
try to clear some space from within which we can hear and see one
another, across our power-differences, through our invested
visors, in-between the locations of displacement, fear and hope.
I ask us to try and `really’ think, with each other.
Thinking means being able to grasp the ways moments and their
structures of power change while language and naming and seeing
often get in the way. I say this as I try to let go…and as I
also must hold on. For me understanding the STRUCTURES of
transnational capitalist racialized patriarchy are totally
necessary for feminist politics and also completely incomplete.
Why? Because each of us negotiates this maze through our
cultural identities which individualize and specify meaning. We
must try to identify and occupy these unstable sites. Mine is a
hard site to see from. The imperial visors of the U.S. make it
harder to see humanity in its inclusivity.
I want to clarify my use of the phrase of racialized
patriarchy. When I first included this phrase in my title my
hosts said that because racism does not exist in Korea that I
could omit this from my talk. But my response is that racism–the
differentiating of colors from white privilege and the
hierarchical power-filled meanings given to color is part of the
global economy. Racism travels from `the’ West to places
elsewhere and therefore must be understood as part of the present
imperial system of globalism. Even if it is not indigenous to
Korea–and I do not know enough here–, no place remains untouched
by global capital which has always been racialized by black,
brown, and yellow bodies from the start.
I will travel from my female body, to family and nation and
globe through the racialized gender meanings and power-locations
of women’s and girl’s lives today. As a woman with white skin of
the Ashkinaze Jew, living in the United States, this is not
completely possible, and yet I will push as hard as I can to do
Instead of a `new world order’ I expose the chaos that
exists for me. In the hopes of speaking an antiracist/colonialist feminism I will explore the difficulties posed
for women and girls across the globe as we face new/old forms of
racialized patriarchy operating at the behest of transnational
The brilliance of feminisms in their plural form–that they
must start with the self, the personal, the body, and work
outwards, beyond the self to the shared meaning of this starting
point–our bodies which function as SIGNS before we have been
allowed to give them our own personal/individual meaning. One
becomes a feminist as one recognizes the shared meaning of being
female in the world; however one constructs the `idea’ of being a
female in one’s individual body it stands counter to a prescribed
enforced meaning of womanhood. If one only sees oneself, in 3
singular fashion, there is no knowing that `we’, as female
bodies, share a similar location of being women, defined in and
through patriarchal regimes and practices that ascribe us meaning
other than what we are and think ourselves to be. Seeing
similarity means that we can see through the varieties of
ascribed and chosen meanings to this shared–but not identical–
The similarities are not unified or equivalent to sameness.
Women are both similar and different; similarly different and
differently similar. Race and economic class differentiate us
while they also point to our similarity: girls and women are the
poorest of the poor.
Because the globe is NOT a village; because the powerful
monoculture of transnational capital makes it so hard to speak,
or see, or hear each other, inside the nation, or across and
beyond it/them; because the environment is being degraded along
with our bodies, I will travel to the cyberenvirons of the filthy
rich back to the extreme poverty of women of all colors hauling
water, working at computer terminals, living in refugee camps,
and leading anti-war movements.
And I will ask you to (maybe)
rethink and give up ideas and language which will displace
feminism to new sites in the process. As the dynamics of the
power relations of racialized patriarchy shift so must our
viewing and our naming of them–to sites of war, to antiglobalization demonstrations, to women struggling for their new
Let us try and `really’ think depsite the `real fakes’ of
the cyber globe. Let us try and move towards a `really’ real
feminism which initiates a truly democratic globe for 2000.
RETHINKING FEMINISMS IN 2003
Feminisms, depending upon how they are defined, have been
around for as long as women have existed. They take different
forms and shapes, and can have cacophonous soundings. Much like
democracy itself, feminism is often wrongly equated with `the’
West, or rather western women. Now in the aftermaths of Sept.
11, 2001 it is more urgent than ever to recognize the polyvocal
articulations of feminisms so that they may be threaded back to
their earlier histories and pushed forward towards their more
immediate understandings of freedom and equality.
At this historical moment I look to find more richly
inclusive and expansive understandings of the complexity of
feminisms. In the aftermaths of terrorism in the U.S. it is
important to clarify the multiple meanings of feminism, some of
which are progressive and democratic, some of which are
exclusionary and imperial. The varied faces of women and their
feminisms are my present site for imagining through and beyond 4
the anti-democratic U.S. war of/on `terror’. The context of this
moment defines the contours of feminist possibility.
The possibility of liberatory feminisms emerging at this
time is fraught with difficulty. At first it appeared as though
U.S. mainstream feminism had successfully called world attention
to the Taliban’s horrific treatment of Afghan women. But this
attention was quickly captured by first lady Laura Bush along
with the rest of president Bush’s women helpmates. They took
this post-September 11
moment and appropriated the language of
women’s rights for a right-wing and neoliberal imperial agenda.
Yet, at this same time, there are anti-imperialist feminists
in the U.S. along with women activists elsewhere–some of whom are
self-proclaimed feminists, others not–who seek to democratize the
globe for women and the rest of humanity. This is a moment of
extreme tension between U.S. imperial feminism and all the other
feminisms of the globe which search for liberatory democracy.
I locate my exploration in part at the intersection between
women’s rights as a complicated discourse, and the burqa–the all
encompassing blue body wrap–as a complex symbolic. This is a
site from which to understand the complex power struggle embodied
in the U.S. war against Afghanistan. But first a note of context
is necessary to clear some space for thinking—openly, critically,
historically—in terms of a before and after, September 11, 2001.
September 11, 2001 has not changed everything, as so many in
the U.S. say. It has just made clear how much context,
perspective, and location matter. Suffering and fear have just
not been at center view for too many in the U.S. until now.
Remember that the people of Chile mourn a different September
11th and came to know a constant trauma and grief living under
the U.S. supported terror-filled dictatorship of Augusto
Pinochet. Remember that the U.S. bombed Iraq with tons of
`smart’ bombs in `91. Think across and beyond to the children of
Afghanistan and Iraq who still, this minute, suffer unbearable
poverty. Or, look to the majority of Palestinians and Israelis
who live with daily crises, surrounded by fear and uncertainty
given U.S. support of a minority of fanatics, led by Sharon in
Israel. All the while, the language of freedom and democracy are
used as justification and cover.
It is also vital to remember that: the U.S. economy was in
trouble before September 11, 2001; Boeing was angling for its
defense contract before September 11; the airlines were in
financial trouble before September 11. Also remember the three
thousand people who were murdered on September 11 came from over
sixty different countries. Remember, also, the horrible bombings
in Nigeria and Sudan; the students in high-school then, like my
daughter, who were expected to wear flag pins and would not; the
millions of workers who have lost their jobs since September 11;
the incredible profits being made by the military-industrial 5
complex from the wars of `terror’; that Planned Parenthood has
faced anthrax threats for years; that college campuses are being
targeted as sites of anti-patriotism. Remembering at this moment
is subversive and stands against the erasure of political
Women in the U.S. will not know the truths of women
`elsewhere’ if they do not recognize that women in colonized
countries have struggled for their rights for centuries. Margot
Badran and Miriam Cooke have long recognized the feminists in
Egypt, Algeria, Iraq, Iran, and so on. The notion of a
`sisterhood’ spread across the globe dates back, at least, to the
century. One should just not assume that global means
oneness, or homogeneity here, but rather that awareness and
contact between women, across nations, has a history in the
BEFORE. Early flows, between `the’ East and West due to the
slave-trade and colonialism bespeak an historical dialogue
Global flows are not simply new. Kumari Jayawadena
poignantly documents the role of some western women as anticolonialist. British colonialism in South Asia spoke a
“domination by European males of colonized women”. And some
colonial women did not accede to this process. They instead were
sometimes attracted to “concepts of woman’s power (shakti) in
Hinduism, androgynous duties, female goddesses like Kali and high
status of women in ancient Hindu and Buddhist societies.”
this instance, this historical flow is from East to West.
HUMAN RIGHTS/WOMEN’S BODIES
This is an important, yet difficult moment to intervene in
the discussions surrounding women’s rights as human rights. In
the past two decades human rights have been specified for women
especially in relation to war-rape, and somewhat less
successfully in terms of women’s reproductive needs and refugee
status. At issue is the political saliency of gender–-female
womanhood–as a category from which rights derive. The
unspecified understanding of human rights discourse is that it
derives from western notions of universal individual rights, and
the individual has been silently constructed in masculinist form.
This means that the standard for articulating rights is men and
I have long argued that the notion of individual rights is
problematically universalized in a homogenized form that does not
recognize the specificities of female bodies.
I argue that it
is important to name and articulate the particular needs of
women–embracing the specifics of sexuality and racialized gender–
and articulate the cross-cutting needs of all humans from this
female site. No hu/man is excluded by a standard that includes 6
diversity at its start; whereas all women are excluded by a
standard that homogenizes the male body if the woman is pregnant,
or suffered war-rape, or in need of assist given their
responsibilities as mothers. The specification of differences
through female bodies is more inclusive of the multiplicity of
humanity, than the abstracted universalism which allows
masculinism to silently parade as all encompassing.
It is hard to find a language that is helpful here. Human
is thought to be a more embracing concept than woman because it
supposedly encompasses men AND women. But does it? Clearly it did
not do so when the right to property, or the right to vote was
first initiated. I keep trying to find a language that does not
position women as a more selfish or narrow interest than humanity
in general. After all, when Kofi Anan seeks to address the AIDS
crisis in Africa he says that the U.N. must invest in Africa’s
women and they will then save their communities. The World Bank
as well writes that investments in a country’s women is what
makes the difference for development. What is it about women
that if their lives are bettered the lives of all are bettered
along with them. It is their contextual location that connects
them to communities larger than themselves.
I want to bring center stage the incredible juxtaposition
that girls and women suffer the greatest consequences of this
newly unfolding imperial globalism as a majority of the global
working class, homeless, refugees, rape victims, AIDS patients
AND yet despite these realities women are seen as the mortar that
So I wonder if I should not write about “human rights for
the female body”, or “write humanity into women’s rights”, or
“imagine female bodies for human rights”. I want to use language
here to break the troublesome differentiation between women’s
rights and human rights. A notion of what I term polyversal
humanity begins to allow this dismantling: to see that diverse
beings are part of a notion of cross cultural humanity. And this
notion is not simply western or determined by `the’ West, but is
rather located in the very multiple expressions of how female
bodies make them uniquely human.
