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.

Reena Kukreja. 2021. Colorism as Marriage Capital: Cross-Region Marriage Migration in India and Dark-Skinned Migrant Brides. Gender & Society 35(1): 85-109.

This article, based on original research from 57 villages in four provinces from North and East India, sheds light on a hitherto unexplored gendered impact of colorism in facilitating noncustomary cross-region marriage migrations in India. Within socioeconomically marginalized groups from India’s development peripheries, the hegemonic construct of fairness as “capital” conjoins with both regressive patriarchal gender norms governing marriage and female sexuality and the monetization of social relations, through dowry, to foreclose local marriage options for darker-hued women. This dispossession of matrimonial choice forces women to “voluntarily” accept marriage proposals from North Indian bachelors, who are themselves faced with a bride shortage in their own regions due to skewed sex ratios. These marriages condemn cross-region brides to new forms of gender subordination and skin-tone discrimination within the intimacy of their marriages, and in everyday relations with conjugal families, kin, and rural communities. Because of colorism, cross-region brides are exposed to caste-discriminatory exclusions and ethnocentric prejudice. Dark-skin shaming is a strategic ideological weapon employed to extract more labor from them. The article extends global scholarly discussion on the role of colorism in articulating new forms of gendered violence in dark-complexioned, poor rural women’s lives.

Clevenger, Casey. 2020. “Constructing Spiritual Motherhood in the Democratic Republic of Congo.” Gender & Society 34 (2): 307-330.

Drawing on an ethnographic study of Roman Catholic sisters in the Democratic Republic of Congo, I show how women in the Global South draw on religious imagery to redefine cultural ideals of womanhood and family responsibility. By taking the religious vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience, the Congolese sisters I interviewed seemingly betray local expectations regarding women’s responsibility to reproduce and repair the clan. Although sisters’ vows subject them to social ridicule for violating cultural expectations to bear children and support kin, they devise new strategies to negotiate the connection between womanhood and the maternal role of caregiver and nurturer outside of marriage and fertility. In social ministries that affirm their communal, moral, and spiritual ties to others, the sisters realize these cultural ideals through a “spiritual motherhood” that transforms their traditional heteronormative obligations. Framing their decision to live outside accepted kinship structures in religious terms mutes the radicalness of this lifestyle and provides religious legitimation for what would otherwise be considered a selfish choice for a woman acting independent of family well-being. In this context, I demonstrate how doing religion is inseparable from doing gender as Catholic sisters embody alternative ways of being a woman in post-colonial Congolese society through their religious practices.

Glas, Saskia, and Amy Alexander. 2020. “Explaining Support for Muslim Feminism in the Arab Middle East and North Africa.” Gender & Society 34 (3): 437-466.

Public debates depict Arabs as opposed to gender equality because of Islam. However, there may be substantial numbers of Arab Muslims who do support feminist issues and who do so while being highly attached to Islam. This study explains why certain Arabs support feminism while remaining strongly religious (“Muslim feminists”). We propose that some Arab citizens are more likely to subvert patriarchal norms, especially in societies that construct Islam and feminism as more compatible. Empirically, we apply three-level multinomial analyses to 51 Arab Barometer and World Values Surveys, which include 57,000 Arab Muslims. Our results show that one in four Arab Muslims supports Muslim feminism—far more than those who support a more secularist version of feminism. Employed women, single people, people who distrust institutions, and more highly educated people support Muslim feminism more than do others—especially in societies that construct feminism and Islam as less contradictory, such as those with strong feminist movements. The presumption that Islam and feminism are necessarily opposed may hinder feminism. A more effective way to boost gender equality in the Arab region may be to embolden emancipatory religious interpretations.

Alimahomed-Wilson, Sabrina. 2020. “The Matrix of Gendered Islamophobia: Muslim Women’s Repression and Resistance.” Gender & Society 34 (4): 648-678.

Drawing on 75 semi-structured qualitative interviews with Arab, South Asian, and Black Muslim women social justice activists, ages 18–30 years, organizing in the United States and the United Kingdom, I theorize their experiences as the basis of the matrix of gendered Islamophobia. Building upon Jasmine Zine’s concept of gendered Islamophobia, I synthesize this concept with Patricia Hill Collins’s theory of the matrix of domination to give a more in-depth and nuanced structure of how gendered Islamophobia operates and is resisted by Muslim women activists. This article identifies the overlapping configurations of power that affect Muslim women’s lives through structural, disciplinary, hegemonic, and interpersonal domains, countering reductionist accounts of Islamophobia as a universalized, unvariegated social force impacting all Muslims in similar ways (thereby privileging Muslim men’s experiences and subjectivities while contributing to the erasure of Muslim women’s agency). Instead, the matrix of gendered Islamophobia locates Islamophobia within shifting axes of oppression that are simultaneously structured along the lines of gender, race, class, sexuality, and citizenship. The findings of this research reveal a dialectical relationship between Muslim women’s oppression and simultaneous contestation of gendered Islamophobia via their collective remaking of alternative ideas, politics, discourses, and organizing practices.

García-Del Moral, Paulina. 2020. “Practicing Accountability, Challenging Gendered State Resistance: Feminist Legislators and Feminicidio in Mexico.” Gender & Society 34 (5): 844-868.

In the late 1990s, Mexican feminists mobilized transnationally to demand state accountability for the feminicidios (feminicides) of women in Ciudad Juarez. Feminicidio refers to the misogynous killing of women and the state’s complicity in this violence by tolerating it with impunity. Drawing on debates of the Mexican Federal Congress (1997–2012) and interviews with feminist state and non-state actors, I examine feminist legislators’ response to transnational activism, which was to pass the “General Law on Women’s Access to a Life Free of Violence” and to create the penal-type code of feminicidio, which includes provisions to punish negligent state actors. These laws make the state a target of its own punitive power. To pass these acts, feminist legislators faced resistance from male legislators and the Federal Executive. I build on feminist institutionalism to theorize this resistance as gendered. Gendered state resistance was pervasive because feminist legislators practiced accountability by identifying the complicity of state institutions, including Congress, in perpetuating feminicidio. As part of the process, they built alliances with other female legislators and framed their arguments with notions of modern statehood. Although this framing strategy resulted in innovative legal change, I interrogate the assumption that modernity is the solution to feminicidio, because it can lead gendered state resistance to manifest as a simulation of accountability.

Dejaeghere, Joan, and Aditi Ashok Arur. 2020. “Education for All: How Schooling is Creating Social Changes for Lowered-Caste Girls in Rural India.” Gender & Society 34 (6): 951-975.

Arguments for the expansion of formal schooling have long focused on individual outcomes from schooling, including increasing income, reducing poverty, delaying marriage, and improving health, particularly for girls and women. For nearly three decades now, global education agendas have supported girls’ education in an effort to achieve these outcomes. A large body of research analyzes girls’ individual empowerment from schooling, but less attention is given to how schooling is creating change in families and communities, particularly for lowered-caste girls in India. This article places longitudinal data from a three-year qualitative interview study of schoolgirls in Rajasthan alongside qualitative life-history interviews of girls who completed secondary school in Uttarakhand to understand how schooling affects social changes for lower castes. The analysis, using an intersectional and relational approach, illustrates how girls’ schooling shifts kin and caste relations connected to marriage and work but in ways that do not transform the stickiness of caste and gender norms. We argue that educational policies and programs must attend to the ways in which caste is implicated in achieving outcomes of delayed marriage and formal employment for lowered-caste girls in Indian communities if schooling is to create positive social change.