“I’m Not a Feminist, But . . .”: Multicultural, Global, and Postcolonial Feminism

We hear people say this all of the time, and yet they often go on to express “feminist” ideas and could identify as a feminist. There are many reasons why people distance themselves from the feminist movement. I can’t possibly explain or guess them all. But I can explain the different types of feminism according to Rosemarie Tong’s book Feminist Thought: A More Comprehensive Introduction (2009). There are many types of feminism, and we know that “all feminists do not think alike” (p. 1). However, labeling different schools of thought help us to “mark the range of different approaches, perspectives, and frameworks a variety of feminists have used to shape both their explanations for women’s oppression and their proposed solutions for its elimination” (p. 1).

This series will outline and define the many feminisms. Maybe you’ll be able to identify where you agree and disagree with feminist thought.

feminist thought cover

Today’s focus is Multicultural, Global, and Postcolonial Feminism. Last week, I posted on Care-Focused Feminism.

The point of multicultural feminism is to recognize “women’s diversity and” acknowledge “the challenges it presents” (p. 200). Not all women have the same equalities or opportunities and this must be addressed, especially in first- and third-world terms. There are sameness feminists, who “tried to prove that women had the same intellectual, physical, and moral capacities as men” and “the primary enemy of women was sexism” (p. 201). In contrast, difference feminists say “it was a mistake for women to try to be like men, because women’s ways of knowing, doing, and being were just as good as, if not better than, men’s” (p. 202). Difference feminism relates to the ethic of care, in recognizing that women’s ways are just as good as or better than men’s. One example is the idea of “emotional intelligence,” which women have always generally had and it now seems to be gaining recognition.

Plurality is important and “we need to cultivate mutual tolerance, respect, and knowledge of each other’s cultures” (p. 204). A big issue within this type of feminism is the failure to “realize that it is possible to oppress people both by ignoring their differences and by denying their similarities” (p. 204). There are white ways of thinking that assume white is normal, and we should not claim that all women are alike.

We learn from these feminist that “Just because race and ethnicity are fluid categories, . . . does not mean that they are meaningless categories” (p. 211). This is important because race is proven to have no biological basis and many theorists work on it from a social constructionist standpoint. Yet it is still something we are preoccupied with. We can’t ignore it.

Postcolonial feminists emphasize the connectedness of oppression from one part of the world to the next. They affect each other, and “economic and political issues tend to occupy the center of their stage” (p. 215). “[T]o refuse to reveal one’s self to others is to assume that others are not capable of coming to terms with one” (p. 217). Sexual and reproductive issues may be different in other parts of the world. First, some women may want large families and may measure their worth that way. Second, sometimes contraceptives are unsafe and not in the best interests of the women. Third, sterilization may not always be a good option either depending on circumstances.

Work and economics are also an important consideration in this type of feminism. “As long as the possession of material goods and power is equated with human happiness, . . . there will be the kind of competition and antagonism that inevitably leads to conflict and even war” (p. 227-228). “[V]irtually all societies regard women as the ‘second sex’, as existing to some degree for men’s sexual pleasure, reproductive use, and domestic service” (p. 229). There are great challenges in “how to unite women in, through, and despite their differences” (p. 233).

Multiculturalism and multi-ethnicity mean that “we should learn to think of our [society] as consisting not of a majority and minorities but of a plurality of cultural groups” (p. 204).

I appreciate the difference feminist argument. I tend to lean this way, in researching how women’s traditional occupations or contributions are important even if not public or like men’s. This chapter also helped me to see that it is okay for me to think differently from my male colleagues and that I should engage in those discussions of difference to better improve my own views and to see what I have to offer to them, even if that education is exhausting!

One of the questions raised by the feminists summarized in the chapter is about the term “women of color.” It is a question I have myself. Is that term liberating or oppressing? Is it a term we should use?

Next week I’ll post about Ecofeminism.

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