WHOSE RIGHTS? AND FOR WHICH WOMEN?
Given the flux and tensions that reside within the sexual
and gendered relations of global capitalism, women are a key part
of the messy political imagery of the times. During the Afghan
war, on any given day women appeared in the news in an
astonishing array of roles: passive burqa-covered creatures,
fighter pilots (although I think there was only one), bereaved
widows of the September 11 carnage, pregnant wives of men who
died in the Towers, Pakistanis holding signs against the war, and 7
Condoleezza Rice, national security adviser to Bush. Rice, a
Black woman, sometimes called the `Warrior Princess’, made her
name while on the board of Chevron oil company and as Provost of
Stanford University where the tenure rate for white women and
African American faculty declined during her tenure.
Other key women players of the Bush administration’s Afghan
war included Victoria Clarke as the hardline Pentagon
spokeswoman, worldwide advertising agent Charlotte Beers, chosen
to overhaul the government’s image abroad, and main Bush aide
Karen Hughes as the coordinator of wartime public relations.
Hughes resigned her post claiming that her family duties must
come first. She would tele-commute instead. This instigated much
talk-show noise of whether (western) women can `really’ have it
all. These women, along with the well-known conservative Mary
Matalin, who is chief political adviser to vice president Dick
Cheney, were in charge of shaping the words and images of the
Afghan war in the U.S.
They were showcased as the movers and shakers of the moment
alongside the grieving mothers and wives of September 11th and
contrasted to the supposedly non-modern women in Afghanistan.
This U.S. showcase masqueraded as a modernized masculinity in
drag. The war-room of Rice, Clarke, and Beers distorts the
symbolic of power. They shore up white patriarchy for global
capital by making it look gender and race-neutral. Of course
they represent change, but for themselves, not the rest of women
either inside or outside the U.S. Coreene Swealty Palm, bomber
pilot of an F-14, spoke about her love of flying even while
dropping bombs, which were simply a misfortune of war. Again, the
United States looks egalitarian in terms of its women. In
reality, the military simply resexes its masculinist privilege
for a few.
This distortion became even more corrupt as these women of
the Bush administration supposedly spoke on behalf of women in
Afghanistan and their “deplorable conditions” under Taliban rule.
Mary Matalin ignored the facts that in 1979 Jimmy Carter played
an important role in the destabilization of the very government
that brought significant gains to Afghan women: literacy, medical
services, prohibition of the bride price, and so forth. This
secular government, the Progressive Democratic Party of
Afghanistan (PDPA) is credited with promoting the welfare and
liberation of women. And it is this socialist government that the
CIA targeted and overthrew through its earlier support of bin
Women become easy barter here. First their successes are
smashed by U.S. policy, and then they are used in their smashed
existence to justify yet another war on their behalf.
Laura Bush who had never spoken on behalf of women’s rights
before found her voice in order to mobilize women for the Afghan
war. She delivered the president’s weekly radio address—a first 8
for a first lady—in order to speak in defense of women’s rights
in Afghanistan. She said that the Taliban’s treatment of women
“is not a matter of legitimate religious practice,” that the
plight of women and children is a matter of “deliberate human
cruelty.” She further stated that the “brutal oppression of women
is a central goal of the terrorists” and is a clear picture of
“the world the terrorists would like to impose on the rest of
But I wonder about the impetus of the administration’s
targeted focus on women and its real commitments, when women’s
rights have never been a priority of U.S. foreign policy.
It made no sense for Laura Bush to have thousands of school
uniforms sent to Afghanistan as soon as the Taliban were deposed
while most children were starving and too hungry to concentrate
on school work. More recently, as disorder and pillage have
returned to Afghanistan despite the so-called end of the war,
many schools have been closed again. But we have heard nothing
further from Ms. Bush on behalf of women and children. She has
remained silent as have the other women of the war room in spite
of the return of draconian measures enforced on women by the
The U.S.“war on terrorism” exacerbated misery, starvation
and homelessness for most Afghan women despite breaking the
Taliban’s hold on the country. The U.S. public is told that the
Taliban is gone, but religious zealots are still in charge.
Afghanistan is ruled by thuggery; Osama bin Laden remains alive
in hiding; the Northern Alliance has not improved the economy;
U.S. troops remain but they are not remembered much of the time.
It is unforgivable to have used women’s rights as a pawn in the
Afghan war while increasing human suffering, and then forget to
remember women’s rights once again.
It is worth noting that although U.S. foreign policy has
never made the conditions of women’s
betterment a key concern, our first ladies
often speak on behalf of women in other
countries. Hillary Clinton was well known for
traveling abroad to speak for women’s rights
in Africa and India. Yet here at home, she
never chose to speak as a feminist or develop
a women’s rights agenda.
Bush administration women do the same. Many speak negatively
of feminism, and none have spoken on behalf of a domestic women’s
rights agenda. Neither do they seek to deal with issues like
women prisoners, welfare mothers, accessible day care, or
reproductive health. None has shown outrage at the religious
fundamentalists who bomb and kill women in U.S. abortion clinics.
None has spoken out against the terror of domestic violence. I am
uneasy with an imperial women’s rights agenda spoken for others
while it is not used as a critique for our own lives here at 9
I am also critical of a women’s rights campaign which
chooses to ignore the numerous worldwide women’s organizations
speaking on behalf of women in these countries as well as the
post-Beijing global network working toward women’s equality. The
Bush administration women should have brought attention to these
initiatives that are local and homegrown instead of appropriating
these struggles for `the’ West and its exclusionary version of
democracy. Nowhere did the Bush agenda address the health of
Afghan women, most of whom still are at great risk for radiation
poisoning due to the depleted uranium in the bombs the U.S.
Instead, these very bombs were justified by women’s
The insider women of the Bush administration should caution
feminists across the globe of the limits and risks involved in
insider status. Much has been made of the importance and
difference that women can make from the inside, because they
remain in part always outsiders given their gender. But I am not
so sure. Although the main critique of the FBI’s deficiencies in
responding to information leading up to Sept. 11 was leveled by a
woman, Coleen Rowley, her criticism was not of the agency per se,
but individuals within it. I am not sure that Anita Hill is
right when she says that Rowley had “insider status and outsider
Rowley rose within a male dominated institution
despite being female and used these very same skills which
allowed her to advance to criticize what she saw as inefficient
bureaucratic bumbling. In her bombshell memo she asks that the
FBI update and restructure itself for the changing times.
Globalization and more porous national borders requires a
more modern FBI. I might say that Rowley just did a better job
than her bosses at modernizing a nation-state apparatus for a
global militarist stance. She saw the need for `modernizing’ an
anachronistic system; and is the insider par excellence in this
instance. Maybe women are better at change and seeing the need
for it. Clearly, most of the women in these high status leagues
use their talents as women–adaptability and multi-tasking–to
sustain institutions that are structurally misogynist. These
women are not embracing democracy but rather seek to reform
institutions which wreak havoc on much of the world. What this
portends for women on the outside, and for Afghan women as they
enter Afghan politics is fraught with tension.
exist for women in so-called post-war Iraq as they lose more and
more of their freedoms.
We must look elsewhere to find an honest embrace of
democratic imaginings for women, like the “Proposal for UN
Women’s Strategies for Civil Conflict Resolution” drawn up by the
Ugandan women’s delegation. The declaration asks for an end to
all terrorism and a worldwide culture of tolerance, for better 10
conflict resolution and de-escalation of conflict, for an
elimination of rich and poor, that each life be accorded the same
human rights as all others, for the creation of a World Security
Council of Women, and for the elimination of all forms of
discrimination against women. The delegation asks the world to
embrace the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which presumes
global pluralism and diversity. A twelve-point statement
committed to peace was e-mailed to individual women and women’s
organizations all around the globe. Over a thousand people and
organizations responded and endorsed the twelve points for
Earlier, on October 30, 2000, the United Nations
Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1325, which
states that “all actors negotiating peace agreements need to
adopt a gender perspective which recognizes the special needs of
women and girls.”
It is significant that the Bush
administration women do not speak on behalf of these
international women’s groups but rather as women of `the’ West.
Women in the aftermath of September 11 are captured as both
actors and passive receptors of historical moments. And there is
little clarity of what a democratic and freely chosen femaleness
and womanhood should mean. U.S. policy spoke against the
Taliban’s mistreatment of women at this historical juncture, but
condoned it earlier. The United States also supports Saudi
Arabia, Egypt, and Pakistan, which all regularly violate women’s
So what exactly is U.S. foreign policy toward women’s
rights, the very rights that the United States parlays as central
to so-called Western democracy? At least one senior
administration official early on in “the war on terrorism” said
that the United States could not make women’s rights a part of
the post-Taliban package because we have to be careful not to
look like we are imposing our values on them.
The official went on to say that the championing of women’s
rights goes well with a domestic audience, but that we must be
careful how it sounds abroad. But who exactly is this official
thinking of here? Hundreds of thousands of women as well as men,
abroad, applaud the rights of women. Afghan women were active
contributors and participants in everyday life before the
Taliban. The Afghan 1964 Constitution guaranteed equal rights and
the vote for women; and four women were elected to parliament
during this Soviet run period. As well, 70 percent of school
teachers and 50 percent of civilian government workers were
women. And by some readings of the Qur’an, it too gave women
rights of inheritance and divorce before Western women had such
The anti-Taliban Northern Alliance even had a female
lobbyist in Washington and a position paper on women’s rights,
despite criticism by some Afghan women’s groups that the Alliance
has not been a friend to women in the past.
The divide between 11
“us and them” is no simple divide and should not be used to
occlude the similar patriarchal roots/routes of global
capitalism. Also, if U.S. policy makers aggressively think they
have a right to orchestrate aspects of a new Afghan regime, why
exclude women’s rights for fear of seeming too pushy? Obviously,
these western officials do not see women’s human needs as
essential to the transition toward and construction of democracy.
There is no one position on women’s rights to analyze
because the government’s stance has shifted and changed. The
State Department released a report, “The Taliban’s War against
Women,” which stated that “Islam is a religion that respects
women and humanity,” while the “Taliban respects neither.” The
report then advocated a role for women in a post-Taliban Afghan
And although several women became a part of this
new government the government itself has not been able to
establish any semblance of order. President Karzai can travel
nowhere without U.S. body-guards.
In interesting contrast, at home in the U.S., post–September
11 became a very manly moment. The new heroism celebrated the
American male worker, be he firefighter or policeman or welder.
