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EN270: Transnational Feminism, 2011/12 Sorcha Gunne Office: H540 Office Hour: Tuesday, 11am PowerPoint Presentation
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EN270: Transnational Feminism, 2011/12 Sorcha Gunne Office: H540 Office Hour: Tuesday, 11am. Term 1: Key concepts and debates Week 1) Introduction Week 2) Subalternity and Experience – Mahasweta Devi, ‘ Draupadi ’

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EN270: Transnational Feminism, 2011/12


Office: H540

Office Hour: Tuesday, 11am


Term 1: Key concepts and debates

  • Week 1) Introduction
  • Week 2) Subalternity and Experience – MahaswetaDevi, ‘Draupadi’
  • Week 3) Woman and Nation – (extracts from) Kaplan, Caren, Norma Alarcón and MinooMoallem (eds) (1999) Between Woman and Nation
  • Week 4) Woman and Nation – AssiaDjebar, Fantasia (1993)
  • Week 5) Woman and Nation – Selection of Poetry from Seamus Heaney and Eavan Boland
  • Week 6) Reading week no seminar
  • Week 7) Migrating Selves – (extracts from) Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands
  • Week 8) Migrating Selves – Toni Morrison, No Mercy (2008)
  • Week 9) Migrating Selves – Richard Flanagan, The Sound of One Hand Clapping (1997)
  • Week 10) Conclusion

Assessment: You will have 2 essays (2,500 words each) and a 2 hour exam. Essay 1 is due in term 2, week 3 and Essay 2 is due in term 3, week 3.


Why Feminism?

‘The particular strength of the masculine sociodicy comes from the fact that it combines and condenses two operations: it legitimates a relationship of domination by embedding it in a biological nature that is itself a naturalized social construction’

– Pierre Bourdieu, Masculine Domination

‘If it is quite illusory to believe that symbolic violence can be overcome with the weapons of consciousness and will alone, this is because the effect and conditions of its efficacy are durably and deeply embedded in the body and in the form of dispositions’

– Pierre Bourdieu, Masculine Domination


Why ‘Transnational’ Feminism?

Let’s talk about the hair. Why do I call it “yellow” hair and not “blond” hair? Because I’m pretty sure everybody calls my hair “brown.” When I read fairy tales to my daughter I always change the word “blond” to “yellow,” because I don’t want her to think that blond hair is somehow better.

My daughter has a reversible doll: Sleeping beauty on one side and Snow White on the other. I would always set it on her bed with the Snow White side out and she would toddle up to it and flip the skirt over to Sleeping Beauty. I would flip it back and say, “Snow White is so pretty.” She would yell, “No!” and flip it back.... When I asked her why she didn’t like Snow White, she told me, “I don’t like her hair.” Not even three years old, she knew that yellow hair is king. And let’s admit it, yellow hair does have magical powers. You could put a blond wig on a hot-water heater and some dude would try to f%*$ it’

– Tina Fey, Bossypants

‘[I]t is necessary to see “women”as a complex, impure category that bleeds across borders of apparently discrete identities, such as sex, gender, race and nation’ [and I would add class]

– Irene Gedalof, Against Purity


Chandra TalpadeMohanty, ‘Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses’ (1986)

This essay analyzes the ‘production of the “Third World woman” as a singular, monolithic subject in some (Western) feminist texts’

Women as a category of analysis: ‘This focus is not on uncovering the material and ideological specificities that constitute a particular group of women as “powerless” in a particular context. It is, rather, on finding a variety of cases of powerless groups of women to prove the general point that women as a group are powerless’

Mohanty identifies 6 modes of defining women primarily in terms of their object status: Women as victims of male violence; Women as universal dependents; Victims of the colonial process; Victims of the Arab familial system; Victims of the Islamic code; Victims of the economic development process


‘If relations of domination and exploitation are defined in terms of binary divisions – groups that dominate and groups that are dominated – then surely the implication is that the accession to power of women as a group is sufficient to dismantle the existing organization of relations. But women as a group are not in some sense essentially superior or infallible. The crux of the problem lies in that initial assumption of women as a homogenous group or category (“the oppressed”), a familiar assumption in Western radical and liberal feminism’

– Chandra Mohanty, ‘Under Western Eyes

Feminism without Borders

'Feminism without borders is not the same as “border-less” feminism. It acknowledges the fault lines, conflicts, differences, fears, and containment that borders represent. It acknowledges that there is no one sense of a border, that the lines between and through nations, races, classes, sexualities, religions, disabilities, are real – and that a feminism without borders must envision change and social justice work across these lines of demarcation and division. I want to speak of feminism without silences and exclusions in order to draw attention to the tension between simultaneous plurality and narrowness of borders and the emancipatory potential of crossing through, with, and over these borders in our everyday lives’

– Chandra Mohanty, Feminism Without Borders


Limits of Mohanty’s argument in ‘Under Western Eyes’

‘Where Mohanty engages in a particular critique of “Third World Woman” as a monolithic object in the texts of Western feminism, her argument is premised on the irreconcilability of gender as history and gender as culture.... How will the ethnic voice of womanhood counteract the cultural articulation that Mohanty too easily dubs as the exegesis of Western feminism? The claim to authenticity – only a black can speak for a black; only a postcolonial subcontinental feminist can adequately represent the lived experience of that culture – points to the great difficulty posited by the “authenticity” of female racial voices in the great game that claims to be the first narrative of what the ethnically constructed woman is deemed to want’

– Sara Suleri, ‘Feminism Skin Deep


Why bother crossing borders?

‘Many transnational feminists identify the international division of labour rather than cultural conflicts or transactions – as the most important defining feature of postcoloniality. These major sites of labor exploitation and resistance are located in the Free Trade Zones in the Third World, in sweatshops in the United States and Europe, and in home-based labor everywhere. By linking these sites, they recognize the spatial interpenetration and integration of the First and Third Worlds; the First World exerts its economic, political, and cultural influence in the Third World, while internal conclaves of a Third World are being constructed within the territorial boundaries of the First World’

– Rajeswari Sunder Rajan and You-me Park, ‘Postcolonial Feminism / Postcolonialism and Feminism’


What Bahri suggests...

‘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 postcolonialism – we would read the world, not as one (in the sense of being already united), but as belonging together’

– DeepikaBahri, ‘Feminism in/and postcolonialism’


Rejecting One Story