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Under Western Eyes

April 2013

sarah Bordelon

on 10 April 2013

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Transcript of Under Western Eyes

Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses (1986) written by: Chandra Talpade Mohanty presentation by: Sarah Bordelon What is Feminism? The basics... the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of...
... equality to men. The WAVES First Wave Mainly around the 19th Century allowing women to vote. (UK, Netherlands, and North America)
... otherwise fighting for pretty basic rights. Second Wave gained popularity in the 60s (mostly in the US) ... eventually spread to other parts of the world. Focus was on sexuality, reproductive rights, family, and the workplace. Third Wave Beginning the early 90s, embraces change and diversity. Includes women of color, queer theory, transnaitonalism, etc. no single feminists ideal.
Diverges away from second-wave feminism which focused primarily on the problems of upper-to-middle class white women. What Mohanty is trying to analyze is specifically... the production of the ‘third world woman’ as a singular monolithic subject in some recent (western) feminist texts. The definition of colonization I invoke is a predominantly discursive one, focusing on a certain mode of appropriation and codification of ‘scholarship’ and ‘knowledge’ about women in the third world by particular analytic categories employed in writings on the subject which take as their primary point of reference feminist interests as they have been articulated in the US and western Europe” (Mohanty 61). Creating EUROCENTRIC ASSUMPTIONS. What is Colonization? "... Colonization almost invariably implies a relation of structural domination, and a discursive or political suppression of the heterogenity of the subject(s) in question" (Mohanty 61). WELL... Implicit assumption of “the west” as the primary referent in theory and praxis She argues that “assumptions of privilege and ethnocentric universality on the one hand, and inadequate self-consciousness about the effect of western scholar-ship on the ‘third world’ in the context of a world system dominated by the west on the other, characterize a sizable extent of western feminist work on women in the third world” (mohanty 63). Western Feminist discourse and political practice not homogeneous in its goals, interests or analysis. Similar arguments related to methods of analysis can be made in terms of middle-class, African or Asian scholars. Thus, “while this article focuses specifically on western feminist discourse on women in the third world, the critiques [she] offers also pertain to identical analytical principles employed by third-world scholars writing about their own cultures” (mohanty 62) The connection between women as historical subjects and the representation of women produced by hegemonic discourses = not a relation of direct identity, correspondence or simple implication Composite, singular ‘third-world woman’ –arbitrarily constructed? Third-World difference:

“stable, a historical something that apparently oppresses most if not all the women in these countries” and in which “western feminism appropriate and colonize the constitutive complexities which characterize the lives of women in these countries” (Mohanty 63). What PROBLEMS does this create? Assumption of women as an already constituted group with identical interests and desires, regardless of class, ethnic or racial location.

Methodological level, in the uncritical way ‘proof of universality and cross-cultural validity are provided

Political-underlying the methodologies and the analytic strategies

“Women” as Category of Analysis or “we are all sisters in struggle“… all of us the same gender, across classes and cultures, and somehow socially constituted as a homogeneous group” (mohanty 65)

“Homogeneity of women as a group is produced not on the basis of biological essentials but rather on the basis of secondary sociological and anthropological universals” (Mohanty 65)

Women are characterized as a singular group on the basis of a shared oppression ‘A meaningful transnational literacy will require recognition of the location of readers and of reading as a socialized activity within a particular context. It will require that we learn to read literature by and about “Third-World” women as more than informal sociology, even as it will enjoin upon us the need to read global experiences and events as complex, intricately interwoven social texts. In other words, it will oblige us to recognize the complexities of subject construction everywhere and to learn to read the world through what I would refer to as the “logic of adjacence.” We would then read women in the world not as the same but as neighbours, as “near dwellers” whose adjacence can become more meaningful. Through this logic – a logic that might be usefully applied to the general orientation of post colonialism – we would read the world, not as one (in the sense of being already united), but as belonging together’
– Deepika Bahri, ‘Feminism in/and post colonialism six ways in which ‘women’ as a category of analysis is used in western feminist discourse to construct ‘third-world women’ as a homogeneous ‘powerless’ group Woman’s sexuality is controlled ‘Objects-who-defend-themselves’ and subjects-who-perpetrate-violence’ thus a simple opposition between the powerless (women) and the powerful (men) groups of people Women as Victims of Male Violence Fran Hosken: relationship between human rights and female genital mutilation in Africa and the Middle East. Women as Universal Dependents Beverley Lindsay: Comparative Perspectives on Third World Women: The Impact of Race, Class and Sex

dependency relationships, based upon race, sex and class, are being perpetuated through social, educational, and economic institutions. These are the linkages among Third World Women” (Mohanty 67)

Also, statements like: “My analysis will start by stating that all African women are politically and economically dependent’ or “nevertheless, either overtly or covertly, prostitution is still the main if not the only source of work for African Women’ (Mohanty 67) Married Women as Victims of the Colonial Process According to Levi-Strauss’s theory of kinship, “women are not subordinate because of the fact of exchange, but because of the modes of exhange instituted, and the values attached to these modes.” (mohanty 68) Women of Africa Before European colonization:
Bemba women are protected by their initiation ceremony at puberty, which has both political and ritual power.

After European colonization:
Bemba women are not under the protection of tribal laws (Cutrufelli 43).