As stated in The New York Times: “The operative word is men:
brawny, heroic, manly men. The male hero expresses the new
selflessness of masculinism. Physical prowess is back in vogue
along with patriotism.”
New York City police, the same police
who have been repeatedly charged with racist violence towards
people of color and the violation of their human rights, embodied
the new heroism.
In the early after-math of Sept. 11 there was little if any
talk of women firefighters, or heroic women in general, for that
Women, who were busy trying to rebuild the lives of
their shattered families while they scrambled to get to their
jobs as well, were shunted to the side—seen only through the veil
of motherhood and wifely duty. There may be a few women in the
Bush White House, but it is men who make the system work. They
are the heroes and patriots. Ironically, amid all this, it is the
Taliban that were viewed as “living in a world without women,”
Sept. 11 ignited a renewal of masculinist patriotism. Jashur
Piar and Amit Rai write of this disciplining of the docile
citizen as a “heteronormative patriotism”. Bin Laden the
terrorist is made into the “monstrous fag”; and anyone who does
not support the war is a fag as well. The “terrorist fag”, as the
“queered other” is “both a product of the anxieties of
heteronormative civilization and a marker of the noncivilized”.
The nation is once again renewed through an
exclusionary, anti-democratic `othering’ which smashes the very
freedom that it supposedly honors. 12
As the globe moves through the beginning of the 21
geographical boundaries shift beneath and around us. Supposedly
information travels anywhere and the globe has shrunk. Time and
space take on new meanings. Present discourse tells us that
capitalism, and with it democracy, have finally triumphed. There
are new levels of poverty and new levels of environmental
degradation and the World Trade Organization continues to
legalize and authorize this process. But I think that this is
not democracy. It rather is massive amounts of freedom for the
privatization of the earth’s resources and its people, with
especially difficult expression for women and girls.
Capitalist racialized patriarchy, not capitalism, is the
universalized system and the naming is significant so it can be
SEEN as such. I need theory in this instance; and theory is not
simply intellectual for me because it is intimately connected to
daily life. Seeing theoretically means seeing the connections
between differences; and through the relationships of our
structural and individual lives. Theorizing racialized patriarchy
allows a viewing of powerful structural relations of masculinist
privilege. Theory allows for a historical memory tied to a
present that is power-filled.
The obscene levels of profits for the rich and upper classes
across the globe should not be allowed to obscure the particular
ways that race and gender are exploited by multicultural
corporatism,`western feminism for export’, and imperial feminism.
These are new forms of corruption that both destabilize and
recode women’s and girls lives. And one should not mistake `the’
feminism for export or imperial feminisms as one and the same as
anti-globalization feminisms in `the’ West. We all need to see
women’s activism, sometimes called feminisms, which are more
multiple and complex given the many identities of women in
locations other than `the’ West.
At this moment of the U.S. war of/on terror we need to see
the complexities of Islamic feminists and their struggles within
religious extremist regimes. Islamic feminists, often seen simply
as western, are misunderstood in their specific struggles both
inside and outside the nations in which they live. `The’ women
in Islam–often defined as an export for global consumption–have
become a new fault-line of struggle between nationalisms that are
inherently patriarchal AND global capital’s smashing of statist
patriarchal controls. Women in Islam, in spite of and because of
their variety, have initiated some of the cross-fire and are also
caught within it.
As well, post-communist feminists throughout Eastern Europe
now suffer the consequences of their various revolutions of `89.
Their commitment to non-patriarchal democratic regimes has been 13
smashed with the harsh realities of their new market economies.
Women in Russia, Bulgaria, the Czech republic, etc. have lost
their jobs AND the state supports of old. The economies work
mainly for transnational capital and the thugs it creates. Women
beggars are common, alongside porn and prostitution. Given all
this it is almost impossible to reclaim the democratic imaginary
for feminism. And many women in Eastern Europe are not sure that
the language of feminism is sufficient for their needs anyway.
Women’s struggles in Algeria, South Africa, Nigeria, Korea,
and China pose enormous variety. Women struggle against the
violence of their political regimes as well as private lives, the
degradation of the poverty created by the policies of the IMF and
World Bank, and famine, and….build communities of women out of
this which also express self-determination for themselves and
their countries. Meanwhile the United Nations says it is
determined to improve the lives of women. But, very often U.N.
initiatives are simply forms of imperialist feminism. Other
times, not. The U.N.’s women’s agenda–IN PART a politics
articulated by women themselves–is not simply of `the’ West
because feminisms have always also had homes `elsewhere’.
Women’s human rights are located with their bodies and not just
with one geographical home. Feminisms’ home is female bodies and
they travel across and through multiple geographical and cultural
Racialized patriarchy is transnational so the language of
east/west; north/south; third world/first world; global/national;
must be thought through THROUGH this reality. The divides, though
real and painful are also not simply divides. They connect
transnational structures defining women/girls lives while
distinguishing them in terms of economic class, cultural meaning
and the privileges of wealth. Racialized patriarchy has
`glocalized’ meanings–local and global simultaneously–and women
across the globe must try and see these realities which are never
represented for these purposes.
Consumer culture is a culture of images and visual
screeenings that are never wholly false, nor simply true. Fantasy
reigns today and it is never in our interests to not seek to find
how our our imaginings are constructed and distorted in this
manner. Bare breasts, veils, lipstick, chadors, blue-jeans,
porn, sati, khaki uniforms, henna, nose-rings, high heels create
fantasized women because there is no one meaning of any of these.
Each practice is local and travels. Deep red lipstick CAN be an
act of defiance in Iran, and simple consumer culture in New York
So “information” is not even that. “Information” has become
the consumer form of knowledge. High-tech cyber is more about
military corporatist interests than about any of `us’ knowing
anything about each other. Cybersociety is commercialized: .com 14
sites have grown fifty fold in the past ten years.
I do not see a global village here. Instead there is one
explosion after another: the genocidal wars in Bosnia, Rwanda,
Kosovo, Chechnya, etc. More newly there have been the wars in
Afghanistan, Iraq, and Liberia. As I write North Korea boasts
its nuclear capabilities and the U.S. threatens pre-emptive
action. There are more prisoners in the U.S. today than in any
other country which I guess is why this model of democracy is
busier building prisons for its people of color than schools
while the high schools are terrorized by white boys with guns.
Why do some academics–across the globe–speak of postcolonialism while cyberculture attempts to colonize the world?
Why do critics of transnational capital speak of the U.S. as
dominating the world when more and more communities inside the
U.S. are also dominated? Why do Islamic extremists target women
rather than `the’ West? And then why does global media target
these extremists while covering over patriarchal abuses
Clearly, seeing and naming change WITHIN the systems of
power is subversive to the discourses which neutralize regimes of
power. The trouble here is BOTH those who are interested in
protecting systems of power and those who are interested in
changing/dismantling these systems are invested in and sometimes
need language which is no longer REALLY helpful in revealing new
SEEING/VIEWING RACIALIZED PATRIARCHY
Today, the virtual real, the fantasy real, gets in the way
and complicates our ways of knowing and seeing, and therefore
naming. This is true for simply seeing nation, or globe, race and
gender. Each are always in the process of construction.
Identities are written on bodies/nations/and globe through the
political process of naming color as though it were one and the
same with racial meaning; and sex as though it were one and the
same with gendered meaning. Color and sexuality are more plural
than their naming. Race and gender parade as homogenized
formulations of this: black/yellow/white; man/woman; women of
There are sexual colors as in the “lightening of color” in
slavery through the rape of slave women.
than the hues of mahagony, ebony, chocolate, chestnut, vanilla,
and on…silence the memory. And yellow is closer to black than
white. Racialized gender is always in the process of
construction, always changing along with the contexts of the
moment, yet language is less fluid, and gets stuck, and we are
unable to see, name, an act on it. 15
Reality has become more real AND unreal, fantasy, and
virtual. There are few clear markers of the `fantasy real’ and
yet I need to find them. In looking for them I will move as
carefully as I can with my own invested blinders to try and name
the `glocal phallusies’ which inhibit really real anti-racist,
anti-colonialist feminist action.
For me, nationalism is a fantasized imaginary which maps
political geography on women’s bodies in color, while also
erasing the process. Globalism, also fantasized, is part of this
re-newed erasure today. Meanwhile forty percent of the globe has
no electricity and seventy percent of the earth’s people have
never made a phone call. As of 2000 in India 3/4 of the country’s
billion people were still struggling for basic necessities.
Fewer than ½ of 1 percent of Indian households had internet
Instead of a village new hierarchies are formed through
the renegotiation of family to nation to globe in the attempt to
merge and rescope the relations between economic nations and
transnational racialized/gender politics.
National governments are no longer able to curtail global
capital while commitments to public life are downsized and
smothered. The International Monetary Fund orchestrates the
privatization of every possible space while racialized patriarchy
runs rampant across women’s bodies. So transnational
corporations restructure nation-states and racialized patriarchy
is reconstituted along with the nation-state.
My meaning of racialized patriarchy focuses the system of
male privilege to its negotiations by and through racialized
meanings. Gender is already racialized–masculinity is colorcoded, while race is engendered–women of color are colored while
whiteness is neutralized.
The process is not one of unity or simply differentiation.
Patriarchy is the differentiating of women from men while
privileging men AND the transformation of females to women and
males to men in this process. Yet, gender is differentiated in
racism and racism is differentiated by race AND gender.
Racialized patriarchy roots male privilege in racism AND racism
is differentiated by race AND gender. It is why girls and women
in third-world countries supply the new proletariat.
The state is no longer envisioned as simply harmonizing
nation-based interclass conflict but rather assisting the
mobility of global capital and its gendered borders. The
imaginary globe replaces the imagined economic nation while the
political nation gets privatized. Citizens are simply a new kind
of consumer. And the nation-state becomes a major player in the
process of globalizing capital while giving new license to its
As such, statist patriarchy is re-formed to a transnational
gendered division of labor of the `information-age’. Women’s 16
exploitation is rewired at computer terminals throughout
countries of the south and north. Global patriarchy is less
directly sustained through the privatized nation-state and
maintained more through the numbing inequalities of the market.
Patriarchal privilege relocates itself in new formulations
of the public/private nation/family divide. It means that
masculinist privilege operates through a series of signs that are
actually disconnected from their earlier/historical forms and
points of origin. The new forms of racialized patriarchal
privilege written into transnational globalism are tied both to
traditional `signs’ of femaleness and to newer media-ted
fantasies of privatized governments.
