Global & Transnational Feminisms

Gender & Society in the Classroom: Global and Transnational Feminisms

Organized by: Ashlyn Jaeger, University of California, Davis

Feminist work faces new challenges, as global communities become increasingly interconnected and activist efforts aiming to mitigate gender inequality move transnationally crossing borders and encountering new identities. Echoing critiques of early feminist thinking and organizing, transnational feminisms face similar obstacles in terms of cultivating connection, inclusion and understanding between different groups of women.  Many of the following articles address the power imbalance between the haves and have-nots across the globe, often identified by transnational feminists as a divide between First/Third, North/South, and One-Third/Two-Thirds worlds. These articles provide a base for understanding and teaching how to strategize ways of creating connections across vast differences, without reproducing power inequalities through the movement itself. These strategies center on changing the manner in which we think about identifying and tackling the issues set forth by the feminist movements.  As there is no individual and exclusive solution to the obstacles faced by transnational feminists, thus the movement will need to employ many diverse strategies in order to account for and overcome all of the different circumstances that divergent national, economic, religious, and racial backgrounds present.

Markowitz, Lisa and Karen W. Tice. 2002. Paradoxes of professionalization: Parallel dilemmas in women’s organizations in the Americas. Gender & Society 16(6): 941-958.

Comparing the organizational dilemmas of feminist organizing in the global North and South, Markowitz and Tice show how organizations in both of these contexts could learn valuable lessons and strategies from one another if greater transnational communication was fostered. Markowitz and Tice analyze quandaries regarding professionalization and bureaucratization faced by organizations in both Latin America and the United States.  Points of similarity include how organizing efforts in both the North and South are increasingly expanding the scope of issue they address, thereby falling under scrutiny from donors to the movement.  The professionalization prompted by this scrutiny has moved many feminist issues into the political mainstream, but it has also led to an increase in hierarchies within and between organizations.  Overall, this article demonstrates that in order to successfully create conversations and coalitions across global difference, we must aim to acknowledge both the asymmetries and similarities of any given feminist issue being addressed by local and transnational activist efforts.

Marshall, Gul Aldikacti. 2005. Ideology, progress, and dialogue: A comparison of feminist and Islamist women’s approaches to the issues of head covering and work in Turkey. Gender & Society 19(1): 104-120.

This study highlights central issue in global and transnational feminism studies—gender equality has different meanings for different women. By comparing the work of secular feminists women and Islamist women in Turkey regarding head covering and work (paid and unpaid), Marshall demonstrates divergent paths for achieving gender equality. Feminist groups use a framework of secular individualistic gender liberation whereas reformist Islamists engage with the ideas and policies of Islam as a route to gender equality. For instance, secularists view head coverings as a mode of patriarchal oppression constraining the freedom of women, whereas Islamist women seek the freedom to express their religious values by wearing the turban.  Overall, Marshall’s study shows some of the circumstances and contexts that either inhibit or encourage coalition building between women’s advocacy groups. 

Kim, Hyun Sook, Jyoti Puri, and H.J. Kim-Puri. 2005. Conceptualizing gender-sexuality-state-nation: an introduction. Gender & Society 19(2): 137-159.

As an introduction to a special issue of Gender & Society on gender, sexuality, state and nation, this piece is a great place to start a lesson on the matters central to global and transnational feminist studies.  In this article Kim-Puri provide a roadmap of the transnational feminist terrain, illustrating the importance, meaning, and utility of transnational feminist theory, methodology, and pedagogy for sociological research, teaching and activism.  Beginning with a critique of globalization, they problematize the hegemony of Western scholarship and the theoretical assumption of a uni-directional movement of power from first world to third world countries.  They argue transnational feminist analysis provides an alternative analytical frame to globalization studies. This framework has 4 key dimensions: an analysis of linkages across cultural contexts instead of bounded nation-states, an emphasis on social structures and the state, an analysis of power and inequality that focuses on both material and cultural meanings and conditions, and an approach hinging on empirical research.  Finally, they highlight the major themes of transnational feminist scholarship, such as universalizing discourses and the politics of visibility/invisibility and imagining the state and nation and contestations of citizenship.

Richards, Patricia. 2005. The politics of gender, human rights, and being Indigenous in Chile. Gender & Society 19(2): 199-220.

Using unstructured interviews and participant observations, Richards investigates the politics of gender and human rights for indigenous women in the context of Mapuche women’s lives in Chile.  She finds that both indigenous rights and women’s rights groups overlook the intersection of these divergent identity categories, thereby failing to address the unique issues facing indigenous women of Chile.  Richards finds that Mapuche women are critical of the Western notion of gender imposed by transnational feminists and seek solutions to women’s inequality specific to their own local context in which they may maintain and value their own culture practices.  In this vein, the language of human rights is more productive for meeting the needs of combating inequality for indigenous women as it transcends Western concepts of gender.  On the whole, Richards demonstrates the utility and flexibility of a human rights framework in transnational feminist work as it may be adapted to a multiplicity of local contexts to challenge inequality resulting from an intersection of oppressions.

