A few weeks ago I had a essay to write for my feminism and political theory class and wanted to share briefly some of the ideas that I learnt from it. The essay was 'Given the variety of values and priorities between cultures, is it inappropriate to try to apply the same feminist agenda to all cultural groups?'
Now the conclusion I got from researching this question was that, of course, a one-size-fits-all feminism is not going to work because women are not just a solely a social entity . To assume that all women face oppression in the same way just because they are a women is clearly wrong, and it's an idea that has been challenged and has lost its popularity over many years. It has become clear to me though that yes, feminism has a clear general aim, but it will mean different things to different women.
In studying the topics of multiculturalism and feminism, and particular looking at the lives of women in poor developing countries. This quote in particular stuck me.
‘although sexual egalitarianism is a major goal for all feminists, gender discrimination is neither the sole nor perhaps the primary locus of the oppression of Third world women’. - Cheryl Johnson-Odim [x]
Now maybe this is a disputed idea, or maybe this is an obvious point, but it made me rethink in some ways what for me, feminism's purpose is, and how it needs to be catered to the women or the community it hopes to liberate. I can't really remember what I thought intersectionality meant before I did this essay but I believe now I have a better understanding of it.
Although people's perception of other cultures is slowly getting better as people become more open and understanding. I would say there is a still a problem. The fact that we assume harmful practices such as Sati, dowry murders, child marriage and FGM are things innate to a countries culture or religion is so awful. To push these terrible things under the category of 'cultural values' gives the idea that because the west don't have these practices that the West is somewhat superior.
Yet, if we are being honest, western countries are in no way better; forms of oppression and discrimination are widespread. The key difference is that the oppression of women in the west is seen as a problem that just needs solving, while the oppression of women in developing countries is seen as 'culture'. And the media goes to perpetuate these ideas. In an article by Leti Volpp, she talks about how the New Yorker, in writing about Dowry Murder in South Asian communities called it 'the cultural alternative to Western divorce'. This is the article [pdf link ]. I would really recommend it, as it explains it much more detail the problem of terming these practices as part of 'culture'.
Anyways, before I get off on a tangent and start re-writing my essay, the ideas above are just some things that got me re-evaluating how I see the struggles of women in countries other than my own. For the main thing I want to get across in writing this is that women's experiences in countries other than our own can not be seen as just a gender issue. Oppressive structures of racism and poverty are playing a part in women's lives.
I feel like the feminism I read and talk about can be so western centric and sometimes I found myself assuming the discrimination and difficulties found by women in my near vicinity as ones faced by all women and therefore are the most pressing issues facing women. It never crossed my mind before that women in other countries may be in such a difficult position that achieving gender equality is not the only and first way they need to improve their lives.
So there are just some of my thoughts on International Women's Day, for me, a day to open my eyes beyond my experiences and look at the broader picture.