LOCATING BODIES AND THEIR POWER
The cyber real of racialized gender presents the labor of
women and girls in the prosthetic language of Microsoft and media
corporations. We need to refind the bodies and their labor to
dismantle the mystifying fantasy of the supposed global culture.
Cyberlanguage says there is no center, no power, no race or
gender, no one owning in the `old’ way. The only thing that is
said to matter is knowledge and one’s embrace of one’s new
classless, raceless, genderless freedom. The cyberscreen is the
In actual fact, cyberspace is a construction of digital
apartheid, a newly actualized form of racial exclusion. Most
countries in Africa fall off the global map if electricity and
phone lines are necessary. Given that only one in five people
across the globe have a phone line the internet becomes an
exclusive suburban community. Korea becomes hyper-exploited.
Tragically, just as telecommunications COULD hook up the
world, no commitment exists to create the equality of access
which could make this happen. Instead, new technologies rewrite
and expand new inequalities on top of those which already exist.
As we speak of information highways we need to remember that one
out of three women worldwide is illiterate and spends a
significant portion of her day performing essentials like
collecting firewood and drawing water. Cyberspace will simply
remain a new kind of country-club if unchallenged.
The illusion of reality cannot be allowed to substitute for
reality. Power and oppression are not simply signs wit no origin.
Cyberlanguage, then, expresses a politics of body and mind, labor
and technology. It is imperative, then to see, that global
capital and its cyberdiscourse obfuscates the real: the
racialized patriarchal division of labor which disproportionately
locates women and girls in low-wage assembly and information jobs
and in sexual ghettoes elsewhere in the global market.
Women are half of humanity and remain the poorest of the 17
poor. We do approximately 2/3 of the world’s work and earn about
1/10th of the world’s income. We own less than 1/100th of its
property. We make up a majority of the world’s refugees. We
attempt to make life possible while living in degraded
environments. We are the best hope to stand against the obscene
agenda of transnational captiatlist/racialized patriarchy because
it is destroying our bodies: in nationalist wars, in the workplace, in religious fundamentalist assaults, in crass-corporatist
commercialism, and contaminated breast milk and breast tissue.
FEMINISMS FROM ELSEWHERES
It is a hard time to write about feminisms. There is too
much to know to be able to do this right. So I risk myself
because I cannot know enough. I am trying to build a public
intellectual and political space in order for feminists to both
spark anew, and continue, the struggle for a just democracy for
If context–historical and of the moment–always matters, then
I must locate today’s feminisms in ways that respect their many
differences and varieties, across time, geographical space, and
culture; along with race, class, ethnicity, and sexual
But language is not helpful here. I think
feminism is always plural and always has been. Yet when I write
feminisms and refer to them as one, I risk people thinking that I
am writing of a homogeneous politics. Yet if I refer to
feminisms and write of them as plural, it appears that I see many
different kinds of feminism rather than their co-equal pluralism
and singularity. So I will sometimes refer to feminisms as
singular–`it’–, and other times as plural–`they’, because
it/they, is/are both. Multiplicity and cohesion exist
Is feminisms–the belief that women should define the
contours of their own creativity– more at home in one place than
another? Who gets to answer these questions in the first place?
It has never felt more urgent to clarify and answer these
questions given the way that women’s rights discourse has been
appropriated by the Bush administration for making war instead of
peace. In the aftermaths of Sept. 11, 2001 neo-liberal democracy
has become even less democratic. I wish to unwrap and
distinguish the progressive use of women’s rights discourse by
women in places `elsewhere’ from the imperial feminism of the
Bush administration. And I wish to differentiate between the
right-wing take-over of feminist discourse and other progressive
feminisms which also exist within `the’ West. These dialogues
will hopefully recapture and create anew the humanely democratic 18
and thriving complex communities of women and girls across the
Feminisms, as a term, identifies women politically. The
name as such puts the patriarchal and misogynist structures of
power in view no matter how variously. It breaks the silence of
male privilege by denaturalizing and denormalizing it. Because
power and oppression are never static, but rather dynamic,
feminisms are always changing to address these historical and
newly formed systems. Feminisms develop the possibility of
theoretically seeing how women’s oppression has newly formed
sites. Theoretical means seeing the connectedness between women,
between them and the multiple systems of power attempting to
harness their creativity. Feminisms always requires new dialogue
to unfreeze the varied constructions of womanhood. Women’s
struggle for self-determination is always defined within the
cultural contexts and structures of power that women inhabit.
Feminisms recognize the collective life of women defined by
child-bearing and rearing and the layers of labor connected with
this, and also critiques these burdens, and also demands freely
chosen options structured by equality of race and class. Such a
rendering must accept diverse understandings of these meanings.
But the respect for woman’s need to define her own body’s
integrity is always crucial, whether it be covered, or exposed.
I am opening feminist practices to the widest range of possible
meanings without undermining their completely revolutionary
stance: that feminisms fundamentally reorder the way `natural’ is
seen, spoken, and lived. In this reordering women’s lives are
seen as crucial to life’s daily rhythms but not as static or
inevitable. The abuse of women’s bodies, whether the sex/gendered
structuring of the slave trade and racial apartheid; and the
sexual terrorism of the trafficking of women and their
exploitation in the global factory are no longer silenced.
Globalization is then understood as a systematic patriarchal
structuring of racialized, sexualized, global exploitation.
Feminisms, especially of `the’ West in the U.S., must be
ready to speak against the cultural and economic domination of
their home country that creates such impossible sadness and pain
to people at home, as well as elsewhere: Afghans, Iraqis,
Rwandans, Palestinians, Israelis, and so on. Today, at this
moment, given the ascendancy and arrogance of the U.S., U.S.
feminism is too easily equated with `the’ West and historically
this meant European, democratic, and modern. Yet, these early
forms were colonialist and racist. As well, today’s brand of
ascendant feminism articulates a neo-liberal agenda which
advertises an imperial feminist agenda although there are other
marginalized feminisms in the U.S. that are silenced in this
Much that is said to be Western and therefore democratic and 19
or/feminist have local sites elsewhere where feminisms also
thrive. Feminisms are not simply Western, nor non-Western, but
embrace women’s activism in places elsewhere whether named as
such, or not. A polyversal feminism–multiple and connected–
expresses women’s potential shared humanity wherever it exists.
When women are subordinated and not allowed the lives they wish
to live they respond with resistance. The plural acts of
resistance are what women do to survive and thrive in multiple
and yet connected ways. I am locating a human response to
suffering although it will always be articulated through
West and non-West are both real and made-up as coherent
geographical/cultural locations. The flows between empires and
their colonies, between colonizer and colonized, between slave
and slave-master, between colors of the skin, are misread as
separateness and opposition. Feminisms have suffered from this
overdrawn divide palpably. They have been wrongly homogenized as
a unity, and then defined as of `the’ West. This negates
multiple forms of feminisms in `the’ West AND the multiple forms
of feminisms outside `the’ West. As such feminisms lose their
plurality of meanings which also express the similarities among
A similar reductionism has been made between liberal (as
western) feminism and feminism per se. The U.S. feminist
movement is depicted by both West and non-western discourses
alike, as white and middle-class. Although this often accurately
describes the mainstream of U.S. feminisms, it silences the
difference between mainstream liberal feminism and its
neoliberal/imperial self. Other multiple radical sites are also
silenced in this equation which simply furthers a right-wing
takeover of western feminism.
Today, I revise my thought in The Radical Future of Liberal
Feminism, that “all feminism is liberal at its root in that the
universal feminist claim that woman is an independent being (from
man) is premised on the 18
century liberal conception of the
independent and autonomous self.”
There are other locations
for this thinking about woman’s freedom. It is wrong-headed to
assume that the notion of feminist individuality and autonomy is
always an extension of liberal individualism. There are other
notions of autonomy that are not simply liberal individualist at
their core. As such, the notion of autonomous woman comes from
other locations besides `the’ West. There are varieties of
autonomy besides liberal individuality that are liberatory. If
feminisms from elsewhere have a debt to `the’ West, it is also
true that `the’ West has a debt to women elsewhere. This
reciprocal debt should inform human rights discourse as well.
Woman’s autonomy, though essential to feminist thinking,
has differing contextual routes/roots. There are a variety of 20
meanings of woman’s autonomy and independence. When Inji Aflatum,
an Egyptian feminist in 1949 says that the enemies of women are
the enemies of democracy; and that women’s struggle for
themselves will strengthen democracy in Egypt her meaning is not
simply Western, or liberal, but rather uniquely human AND
Rich, glocal mixtures emerge: local
expressions of the global/universal leave neither as they were
separately. This notion of the simultaneity of localized life
and global context needs its appropriate translation.
I also previously argued that the creative tension of
liberal feminism exists between the individualism of liberalism,
and the collectivity of feminism; that “the contradiction between
liberalism (as patriarchal and individualist in structure and
ideology) and feminism (as sexual egalitarian and collectivist)
lays the basis for feminism’s movement beyond liberalism”.
Sadly, much of this creative possibility has been captured by
neo-liberal/imperial feminists in the U.S. Yet, much of the
creative liberal feminist agenda has also been adopted by human
rights activists and feminists in places elsewhere. In these
transnational dialogues sexual equality is embraced but with
recognition of a complex diversity. Equality is needed for the
similarities, rather than the sameness that women share. Hence,
the tension in all feminisms between the patriarchal structures
of women’s lives and their understanding of their own potential
for democratic life. As I wrote in The Color of Gender, women
need freedom for our uniqueness and equality for our
Feminisms, like any politics, should always be in process.
I do not want to freeze the meaning of feminisms, nor can I. It
is a series of political understandings that develop given the
demands and uniqueness of the moment. The flux and change
elucidates feminisms, rather than denies their status as a
coherent politics. I continue to use the term, problematic
though it is, because it is the only term I know that translates
across time and culture to put women in view politically–as more
than isolated individuals living in disparate political moments.
Feminisms continue to name patriarchy and misogyny as a global
problem for the times we live in. English privileges women in
`the’ West, so I gladly translate feminism into its home language
what ever this is. And we shall all speak and write of
feministe, feminismo, and so on.
