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Feminism, Imperialism and Orientalism: the Challenge of the 'Indian Woman'

Rai, S. and Liddle, J. (1998) 'Feminism, Imperialism and Orientalism: the Challenge of the 'Indian Woman'', Women's History Review,  7(4): 495-520.

This material has been published in Women's History Review, Vol 7, No4,  year 1998, pp 495-520. The only definitive repository of the content that has been certified and accepted after peer review. Copyright and all rights therein are retained by Triangle Journals Ltd. This material may not be copied or reposted without explicit permission. (Copyright (C) Triangle Journals Ltd.). The web-site of the journal is located at


This article examines the content and process of imperialist discourse on the ‘Indian woman’ in the writings of two  North American women, one writing at the time of ‘first wave’ feminism, the other a key exponent of the ‘second wave’ of the movement. By analysing these writings, it demonstrates how the content of the discourse was reproduced over time with different but parallel effects in the changed political circumstances, in the first case producing the Western imperial powers as superior on the scale of civilisation, and in the second case producing Western women as the leaders of global feminism. It also identifies how the process of creating written images occurred within the context of each author’s social relations with the subject, the reader and the other authors,  showing how an orientalist discourse can be produced through the author’s representation of the human subjects of whom she writes; how this discourse can be reproduced through the author’s uncritical use of earlier writers; and how the discourse can be activated in the audience through the author’s failure to challenge established cognitive structures in the reader.

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