Tambe, Ashwini. 2005. The exclusive ingénue: A transnational feminist analysis of European prostitution in colonial Bombay. Gender & Society 19(2): 160-179.

In this article, Tambe utilizes a transnational feminist analysis to investigate the position of European prostitutes on the racial and sexual hierarchy in colonial Bombay.   Her research highlights 2 dimensions of transnational feminist analysis: an understanding of race and gender categories as fluid and context specific and a critique of State constructions of social problems.  She shows that in Bombay European prostitutes assumes a position of sexual otherness as well as lesser whiteness and become permanent outsiders, whereas settler colonies in other nations aimed to reintegrate European prostitutes into their communities.  Due to this this outsider status, the Indian colonial state engages in coercive practices in order to maintain control over brothel workers by carefully policing brothels and ultimately reinforcing the power of brothel keepers.

This transnational analysis highlights how due to the specific position of European prostitutes in Bombay, anti-trafficking discourses and efforts had counterproductive effects in this context as League of Nations early anti-trafficking measures neglected to address exploitation and coercion within national borders.

Desai, Manisha. 2007. From the SWS President: Defining the messy relationship between feminisms and globalizations. Gender and Society 12(6): 797-803.

In this article Desai analyzes the complex relationship between globalization and feminist studies and activism.  She begins with the more sordid dynamic between the two, articulating the ways in which feminism is often deployed as a means of legitimizing corporate globalizing efforts.  Under the guise of offering women economic empowerment, corporate globalization and some feminist ideologies are complicit in undermining women’s rights.  However, Desai also outlines 3 key ways in which feminist politics may shape global politics for the better: 1) by providing theoretical frameworks, organizational structures and strategies aiming for equality 2) by providing alternatives to corporate globalization 3) by creating new cultures of globalization.  She also argues that globalization has the potential to provide gender justice if reframed and to focus on the nonconsumptive, interactive cultural of globalization in which women have the capacity to intertwine their own cultural practices with other political and cultural traditions.  All cultures involved in these processes of exchange will have the opportunity to engage with alternative cultural possibilities for generating greater gender equality.

Tellez, Michelle. 2008. Community of struggle: Gender, violence, and resistance on the U.S./Mexico Border. Gender & Society 22(5): 545-567.

Tellez analyzes the activist work of women on the U.S,/Mexico border in the city of Maclovio Rojas and how their activities challenge both State and intimate partner violence and ultimately build a women-centered consciousness. Her work draws on transnational feminist theory by highlighting the border as not merely a transitional place of arrival and departure between countries, but also as a unique sociopolitical space for resistance and community building.  This case also illuminates the connectedness between global and local activism as women simultaneously aim to transform both structural and interpersonal dimensions of inequality. Tellez demonstrates how Macloviana women’s activist activities resisting the violence of a neoliberal, capitalist, patriarchal and racialized State can generate women-centered subjectivities which translate into challenging gender oppression in their daily lives, such as intimate partner violence.

Wade, Lisa. 2009. Defining gendered oppression in U.S. newspapers: The strategic value of female genital mutilation.” Gender & Society 23(3): 293-314.

In this article Wade analyzes the gendered nature of the modernity/tradition binary arguing that the condition of women becomes a measure of the development of a society. By conducting a content analysis of U.S. newspapers reporting on female genital cutting practices, Wade highlights the role of this binary in trivializing the oppression of women in the U.S. while also denigrating non-Western cultures.  This is accomplished by citing specific cases as exemplars to be generalized to the all non-Western cultures and by elevating the U.S. as a pillar of gender egalitarianism.  On the other hand, Wade also shows us ways in which the female genital cutting arguments are also used to challenge the modernity/tradition binary; for instance, Western feminist scholars posit a two-tier system of oppression situating mild oppression in the U.S. relative to the severe gender oppression we see elsewhere.  Finally, Wade critiques the use female genital cutting to make feminist arguments on behalf of women everywhere, arguing instead that transnational work must remain critical of culturally imperialist logics.

Lawston, Jodie Michelle. 2009. “We’re all sisters”: Bridging and Legitimacy in the Women’s Antiprison Movement. Gender & Society 23(5): 636-664.

Sisterhood is a claim for the similarity of women’s experiences with gender oppression often deployed in transnational feminist work.  In this article, Lawtson argues that claims to sisterhood ignore difference among women in the context of the anti-prison movement.  Lawston analyzes the use of sisterhood discourse an ethnographic study of a white, middle class, feminist, antiracist organization advocating on behalf of incarcerated women, who are primarily of color and poor. She highlights many themes being grappled with in transnational feminist literature, such as conflicting goals in social movements demonstrated by the tension between prison reformist and abolitionist objectives highlighting what is often a disconnect between Western activists’ focus on long term goals thereby overlooking local women’s need for short term solutions to oppression and exploitation.  Overall, we must attend to both the similarities and differences in women’s experiences with oppression remaining cognizant or the interlocking oppression and unique power dynamics of transnational work.