Given the extraordinary hegemony of U.S. neo-liberalism, and
my own place consciousness in the U.S. I attempt as best I can to
create dialogue, rather than misappropriation. My hope is that
progressive feminists in the U.S. will assist in building an
anti-globalization movement which will successfully challenge the
Bush wars on/of `terror’. 21
WHAT IS IN A NAME?
I find it nearly impossible to name the past three decades
of women’s activism alongside the globalization of capital. U.S.
feminists in the early 1970’s of all stripes spoke of women’s
rights or liberation; reform or/and revolution. Although civil
rights and anti-Vietnam war activists initiated much of what was
called feminism at the time, the mainstreamed women’s movement
was predominantly white and middle class. At this same time,
there were many other women activists–in Algeria, Iran, Egypt,
Chile, Argentina, South Africa, and so on–struggling for
democratic lives but they were treated as invisible by `the’
West. It easily followed, through this silencing, that feminism
was depicted as of `the’ West. And much of women’s activism
elsewhere, was subsumed under the rubric of anti-colonialism and
anti-imperialism, even by women themselves.
U.S. Black and Latina feminists, by the late seventies,
played a crucial role in critically pluralizing feminism beyond
the liberal individualism of the mainstream white women’s
movement. Anti-racist feminists embraced differences in order to
build a larger collectivity and inclusivity of `women’. Black
feminists like Aurdre Lorde, Barbara Smith, and bell hooks were
crucial to this process. Despite the conservative Reagan-Bush
decade of the `80’s anti-racist feminists articulated a more
honest viewing of women as a sexual class, divided by economic
class, race, and sexual preference. At this time feminisms were
pluralized to different socialist, anarchist, cultural, liberal,
lesbian, environmental, radical, Black and Latina agendas. Such
naming was necessary, and yet these borders dividing one feminism
from another were only partially accurate. A Black feminist also
has other identities, like socialist, or lesbian or…or… At
this time, horizons, though, were not often global. There was
little mention of Muslim feminisms, and little recognition of the
feminisms abroad elsewhere.
During this period I identified as a socialist feminist to
distinguish myself from the mainstreamed/white liberal movement
in the U.S. Then came the revolutions of `89 and Eastern
European women’s indictment of the misuses of feminism by statist
socialism. Socialist feminist no longer felt like an effective
identity. I began to just say I was a feminist. But the more
this term was being appropriated by neo-liberals for global
capital I felt uncomfortable with this as well. I began to think
I needed to reclaim socialism again; and as a white woman of the
globe, I needed to name my anti-racism.
My process of seeing and naming a more inclusive feminism
has been a process of recognizing the growing power differentials
between the U.S. and the rest of the world and also looking to
see more kinds of women across the globe. My viewing from the 22
U.S. may be less encompassing than women’s standpoint from their
sites elsewhere because colonialism and imperial capitalism have
demanded that they know more and see more in order to survive.
Because hegemony of and by `the’ West appropriates and narrows
vision to its own visor I must work at deconstructing the
universalized gaze and not see through its distortions as I look
elsewhere. There are glocal polyversal feminisms to unveil and
learn about. These local sites of women’s activism are the
locations from which to recognize and give voice to a cacophony
Despite globalization’s attempts to homogenize cultures it
also puts other cultural practices in view. Global markets
create a broader lens from which the world is seen even if it
distorts this unique multiplicity while doing so. The U. N.
sponsored Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, 1995,
mobilized and publicized various women’s movements around the
world to the world. It was the first time for many across the
globe to know of Muslim feminists who had been reading the
Qur’an in non-patriarchal ways for a long time before; or to know
of women’s organizing in Nigeria and Ghana on behalf of
Feminism emerges as women can see their own identity as at
one with other women in like and different situations. The
naming as such is part of the process of coming to consciousness
of one’s shared identity and this identity forms more readily the
more one’s life activity crisscrosses contradictory locations:
slave-women committed to their own humanity; Arab women working
in the fields and market and relegated to the home; middle-class
professional women in Iran and Korea and the U.S. circumscribed
by their dutiful roles as wives and mothers.
Women activists need to radically pluralize, rather than
liberally pluralize, the concept of feminisms and human rights.
This means that differences will not be silenced in some
hierarchically privileged order against a singular standard, or
set up oppositionally against each other. This means that
differences of power must be recognized and challenged. The
structures of power have to be dismantled so that differences
simply express variety and can be earnestly embraced as such.
There will be a variety of ways that women’s equality, freedom,
and justice are expressed and defended; as long as selfdetermination–which encompasses individual choices and access
(equality) to them exists as part of this process.
So, feminisms belong to anyone who is committed to women’s
ability to choose their destiny; to be the agent of their own
life choices as long as they do not colonize another. As such,
no one simply owns feminisms particular meaning. Naming
acknowledges the thing named so that it can be seen. Naming ends
silence. Naming also expresses the power of those who get to 23
name. It is part of the very process of self-determination that
is so central to feminism itself. Toni Morrison in Beloved
writes: “Definitions belonged to the definers–not the defined”.
Feminism locates the sites of women’s oppression as visible.
There are differing notions of what oppression means, yet
`feminism’ gives coherence to the variety. Women, especially in
`the’ West, need to multiply the versions/visions of women’s
oppression and liberation; and find multiple ways to understand
the varieties of feminisms.
The contested domain of feminisms is not understood best as
a clear West/non-West divide. I instead look to see plurally in
Yet, to the extent `a’ West is
spoken in this phrasing it is still privileged in this site. I
recognize that there has been much of `the’ West written into
feminist theory, but also believe that `the’ West has simply
claimed much of feminism as its own that is not. My queries and
condemnations are not meant to deny the enormously rich history
that feminisms of `the’ West have provided women across the
globe. Maria Stewart demanded women’s rights for slave women in
the 1820’s. Working class feminisms with communal notions of
rights go back to at least the 17
century in Europe. Yet,
feminism is not simply of `the’ West. Many women from elsewhere
already know this so my inquiry is hopelessly slanted by my own
Miriam Cooke, a Muslim feminist living in the U.S. says that
feminists are “women who think and do something about changing
expectations for women’s social roles and responsibilities”. She
calls attention to the journal Zanan and the women who are
reading the Qur’an from a women’s viewpoint and “demanding equal
access to scriptural truth at a time when Islamic discourse is on
the rise.” For many of these women, Islam does not presume
gender inequity; and feminism the opposite. Rather, Islam
itself, at its most democratic reading, requires women’s
equality. These women seek to subvert and adapt Islamic practices
to recognize justice and citizenship for Muslim women. She sees
Islamic feminism, not as singular but as a politic with no one
“fixed identity” and a series of subject positions. And she also
recognizes that some Muslim feminists, like Haideh Moghissi are
radically opposed to the idea that there is any room in Islam for
To the extent that English has been predominantly a
white/Western woman’s language it also is attached to white
women’s identities. This does not mean that most white women
readily claim the term, nor does it mean that women of color do
not utilize it frequently. But nuanced differences exist within
these choices. U.S. Black women have been uncomfortable with the
term given its racist history, its exclusionary focus privileging
white women, Black women’s own multiple oppressions which made 24
feminism’s singularity feel too narrow, and the hostility towards
feminism by Black men as a white woman’s thing. Jill Nelson, who
often identifies as feminist also says that although naming is
important, so “is anonymity and adroit warfare”. She says Black
women know “the efficacy of stealth”, of “communicating
indirectly”, of the “amazing art of passing on information via
metaphor” as spirituals do.
Women activists in Egypt in the early 20
century like Huda
Shaarawi wrote and spoke from their own experiences; no one term
directly translated into `feminist’. The problem of translation
is so often why Arab feminisms have been invisible to the world
outside Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine, and Syria. Shaarawi was an
upper class Egyptian woman who was brought up in the segregated
world of the harem, and resisted this life because it constructed
her femaleness as a barrier to her freedom. She criticized
social custom, rather than the Qur’an, for holding women back.
The autobiography of Fay Afaf Kanafani chronicles her sexual
abuse as a child at the hands of her father; and her difficult
refusal of sex with her husband for years. As a Muslim/Arab
woman her identity is formed by this, and the tensions between
Palestine and Lebanon from the close of WWI.
Her activism was
polyvocal, and feminist. Their stories are quasi-universal;
wealthy educated women who wish to do as their brothers and
Deep inside the very notion of feminism resides this
conundrum: the translation of plural meanings and multiple
locations into one term that cannot be home grown in each
location. The term feminism–its racist and colonialist past–
inhibits an embrace of all women’s lives across the globe. And
yet it calls attention to women like no other term, in no other
language. If feminisms means the willingness to both recognize
and subordinate differences while recognizing the inequalities of
power that divide women, the language of feminisms should not
inevitably reproduce imperial meaning itself.
And yet again,
the term feminism silently authorizes the English language as
The big `we’–feminists across the globe–need an identity
chosen from women’s present activism that opens feminisms to
their most democratic promise. This will be more-than-awesternized anti-racist feminism. De-westernized does not mean
less focus on the gendered oppressions of women’s lives, but
gender is complexly connected to multiple systems of power. It
also requires the denuding of the globalized West’s cultural
dominance and economic appropriation. It means commitment to the
gender rights of women while condemning global imperialism. This
is a necessary and powerful combination: women challenging global
capital with its racialized patriarchal structures of domination
and exploitation while also embracing a democratized gender 25
rights agenda which will destabilize local/cultural misogynism.
So where does `feminisms’ stand at present? Given
feminism’s troubled history and incomplete understanding of the
complexities always also defining sex and gender oppression,
activists must employ the term skeptically and give it new and
insurgent meanings all the time. It is impossible to control and
limit the radical dimensions of feminisms as they are practiced
by women cross-culturally so language must specify the practices
in relentless detail.
It is an enormous challenge to remain
open and not assume that you know the limits and meanings of a
particular practice before hand. So women from multiple sites
and cultures must remain open to new meanings of feminisms, as
each person looks for their particular and plural meanings of
selfhood. Feminisms are always changing with new possibilities
for democratizing human liberation so we–the big `we’– must
allow them to do so.
RADICALLY PLURALIZING WOMEN’S RIGHTS
My discussion of feminisms as “other-than western” has
important implications for women’s rights and human rights
discourse at this moment. Similar skepticism about `rights’ talk
is needed because feminism is often written through the language
of `human rights’ today. And `rights’ talk, though promissory has
always been exclusionary. In the present neo-liberal context
exclusivity becomes an even greater problem. Whereas `the’ West
has been identified with human rights discourse in the past, the
war of/on `terror’ has displaced this commitment. And, THE U.S.