Bemba women should be treated differently before and after their initiation ceremony. Otherwise, it means the denial of the differential value attached to the exchange of marriage stages. This View denies the political effects of the initial ceremony. (Mohanty 70) Women and Familial Systems Elizabeth Cowie has argued that “women as women are not simply located within the family. Rather, it is in the family, as a effect of kinship structures, that women as women are constructed, defined within and by the group.” (49-63)

She criticized about Juliette Minces’s citation of “the patriarchal family as the basis for ‘an almost identical vision of women’ that Arab and Muslim societies have” indicating that there are two main problems
1)one cannot talk about a vision of women shared by certain societies without mentioning their particular historical and ideological backgrounds
2)women are constructed by socio-economic contexts, not exist prior to their entry into the family. Women and Religious Ideologies Patricia Jeffery has taken Islamic ideology as one factor to explain the status of Pirzada women in prudah in her research.

Although her analysis “does not succumb to this kind of unitary notion of religion, it does collapse all ideological specificities into economic relations, and universalizes on the basis of this comparison.” (Mohanty 71).

The overall effect of this paradigm is to deprive women of self-presence, of being. Because women are subsumed under religion presented in fundamental terms, they are inevitably seen as evolving in nonhistorical time they have virtually no history. Any analysis of change is therefore foreclosed. – Marnia Lazreg (1988:87) Women and the Development Process Methodological Universalism Arithmetic Method

Use of “Concepts”

Gender as Superordinate Category The development of lives of women in third-world = economic development or economic progress which affects women living in developing countries both positively and negatively.

Perdita Huston argues that “education and training, work and wages, access to health and other services” are the center factors that influences women’s problems and needs in developing countries. To deal with these problems and needs, improved development policies should be made to offer training for women. (1979:115)

However, she fails to see that women in different countries have different needs. She categorizes them as a group characterized by gender, and fails to take local history and political contexts, as well as social class and ethnic identities into consideration.

Unfortunately, until today, an increasing number of western feminist will write according to this tradition. Methodologies Western Feminist Writings Use:

“Large number of different, fragmented examples… add up to a universal fact” (Mohanty, 75)

Hosken (1985)

“Rape, forced prostitution, polygamy, genital mutilation, pornography, the beating of girls and women, purdah (segregation of women) are all violagions of basic human rights”

purdah –descriptive generalization
1.Cultural and Ideological context
2.Same action, different meaning
3.Analytically reductive
4.Useless when facing elaboration of oppositional political strategy Concepts are “often used without their specification in local cultural and historical contexts.”(Mohanty, 75)
concept e.g.:sexual division of labour descriptively valid but conepts = more than just “descriptive”Mere existence of similar situation vs. meaning and explanation of socio-historical context

Doubt the Assumption
Believing existence as reality:
1)women in the Third World can create a false sense of commonality of oppression, sisterhood etc.
2)”Beyond sisterhood there is still racism, colonialism, and imperialism” (Mohanty, 77)

-Thus, local contextual analysis are a must! Use of gender as a superordinate category of organizfing analysis = universalistic proof and instantiation of the category “Empirical studies of gender differences are confused with the analytical organization of cross-cultural work” (Mohanty, 77) Confusion Leads to... “female:male are superordiante categories… (that) are universal… (as) they organize the universe of a system of represntations” (Brown, 1983)

Assumption – empirical proof of its existence Some of texts assume ‘women have coherent group identity among different cultures regardless of class, ethnicity…

Structures world into binary, dichotomous position to men

Patriarchy = male dominance

Legal, economic,

familial systems = constructed by men

Subject of Power

Women Status




The legal system

Sexual division of labour


Politcal resistance “western feminist discourse, by assuming women as a coherent, already constituted group which is placed in kinship, legal and other structures, defines third-world women as subjects outside of social relations, instead of looking at the way women are constituted as women through theses very structures.” (mohanty 80) “Underdeveloped” or “Developing” structures create image of “third-world woman”
Oppressed woman generated through Gender Difference
Oppressed Third-World Woman includes Paternalistic attitude towards women in the third world

Third world women automatically defined as:
Religious = not progressive
Family oriented = traditional
Legal minors = not conscious of their rights
Illiterate = ignorant
Domestic = backwards
Revolutionary = their country is in a state of war, they must fight!” “Third world difference” Idea of superiority of the West produce images like:
Veiled woman vs. powerful mother + obedient wife

These images are universal, a historical, colonialist discourse in defining First/Third world connections.

Adding the “third world” difference to “sexual difference”Predicted on assumptions about western women as secular, liberated and having control over their own lives Eurocentric assumptions Reinforces that people in third world haven’t evolved to the extent West has.

This type of feminist analysis by homogenizing & systemizing experiences of different groups of women, erases all marginal & resistant modes of experiences.

Labeling the “east” and “woman” as others.

(western) Man/Humanism represented as the center, the norm.

Author suggests that one ENABLES and SUSTAINS the other. Conclusion: Problems with generalizing as "Women" WHICH... Creates monolithic images of “third world women” Arithmetic Method Errors/Cons born out of the women's lib movement Use of Colonization evident economic and political hierarchies

production of a particular cultural discourse about what is "third world." Women are defined consistently as the victims of male control - the "sexually oppressed." Further Reading:
The Hosken Report: Genital and Sexual Mutilation of Females (1979) Further viewing:
Desert Flower The difference between traditional marriage contract versus the post-colonial marriage contract. Marnia Lazreg : The Eloquence of silence Use of Concepts Use of Gender as Superordinate Category
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