“The next big shift in feminism”

by Guest Contributor Tanglad, originally published at Tanglad

Camille Paglia recently wrote a number of gushing statements about Sarah Palin, but here’s the one that made my eyes roll the hardest:

I stand on what I said (as a staunch pro-choice advocate) in my last two columns — that Palin as a pro-life wife, mother and ambitious professional represents the next big shift in feminism. Pro-life women will save feminism by expanding it, particularly into the more traditional Third World.

It’s amazing how many wrong assumptions can be crammed into two short sentences. Twenty years after Chandra Mohanty’s Under Western Eyes, and we still have Western feminists advocating colonialism for the good of Third World women?

Feminists like Paglia still refer to a monolithic Third World, a categorization that assumes a homogenous oppression of all brown and black women. Of women who are characterized by all the stereotypes attached to the word “traditional” – backwards, primitive, uneducated, victimized, poor.

Paglia employs a very narrow frame in her analysis of feminism in the Third World, one that takes issues important to a specific subset of women in the countries like the US and universalizes them as a measure of the standing of all women. And even by that measure, she’s still off, because Third World women are also “ambitious professionals.” Third World wives and mothers, in fact, have occupied high office. In the Philippines, we even have our own attractive governor/former movie star who may be considering a run for vice president.

Why would Paglia assume that these feminist issues would be the ones needed in the Third World? The answer, of course, is that family and professional concerns are the issues important to mainstream feminists in the West. The phrase “expanding it…particularly into the more traditional Third World” drips with assumption of a Western-centric feminism, one that needs to be exported to the backwards areas.

Here’s some news for you, Ms. Paglia. Women in what you term the “more traditional Third World” have been engaged in actions that you would have recognized as feminist, had you bothered to look. You can see it in the Filipina womens’ militant indigenous tradition against mining in the Cordilleras, a tradition that dates back to the 1900s. In the work of groups like Ni Unima Mas, a coalition of transnational feminists activists campaigning against feminicide in Ciudad Juarez.

And yes, Third World feminists have been at it for some time now too. In 1869, for example, a Bengali sex worker wrote to the editor of a newspaper, arguing that sex workers should be entitled equal rights to medical examination. These are just a few of the campaigns that belie Paglia’s notion of the Third World as a feminist backwater.

I’m not saying that Third World women would not benefit from a greater engagement with their first world counterparts. We need to form coalitions and to act in solidarity towards addressing our common issues. But such solidarities will only be possible when we have real conversations about what those issues are, when feminists like Paglia recognize and listen to the vital woman-centered knowledge that are continually produced in our communities.

Now that is one exchange that would truly characterize a significant shift in feminism.