WAR OF/ON `TERROR’ IS NOW INSTEAD USED TO SILENCE HUMAN RIGHTS
ACTIVISTS AND DISSIDENTS BY REPRESSIVE REGIMES. THIS HAS GRAVE
CONSEQUENCES FOR WOMEN ACTIVISTS AND WOMEN’S RIGHTS.
Western feminism, when equated with liberal feminism, as it
was articulated in the 19
century stood as a critique of the
exclusion of white women from the bourgeois revolution overtaking
England and France. These women wanted the new freedoms being
promised white propertied men. In order to claim these rights
these women first had to see that they were excluded as a sexual
caste, as a homogenized collective with no individuality. They
then used this ascribed status to challenge the engendered
exclusivity of bourgeois right. These feminists did not speak of
slave women or slaves in general. They did not speak of nonpropertied women, or colonized women. They were exclusionary by
the silences they allowed. They instead utilized the
abstract/inclusive promissory of individual rights and demanded
democracy for themselves. These were the canonized and
commodified voices of feminism which silenced other feminisms in
`the’ West: Black, working class, Quaker/believing Christians,
and… Their radical–though incomplete–moment has long since 26
Western hegemony equates individuality with bourgeois
individualism. In this reading the very idea of an individual
with rights assumes a competitive and oppositional standpoint
between the self and others. However, there are other notions of
individuality that are not simply at one with a bourgeois
individualism that presupposes that the self flourishes best in
autonomous, rather than communal fashion.. This “other-thanwestern” notion of individuality premises the self as also
interconnected with others, and is not by definition antagonistic
to sexual difference, but rather sexual hierarchy. The self is
enhanced by others and the social obligations and
responsibilities they entail. Instead of equating the liberal
notion of equality with sameness of treatment, an individual
woman’s particularity can be encompassed without negating fair
treatment. Such thinking needs to also directly interrogate
women’s rights discourse.
Feminisms of all sorts recognize the complex need to rewrite democratic theory while recognizing both women’s
similarities and differences, among themselves, and to men as
well. The criteria for equal treatment should be about justice
for humanity, which is both male and female. This standard for
justice is specified through the divides of rich and poor, and
all colors, religions, and cultures. Many Islamic and Africana
feminisms imagine a social notion of the individual that is
connected to family. It is terribly important to distinguish the
progressive and life enhancing dimensions of collectivity–whether
under a veil or a tribal commune or family-life–from the
stifling and hierarchical, lonely and arduous dimensions of
individualism AND from the stifling and arduous dimensions of
patriarchal and extended families.
Submission to scriptural canon and/or a degrading
collectivism negates the individuality of women. Submission to a
rugged individualism negates the connectivity of these same
women. The recognition of the communal, familial and
interconnected concepts of the self is spoken by feminists and
women activists in Mexico, the Philippines, and Malaysia.
Familial relations have always been foundational for U.S. Black
Individuality can imply autonomy and connection; one can
choose to act individually while also recognizing obligations and
responsibilities. This requires recognition of the selfdetermining woman and her choices while recognizing that these
choices are not utterly free and unrestricted. This sense of
self is interconnected with others, although the self is also
independent. This reading of the self is other-than-bourgeois
individualist which is masculinist and racialized at its root.
This feminist self has its roots/routes from `elsewheres’ where 27
slavery and colonialism have demanded more of the individual than
selfish desire, but also more than selflessness. A slave woman
runs away and risks death over rape for herself and her children.
A woman wears the veil while fighting for the revolution she
believes will free all women. A woman risks her individual job
as she makes charges of sexual harassment.
Connectedness and autonomy are not oppositional stances as
they so often have been articulated in both bourgeois
individualism and socialist collectivism. This significance of
the webbed relations between self and others may be more present
in women’s than men’s lives because most women undertake the
burdens and responsibilities of family more directly than most
men. Women’s lives–their duties and responsibilities–blend and
bleed across the usual political divides of bourgeois and
socialist, individualist and collectivist, West and non-West.
Feminisms which have developed through the challenges of
imperialism and globalization explore new meanings of self-hood
in response to these complex power regimes defining their lives.
Human rights discourse needs to be rewritten from this context.
I cling to the self as `free’ even though I wish to
disengage the idea of selfhood from its commodified selfish form.
I remain committed to individuality because it can nurture a
diverse humanity. Because freedom can allow us our differences
it always has the possibility of creating uniqueness. Freedom,
then, of the self, allows for the possibility of dissidence and
resistance in that it nurtures individuality, rather than
deference. But of course this presupposes an individual who
already is committed to more than just selfishness. Otherwise,
submission rather than unique creativity dominates.
Neoliberal and imperial feminism mass market a selfish
individualism and silence concerns with racial and economic
equality. Such feminism destroys its promise of democracy
because without equality freedoms cannot be actualized by most
women. Freedom to choose must be accompanied by the possibility
of having access to one’s choices. So feminists, especially
within `the’ West must work to equalize the access to freedoms so
that they matter more, and for all people. Democratic feminisms
embrace equality as a way to recognize women’s similarities as
female, and freedom because it celebrates women’s multiplicity.
And they must also recognize that within the sharedness of being
female there are enormous power differentials that must be
remedied by creating differential access. Given power
differentials, demands for equality must be specified as they are
woven through the differentials of race, class, sexuality, and
culture. And, it is not enough to have economic or legal
equality without equality of sexual choices.
New feminisms with new notions of human rights will emerge
as women engage in the pressing challenges of this day. For these 28
new feminisms to thrive as they should, they must be carefuly
distinguished from the various present days feminisms of `the’
West: a neoliberal/imperial feminist discourse of the U.S.
government and transnational capital; a mainstream liberal
feminist equal rights agenda articulated inside the U.S. and
elsewhere as well; a vocal human rights discourse publicized
through the U.N.; and a mix of progressive liberatory discourses
from Black, Latina, Socialist, women’s groups in the U.S. and
Women in `the’ West and in `the’ East and women in `the’
North, and in `the’ South; women of `the’ non-West living in
`the’ West; and women of `the’ West living in `the’ non-West must
move and shake these dialogues beyond these falsely defined
divides. These various feminist voices reflect the vital power
struggles of the 21
Century. And it is out of these contested
voices that new radically pluralist feminist dialogues about
human rights can develop.
Although the dominant discourse of global capital reproduces
and reifies the notion of `the’ western woman daily, this image
silences too many women living in `the’ West, while also rightly
speaking her enormous privilege. So, we–women in the U.S.– have
an added responsibility to recognize and critique the obscene
power of our own country in relation to discourses of `the’ West–
in the hopes that this will allow new trust among women from
elsewheres. We, the big `we’–feminists and women activists
across the globe–must carefully listen to each other and learn
new ways of seeing and hearing silences and whisperings. This
demands a generosity of spirit from the many women from
elsewheres living in the U.S., and the women living elsewheres,
suffering the consequences of the U.S. wars of/on `terror’.
Hopefully such generosity will allow all feminists to trust,
together, that a better world is possible.
Given the new possibilities for thinking cross-culturally it
is critically urgent to rethink the contours of the meaning of
`universal’, and pluralize it to other-than-its western
formulation. Universality has been exclusionary of the very thing
it is to embrace–totality. Universality operates as an
abstracted viewing of humanity when it is articulated by the
powerful, for themselves. It implies unity rather than a notion
of `all’, or `everyone’. It is why 18
century theorists could
write of the humanity, the freedom, and equality of `all’, and
really mean white propertied men. To them, no one was excluded.
The abstract metaphor–the individual– makes it possible to
misname and mis-see the totality, as one and the same with
oneself. Yet, this notion of `the’ abstract individual’–which 29
presumes `any’ and `all’ individuals–remains a gift of promise
for those who have been silenced.
Universal rights are human rights; humanely given to any one
who is human. As such they are said to be natural rights. They
are available to any one who chooses to claim them. These visions
were written by men like I. Kant, and J. J. Rousseau who either
never spoke against the slave trade or spoke in metaphor; and
never endorsed women’s freedom or equality. Rousseau wrote his
Social Contract because men were born free and yet everywhere
lived in chains. But his men who were born free were white, not
Black slaves. And the men chained were not Black, but white. No
woman was a part of his civil contract.
Given the exclusionary history of universal rights they must
be democratized by a previously silenced specificity. The
universal must be reinvented by particularizing. If universal
rights had been written at the start from the site of slavery
there would have been no slaves because freedom would have been
envisioned more inclusively. Today, if the universal is written
from women’s bodies in their polyversal diversity–with their
actual needs for food, shelter, love, education, and creative
lives–humanity is enlarged. Extend universal rights in actual
form to the girl working in the Philippine sweatshop. The
universal is specifically multiple; or as the Bengali theorists
argue, there is “unity in diversity”.
Specificity–especially of differences–critiques and informs
an overly abstracted humanism which can be read from the site of
power as oneness. Human as a term is already encoded with the
colonialist’s exclusiveness. Nevertheless, `human’ rights is
thought to be a more inclusive construct than `women’s’ rights by
many. Feminist U.N. discourse states that “women’s rights are
human rights”. I continue to query why humanism is thought to be
more inclusive than feminism. Instead, why not shift the
inclusive standard toward women; that human rights are
encompassed by women’s rights? Women’s rights address the shared
human likeness with men AND the distinct uniqueness of differing
needs, in a way human rights, at present do not.
A health system which provides women with pre-natal and
pregnancy care provides an inclusive program for both women and
men, even though men will not need this specific care. Men are
not disabled in this framework, as pregnant women are, within the
abstracted masculinist standard of universality. As such,
pregnancy becomes a (legal) disability; while women are treated
similar to men. Given the specific needs pregnant women’s bodies
may have they simply become a more total vision for encompassing
humanity. As such, women’s bodies become a more inclusive
standard. Inclusivity derives from a plural diversity written
from women’s bodies. And this specificity puts sites of
powerlessness in view, for those who see themselves as the 30
universal. When women’s specified needs to health are met the
silences encoded in abstracted and hierarchically privileged
conceptions of humanity are uncovered.
It is therefore troubling that when Martha Nussbaum argues
for a cross-cultural notion of humanness, she adopts the liberal
notion of universalism. She calls for a universal accounting of
human capabilities as shared even though she recognizes the need
of a universalism that is sensitive to plural and cultural
differences. Pluralism and respect for difference are themselves
universal values, yet they also remain liberal, or of `the’ West
for her. The point I have been making throughout is that these
values are not in-and-of-themselves liberal, or simply Western.
