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Transnational Feminisms

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Before I get into this episode, I wanted to put it out there that at the present moment, I’m currently just talking about it, I’m not actually doing feminist work or activism in any real way. This episode is mostly to amplify the voices of those like Dr. Rita Nketia who are engaged in real feminist solidarity work.

I saw a tweet from a Black woman of African descent recently that said she “loathes feminists and all that they stand for.” This a bold statement coming from someone who can even tweet on the internet because of the labour of Black and other feminists who paved the way for her to live as freely as she does.

It’s one thing for men to be misinformed. That I get to a certain extent. Its feminism we blame for pinning men and women against one another, so it makes some sense that men should think feminism is the problem. But I always forget that these types of men fall in love with women who also share like-minded opinions. And listen, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Who am I to judge?

But I wanted to ask her what her definition of feminism was because it seems she’s been misinformed. Simply put at its bare bone minimum, feminism is the movement for the advancement and equality of women and girls. It was feminists and other civil rights and labour activists that made it possible for so many of us to be where we are today. I wanted to ask her if she’d ever say that about Black civil rights activists, that she loathes them for all they represented. Because there were men and women in that fight that believed that women also deserved to be free from the same shackles that kept Black people down. Malcolm X had his fair share of sexist moments as most of us do. But he was a champion of women, so much so that he put his life and career on the line to defend the young women he believed were being taken advantage of. Martin Luther King Jr. did the same. Others have called Stuart Hall a feminist. If you think that women deserve better than playing second fiddle, you likely have some feminist principles in you.

As I discussed in the previous two blogs, it’s one thing to take issue with the term feminism, and another to knock the work feminists do. I don’t always align myself with the word feminism either. I’m not entirely for how it’s deployed. But feminists and those championing women’s work have made it possible for so many of us to move as freely as we do in this work. This blog discusses some of the work that feminists globally engage in.

Sociologist Manisha Desai (2002) indicated that by the nineteenth century, women in Europe and the United States had already begun organizing for the abolition of slavery. This points to a key component of feminism, which is solidarity, a term that is in its own way broad and contested, and for some, even elusive.

Feminist solidarity is interdisciplinary and crosses an array of topics and issues (Tripp, 2013). How feminists show up for others is vast. Feminist solidarity looks like many things to different people. Some focus less on the divisions that emerge when mobilizing and instead place emphasis on coalition building (see Garcia-Rojas, 2019), while others suggest that solidarity emerges when groups of people come together in an alliance to defend and protect each other through unions or as part of political activity such as protests (Featherstone, 2012). David Featherstone (2012) argued that organizing within labour movements, for example, may be contained within the nation-state, but often, solidarity flows across and transcends borders, as is the case with transnational feminism.

In Solidarity of Strangers, feminist theorist Jodi Dean (1996) argued that at least three individuals are needed to form solidarity: “I ask you to stand by me over and against a third” (p. 3). As Dean herself recognized, this articulation of solidarity revealed some of feminism’s paradoxical nature. The very use of the words “over” and “against” suggests that solidarity requires that we oppose something or someone in the name of solidarity. This opposition could be against patriarchy, racism, capitalism, or heterosexism (among other isms), but sometimes it includes other feminists. This obviously defeats the assumed idea of solidarity as purely universal or exclusively unified. It instead sets solidarity up as also exclusionary and divisive, terms we generally understand as the opposite of solidarity (Dean, 1996, p. 15). Such tension was felt and exhibited during the early years of feminism. I discussed these a few blogs ago.

Transnational feminist scholars like Myra Marx Ferree and Mari Tripp (2006), Vera Mackie (2011), and Valentine Moghadam (2005) have centered their feminist work on human rights, the UN, and “NGOization.”1 Sonya Alvarez (1998; 2000) and Nancy Naples (2002) question hierarchies within social movements and why those who are privileged and have power, like feminists located within the West, the UN, and larger NGOs, tend to exert power over those located in grassroots movements or the Global South. Maylei Blackwell (2006) “weaves” Indigenous voices into larger spaces such as the UN where they had historically been excluded. Sarah E. Dempsey, Patricia Parker, and Kathleen J. Krone (2011) join Lyndi Hewitt (2011), Sarah Mahler, and Patricia Pessar (2001) in broadening definitions of feminism to include identity and place-based politics as well as postmodernism.

Chandra T. Mohanty (2003), Virginia Vargas (2003), Mary Hawkesworth (2006), and Nancy Naples and Manisha Desai (2002) have illustrated how feminism should involve a critique of the nation-state, nation-building, globalization, colonialism, imperialism, and capitalism. Chandra T. Mohanty (2003) and Amrita Basu (2004), in particular, have taken an interest in addressing globalization and anti-capitalism. Valentine Moghadam (2005) does the same with issues of development. While Alicia Hovorka (2006, 2009), Meredith Abarca (2010), and Carolyn Sachs (1996, 2013) address women in relation to food security and food sovereignty. These are but some of the different manifestations of feminist solidarity.

The word feminism is not one singular thing. If you still believe that you are surely mistaken. There are so many different types of feminisms globally. Feminists do all types of work, including some that contradict each other. This can be both generative and destructive. In any case, take it for what it is, or is not.

I’ll end it here. Please feel free to like, subscribe, and share.

Until next time, in solidarity.

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