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Transnational Feminism

Tutor: Rebecca Stone

Mohanty's important essay 'Under Western Eyes' argued that western feminist theory tended to consider 'Third World' women as a homogenous group of victims living under a dominant patriarchy thus extending the colonising mindset. (NB: Mohanty uses “Third World” as a term reappropriated by previously colonised peoples to represent their political opposition and resistance). What is problematic about the collective term "women" as a group, as a stable category of analysis, is that it assumes an ahistorical, universal unity between women based on Western perceptions.

Mohanty thus deconstructs the notion of Third World women as a single victimised entity and distinguishes between the terms ‘woman’ and ‘women’:

This connection between women as historical subjects and the representation of Woman produced by hegemonic discourses is not a relation of direct identity or a relation of correspondence or simple implication. Rather it is an arbitrary relation set up by particular cultures.

She argues it is important to situate Third World feminism within local and historical contexts rather than using a universalist approach which is biased towards western feminism:

It is only by understanding the contradictions inherent in women's location within various structures that effective political action and challenges can be devised.

Third World feminism aims to generate feminist analyses by Third World women themselves of their diverse forms of oppression and different modes of resistance on the ground. Its focus has thus been on Third World women’s activisms in their particular local/national contexts. Transnational feminism is primarily interested in feminist organizations, networks, and movements occurring outside and beyond individual nation-states at the transnational level.

Seminar Questions

  • What are the differences between Third World feminism, transnational feminism and international feminism?
  • Is it problematic to view women as a single homogenous group? Why might this also be a particularly useful approach?
  • How does Mohanty define key concepts such as home, sisterhood, experience, community?
  • What has changed since the publication of Mohanty's seminal essay 'Under Western Eyes' (1984, reprinted in Feminism without Borders)
  • Are the campaigns to repeal the Contagious Diseases Acts an example of transnational or international feminism?

Core reading:

Chandra Mohanty, Feminism without Borders: Decolonising Theory, Practising Solidarity (2003)

James Keating, ‘The Defection of Women’: the New Zealand Contagious Diseases Act repeal campaign and transnational feminist dialogue in the late nineteenth century, Women's History Review, 25:2 (2016), pp. 187-206.

Further Reading (Transnational Feminism)

Rawwida Baksh and Wendy Harcourt, The Oxford Handbook of Transnational Feminist Movements (2015).

Mary Louise Roberts, 'The Transnationalisation of Gender History', History and Theory, 44:3 (2005), pp. 456-68.

Special issue on Transnational Feminist Research, Feminist Review, 121:1 (2019).

Further Reading (Contagious Diseases Acts)

Antionette Burton, Burdens of History: British Feminists, Indian Women, and Imperial Culture, 1865-1915 (1994), especially ch. 5.

A. Daly, ‘Syphilis is given over to sentimentalists’: The Dublin Medical Press and Circular and the drive to extend the Contagious Diseases Acts', Irish Historical Studies, 39:155 (2015), pp. 399-416.

Caitlin Dyer, 'Placating the British : The Contagious Diseases Act in Canada', in The proceedings of the 19th Annual History of Medicine Days Conference 2010 : the University of Calgary Faculty of Medicine, Alberta, Canada, ed. by Lisa Petermann, Kelsey Lucyk, Frank Stahnisch and Annual History of Medicine Days, pp. 45-60.

Elizabeth B. Van Heyningen, “The Social Evil in the Cape Colony 1868-1902: Prostitution and the Contagious Diseases Acts,” Journal of Southern African Studies, 10:2 (1984), pp. 173.

Philippa Levine, “Public Health, Venereal Disease and Colonial Medicine in the Later Nineteenth Century,” in Roger Davidson and Lesley A. Hall, eds., Sex, Sin and Suffering: Venereal Disease and European Society since 1870 (2001), pp. 160-172.

Philippa Levine, Prostitution, Race and Politics: Policing Venereal Disease in the British Empire (2003).

Philippa Levine, ‘Modernity, medicine and colonialism : the contagious diseases ordinances in Hong Kong and the Straits Settlements’, in Gender, sexuality and colonial modernities, ed. by Antoinette M. Burton (1999), pp. 35-48.

Elizabeth Malcolm, ‘Troops of largely diseased women : VD, the Contagious Diseases Acts and moral policing in late nineteenth-century Ireland’, Irish Economic and Social History, 26 (1999), pp. 1-14.

Richard Phillips, ‘Imperialism and the regulation of sexuality : Colonial legislation on contagious diseases and ages of consent’, Journal of Historical Geography, 28.3 (2002) 339-62.