She says we need a universalist feminism, an abstracted
promissory of oneness which is understood as liberal.
can diversity of implementation mean if unity is premised at the
Carol Quillen interrogates Nussbaum’s project. She sees
much of Nussbaum’s proposals as Eurocentric; that she does not
recognize the tension between “European humanism and European
imperialism”. Whereas Nussbaum is bound by the liberal humanist
tradition, Quillen asks for an “other-than-liberal humanist”
project. Western humanism is one and the same with European
domination and racist and colonialist practices.
recognizing these power differentials it is too risky that one
will simply think that others should be “free like me”.
Emancipation is thought to lead to `the’ West–away from Islam, or
anywhere elsewheres. Nussbaum needs to interrogate the
promissory of liberal humanism to try and find a non-colonialist
humanity in polyversal form that can retrieve humanism for
liberatory feminisms not limited to abstracted universals.
Nussbaum thinks that “any universalism” which has a chance
of succeeding in the “modern” world must be a “form of political
liberalism”. She herself acknowledges that cultures are not
homogenous; that “plurality, contestation and individual variety”
exist within all cultures, along with overlap and borrowing.
So how does she decipher what she terms `political liberalism’;
as well as disconnect it from the mix of other influences of
which it is a part? Nussbaum either does not see other-thanliberal notions of humanism as promissory, or her Anglocentrism
simply allows her to claim that liberal humanism is the
universal. Once again, for me, the uni is also poly; and the
global flows have always been dialectical, even if unevenly so.
Nussbaum wrongly privileges the notion of `humanity’ when
she writes of women’s rights. She starts Sex and Social Justice
with the qualifier that it is “not really about women at all but
about human beings and about women seen as fully human”. She
simply ignores the exclusionary practices done in the name of
humanity. She authorizes her discussion of feminism by saying 31
her feminism is humanism, i.e., that it is more inclusive than
just about women.
Why this deference to huMAN? Why not reject
the framework of an abstracted universal humanism and replace it
with a specified viewing of humanity through the lives of its
Nussbaum herself repeatedly makes the case, as many others
at the U.N. and World Bank also do, that if you improve the lives
of women, you improve the lives of everyone. Country’s develop
in direct proportion to the levels of education and participation
of their women. She does not consider why this is the case; just
that it is so. However, a plausible reason for this scenario is
that women are usually expected to take care of more than
themselves. That women’s lives often embrace duties and
responsibilities that extend beyond, and sometimes are in
conflict with, liberal humanism.
Amartya Sen has influenced Nussbaum’s thinking. “The voice
of women is critically important for the world’s future–not just
for women’s future”.
According to Sen, women’s empowerment
through education, property rights, and employment reduces
fertility rates and promotes female literacy. And, when women’s
lives are bettered, their nations also benefit. Improve women
and one simultaneously improves the lives of others. Such
statements and findings are not said of men, nor is much made of
this as `a’ difference: that it is women, and not men, who
readily embrace the work of humanity.
A World Bank study states that “countries which promote
women’s rights and increase their access to resources and
schooling enjoy lower poverty rates, faster economic growth and
less corruption than countries who do not.” The report
continues: “Gender inequality hurts all members of society, not
just girls and women”.
Although it is often noted that women
are a main resource for community development it is less often
recognized that women’s sense of self is more than singular. This
notion of development begs one to see more-than-a-liberal view of
humanism; one which expresses the interconnectedness of female
Nussbaum says she will redefine universalism in radically
plural ways but instead universalizes liberal pluralism in its
western form. I find this perplexing given that she argues that
feminism should become less insular, more international, and more
attentive to issues like inequality, hunger, and health care
across the globe. In order to achieve such an agenda she needs
to dislodge the dominant discourse she adopts. If she does so
she would be more able to see other-than-liberal feminisms, and
less readily homogenize women from non-western countries.
Liberal humanism cannot envision more-than-western visions
of humanity rich in interconnectedness and diversity because
abstract individualism demands a homogeneity that makes 32
multiplicity look chaotic and troublesome. `The’ West does not
allow for the “unity in diversity”; rather global capital uses a
corporatist multi-culturalism to domesticate difference into a
Liberalism is readily privileged in `the’ West by many in
the academy, like Susan Moller Okin. She also believes that
cultures must become liberal to be respected. Okin wants to
prioritize women’s rights and fears that multi-culturalism is bad
for women. She positions multi-culturalism–as group rights–
against women’s rights–as individual rights.
She sees gender
equality as in tension with the “claims of minority cultures”
because she assumes that cultural diversity will clash with
feminist goals. She says that group rights should not trump the
individual rights of its members, and she sees group rights
usually as anti-feminist. She works from within the tradition of
liberalism which posits the tension between the individual and
the group at its core. Individualism is bourgeois and autonomous
for her. Therefore, a tension always exists between the
individual and the group, whether women’s rights are part of the
equation or not.
Okin makes a mistake here by assuming that feminism is not
also about group rights–of women as women–however individually
these rights are practiced. She also does not deal with the
intersectionality and multiplicity of women of color’s lives when
she assumes that their culture will always oppose their fair
treatment. Clearly, to position multi-culturalism against women,
the women become homogenized in non-cultural/racial identity. So
she also does not wonder about new ways of thinking about women’s
rights in multi-cultural fashion.
Okin needs to re-read the dilemma and see how a different
rendering of cultural rights can be used to embrace feminisms.
Okin sees women’s servitude as written into Islam.
head scarf or veiling oneself is not a priori anti-feminist,
unless Okin is only allowing her liberal feminist notion of
sameness of treatment to be her defining criteria of feminism.
Okin needs to indict patriarchal practices rather than multiculturalism as the problem. And she needs to rethink how her
privileging of the cultural traditions of liberalism create
hostility to the multiplicity of other feminisms within otherthan-liberal meanings.
Universalism covers over the normalized forms of patriarchal
colonialism in the name of democracy. Multi-culturalism calls
attention to diverse cultural practices, some of which are
patriarchal and some of which are not. It is up to feminisms to
struggle with its many formulations to decipher the widest
interpretive meaning of women’s liberation. Multi-culturalism
comes clothed in many forms and should not be collapsed into a
singularized westernized rendering. In this sense a liberal 33
feminist critique, no matter what its local home is, is too
narrowed in its viewing. There are too many other feminisms
which are a compilation of their own and other cultural
articulations. The globalized language of women’s rights is both
liberatory and colonizing; maybe more so now than ever given the
insidious global webs of power that exploit women and girls
everywhere while supposedly championing their newly won freedoms–
from the Soviet empire, the Taliban, and so on.
FEMINISMS AND THE FEMALE BODY
Cyberdiscourse gives us prosthetics rather than bodies. But
bodies are too REAL. Anyone who is hungry knows the REALNESS of
the body. Anyone who has lived through a war knows this. We are
stuck with our bodies, no matter. Feminism, the only politics
that theorizes and speaks from the body, must return from the
cyberglobe to this problematic site.
I do not mean to say that women are only their bodies, or
even mainly their bodies, or that our bodies give us a special
essential meaning that men cannot have. Rather, I mean simply to
say that female bodies absorb and effect their environs in unique
ways that need to be theorized and politicized. Feminism’s
contribution here is that once gender and race (and sex and
color) are denaturalized as not simply genetic/biological
constructions, then women’s bodies are viewed as open
environments absorbing contaminated air and cultural
predispositions. Such a viewing is a quite different scenario
than that of a bio-genetically determined notion of
femaleness…or the body-less fantasy of cybercapitalism.
I am neither a biological determinist nor environmental
one. I respect and fear each. But as long as profit, rather than
health define corporate priorities, we shall see more illness and
war across the globe. As bodies are assaulted by the effects of
war damage to the air and water; as chemical pollutants
compromise people’s immune systems; as dietary habits shift as
part of global transformations in agriculture, women will face
new challenges for their families and communties.
Let us use female bodies to destabilize the excess greed of
global racialized patriarchy. So, my global personal politics
for 2000 says that feminisms across this earth must say no to the
transnational corporate agenda which pollutes our bodies, steals
labor, ruins the air and soil and streams, smashes the varieties
of rich cultural pleasure, and seduces too many while doing so.
In reclaiming our bodies–which have become MORE subversive in
this cybereconomy–we can construct an intimate and honest
politics for the millennium. This REALLY democratic imagining
does not ask for inclusion for women and girls. I rather argue 34
that girls and women’s bodies become the site from which
democracy is written.
I know that my chaotic journey from the nation to the globe;
from the body through to the environment; from the factory to a
critique of global capital; from sex to gender AND color to race;
from western to transnational corporate interests of the 21
century asks you to travel uncomfortably. I have asked you to
cross over and weave spaces that are often thought of as apart
and separate. But I trust this journey.
The REAL is too painful for too many to not embrace the
possibility of new democratic imaginaries written from women’s
bodies as an inclusive site of humanity. And, I have not
resorted to some essentialist meaning of femaleness or womanhood
here because bodies are never simply flesh. Instead I write from
my body which is no longer simply female, but open to new
political meaning still to be imagined in this new century.
RELOCATING POLYVERSAL FEMINISMS
Feminisms are humanist theories of inclusivity that attempt
to name women in their cacophonous varieties. This variety
expresses the standard of polyversality–a connectedness rooted in
multiplicity–a sharedness expressed through uniqueness. Selfdetermination of women’s bodies and minds is expressed through
local cultural meanings but with a cross-cultural recognition of
women’s duties and rights. No woman shall be excluded or
silenced because of imperial blinders or cultural domination.
Feminisms have a unity which is also simultaneously
diverse. It is multiple and continues to multiply. As such,
feminisms is the most inclusive theory of social justice I know
but I am not sure that this is the same thing as saying, as
feminist and friend bell hooks does, that Feminism is for
Because feminisms are about displacing and
rearranging masculinist privilege–with its racist and colonialist
roots/routes–there are men and women alike who will not embrace
it. The inclusivity is too revolutionary, the power
rearrangements too unsettling.
Women’s polydimensional bodies and the life women live
because of them creates the bridges that are necessary to
humanely embrace each other in spite of conflicts. We, the big
`we’ must disentangle ourselves from the imagined West/non-West,
modern/backward, developed/lacking divide in order to creatively
see the panoply of women’s activism more fully. This means
challenging U.S. imperial feminism and its misuses of women’s
rights talk wherever it exists.
We, the big `we’, must also acknowledge that most women want
freedom and most women want equality as well. These desires make 35
us similarly human. Women may define these desires differently,
and this also makes us uniquely human. Women’s polyversality
allows us to see one another but not simply as in a mirror. At
this moment women across the globe must find ways to celebrate
and blend these different traditions of women’s struggle. The
process of naming, and seeing, and working together dislodges
former barriers. New ways of thinking will allow for more
inclusive ways of utilizing rights discourse.
As an anti-racist feminist in the U.S. it is urgent for me
and others like me to actively work towards ending women’s and
girl’s exploitation and oppression at home and all places
elsewhere. Alice Walker says somewhat the same thing when she
says that “we must see where our tax dollars flow and try, in
awareness, to follow them.”
This anti-globalization position
must also be clarified to demand a fair wage for all. The U.S.
government must be pressured to make good on its obligations to
Afghanistan and establish peace in Iraq; end the wars of/on
`terror’; rebuild a just welfare state in the U.S.; change its
policies toward Palestinians. The inclusive `we’ need peace, not
war; justice not greed; support not competition; health care not
insurance companies. For any of this to happen the right-wing
take-over of the U.S., and with it the globe, must be stopped.
The reach of neo-liberalism extends well beyond any one
nation. It is the major obstacle that women face in their
struggles for just and humane democracies almost everywhere.
What makes this all even more difficult is that like the wars
of/on `terror’, women’s rights is now embedded in neoliberalism,
as a way of containing it. The U.N. Development Program’s “Arab
Human Development Report” says that the lack of women’s
empowerment and education is a key reason for the poverty of the
region. The report advises to enhance the freedom of Arab women.
Interestingly, there is no mention of women’s equality, given
the report’s neoliberal framing. Choices should be increased
rather than access. And the state should empower the poor, but
not by assuming “the role of direct provider of economic goods
and services. This approach has failed”.
So much for humane
democracy because the private sector is preferred.
Nevertheless, hugely viable women’s movements throughout
the world speak an incredible diversity and heterogeneity that
pushes out the borders that each of us inhabit. New bridges are
being built as women discover each other in transborder actions
across diverse currents. Latin American and Caribbean feminisms
have been newly naming their struggles in their Encuentros
(encounters) since the early 1980’s. Feminists in Arab states
lead the struggle for democracy in Iran, Afghanistan, Algeria.
Peasant women in Mexico kept an airport from being built in the
name of land rights for peasants. Women Reebok workers in India
fought for better wages and working conditions and won.
workers in Korea are doing the same. It is at each of these
locations that the meaning of feminisms, human rights and
democracies will unfold for this next century.
Ask me a few years from now if my understanding and agenda
for feminisms and women’s rights is the same and I hope I can say
no. Hopefullly, we, the big `we’ will have moved on, beyond
neoliberalism and imperial feminism, to humane democracy for us
i.See Zillah Eisenstein, Global Obscenities (New York: New York University Press, 1998) for a full elaboration
of these points.
ii. Kumari Jayawardena, The White Woman’s Other Burden, Western Women and South Asia During British
Colonial Rule (New York: Routledge, 1995), pp. 2. 3. 5.
iii. Zillah Eisenstein, The Color of Gender (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994).
iv. Evan Thomas, “The Real Condi Rice”, Newsweek, vol. CXL, no. 25 (December, 2002), pp. 26-35.
v. Peter Marks, “Adept Politics and Advertising, 4 Women Shape a Campaign,” New York Times, November 11,
2001, p. 4.
vi. I am indebted to Minnie Bruce Pratt’s statement: “Dear Friends of Women’s Liberation,” November 12, 2001
(email@example.com), for this discussion.
vii. David Stout, “Mrs. Bush Cites Abuse of Women and Children by the Taliban,” New York Times, November 18,
2001, p. B5.
viii. Sarmad Sufian, “U.S. Used Nuclear Waste”, Weekly Independent, (Pakistan) vol. 1, no. 23
(Nov. 29-Dec. 5), 2001), p. 1.
ix. Anita Hill, “Insider Women With Outsider Values”, New York Times, June 6, 2002, p. A31.
x. “Coleen Rowley’s Memo to FBI Director Robert Mueller, TIME, June 3, 2002, pp.12-21.
xi. Jill Abramson, “I am Woman, Hear Me Roar in the Enron Scandal”, New York Times,
January 27, 2002, p. Wk3.
xii. See the “Proposal for UN Women’s Strategies for Civil Conflict Resolution,”
xiii. Lynette Dumble, “In the Name of Freedom: Terror, Death, Hunger, Misogyny, and Genocide in Afghanistan,”
Znet ,www.ZMag.org. 37
18. Mona Eltahawy and Kalpana Sharma, “Commentary: U.S. Should Heed How Our Allies Treat Women,”
19. As quoted in Alessandra Stanley, “Walking a Fine Line in Showcasing Women and Dealing with Muslim
Allies,” New York Times, October 27, 2001, p. B9.
20.Sunita Mehta and Homaira Mamoor, “Building Communities Across Difference”, in Women for Afghan Women,
Sunita Mehta, ed. (New York: Palgrave, 2002), p. 24.
21. Alessandra Stanley, “Walking a Fine Line in Showcasing Women and Dealing with Muslim Allies”, p. B.9.
22. U.S. State Department, “The Taliban’s War against Women,” http://www.state.gov
23. Patricia Leigh Brown, “Heavy Lifting Required: The Return of Manly Men,” New York Times, October 28, 2001,
24.For interesting discussions of the aftermath of Sept. 11 see: Susan Hawthorne and Bronwyn Winter, eds.
September 11, 2001, Feminist Perspectives (Australia: Spinifex, 2002); William Heyen, September 11, 2001,
American Writers Respond (Silver Spring, Md.: Etruscan Press, 2001); and “Roundtable: Gender and September
11″, Signs, vol. 28, no. 1 (Autumn, 2002), pp. 431-479.
25. Barbara Crossette, “Living in a World without Women,” New York Times, November 4, 2001, p. B1.
26.Jashir K. Puar and Amit S. Rai, “Monster, Terrorist, Fag: The War on Terrorism and the Production of Docile
Patriots”, Social Text, vol. 20, no. 2 (Fall, 2002), pp. 126, 139, 140.
27.Joel Williamson, New People, Miscegenation and Mulattoes in the U.S. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State
University, l995), p. 57.
28.Celia Dugger, “India’s Unwired Villages Mired in the Distant Past”, New York Times, March 19, 2000, p. A1.
29.See Estelle Freedman, No Turning Back, The History of Feminism and the Future of Women (New York:
Ballantine Books, 2002), for an important attempt, although not always successful, to pluralize the very idea
of feminism to non-western moments. Her discussion of feminism embraces sites that are not always readily
seen as feminist, although in the end, Western feminism appears dominant.
30.Zillah Eisenstein, The Radical Future of Liberal Feminism (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1981), p. 4.
31.Inji Aflatun, “We Egyptian Women”, in Opening the Gates: A Century of Arab Feminist Writing, ed. Margot
Badran and Miriam Cooke (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990), p. 350.
32.Eisenstein, The Radical Future of Liberal Feminism, p. 3 38
33.Eisenstein, The Color of Gender, p. 173.
34.Ibid., p. 175. Also see my The Female Body and the Law (Berekley: University of California Press, l988),
especially chapters 2, 3, and 6.
35.Toni Morrison, Beloved (New York, Alfred Knopf, l987), p. 190.
36.I am indebted to Carol Quillen, “Feminist Theory, Justice and the Lure of the Human”, Signs, vol. 27, no. 1
(Autumn, 2001), pp. 87-122, for the phrasing, “other-than” in pluralizing feminisms beyond liberalism..
37.Miriam Cooke, Women Claim Islam (New York: Routledge, 2001), pp. ix, xv, 60, 61.
38.Jill Nelson, “Call Me Woman”, Ms. Magazine, vol. XI, no. 2 (Feb./March, 2001), p. 48.
39.Huda Shaarawi, Harem Years, The Memoirs of an Egyptian Feminist, trans. And introduction by Margot Badran
(New York: The Feminist Press, 1986), p. 40.
40.Fay Afaf Kanafani, Nadia, Captive of Hope, Memoir of an Arab Woman (New York: M. E. Sharpe, 1999), p. xiii.
41.Zillah Eisenstein, Hatreds, Racialized and Sexualized Conflicts in the 21
Century (New York: Routledge, 1996),
42.I am indebted to my friend and African historian Sandra Greene for helping me clarify this point.
43.Martha Nussbaum, Women and Human Development (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 74, 8, 32.
44.Carol Quillen, “Feminist Theory, Justice and the Lure of the Human”, pp. 88, 89, 100, 120.
45.Martha Nussbaum, Sex and Social Justice (New York: Oxford University Press, l999), pp. 9, 256.
47.Amartya Sen, “Population and Gender Equity”, The Nation, vol. 274, no. 4 (July 24/31, 2000), p. 18.
48.”Women Key to Effective Development”, available at: http://www.worldbank.org/gender/
49.Ratna Kapur, “Imperial Parody”, Feminist Theory, vol. 2, no.1 (2001), pp. 79-88.
50.Susan Moller Okin, “Is Multiculturalism Bad For Women?”, in Susan Moller Okin, ed., Is Multiculturalism Bad
For Women? (Princeton: Princeton University Press, l999), p. 9.
51.Azizah Y. Al-Hibri, “Is WesternPatriarchal Femnism Good for Third World/Minority Women?” in Okin, ed., Is
Multiculturalism Bad For Women?, pp. 41-46. 39
52.bell hooks, Feminism is for Everybody (Cambridge, Mass.: South End Press), 2000.
53.Alice Walker, sent by earth, a message from the Grandmother Spirit (New York: Seven Stories Press, Open
Media Pamphlet Series, 2001). P. 49.
54.Arab Human Development Report, pp. 72, 107. Available from: 1 U.N. Plaza, N.Y., N.Y., 10017; or Email
55.James Russell, “Land and Identity in Mexico: Peasants Stop an Airport”, pp. 14-25; and Bernard D’Mello,
“Reebok and the Global Footwear Sweatshop”, pp. 26-40, in Monthly Review vol. 54, no. 9 (February, 2003).