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antares

Indian feminist feels alienated by western feminists

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antares

Okay this isn't really a snark topic, nor an MRA topic, so I guess I'll just put it here. But here's an indian lady that feels alienated by 'racism in western feminism' and says they tend to ignore what can go on in her culture. Since I'm assuming there are many western feminists on this board does anyone want to chime in?

genderbytes.wordpress.com/2012/09/09/racism-in-western-feminism-is-hurting-women-like-me/

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freehannie

There are so many forms of feminism, but it sounds like she is angry at what a white liberal feminist agenda might be. While I happen to be a feminist in a western culture, I am actually a socialist feminist who is quite familiar with the work of feminists from all over the world and their criticisms of racism, colonialism, and capitalism along with gender issues. Since these are issues that affect women, they are feminist issues and need to be addressed as part of any feminist agenda in order to help women. I also believe in empowering women to speak for themselves and set their own agenda rather than having it set from the outside by those with more power and privilege. I can see how she would find the issues that she mentioned troubling and agree with her that feminists have to be careful not to bring other forms of prejudice into their feminist practice. The only way to avoid this is to be open to criticism and taking seriously the values and opinions of diverse groups of women.

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Iokaste

What FreeHannie said..

As someone who frequently engages in feminist-/gender-related-discussions, I'm often met with the accusation that western women should shut up, because we have no "real" issues and that we shouldn't be fighting for equal rights here, when there are so many places where women and girls are worse off.

It is ofcourse a straw-argument, it is my duty to listen to and be accepting of the experiences of women of other cultural backgrounds and to support organisations and individuals who work for progress in other places, but I have no obligation to fight their fight(I couldn't even if I tried) or wait for other cultures to get to where mine is (editing, to make clear that I do not see my country/region as a goal all other countries should strive to be as) , before I start working to see change here.

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2xx1xy1JD

I agree with her. Others have echoed this argument (Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Irshad Manji, Raheel Reza).

I think this clip of Avi Lewis interviewing Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a prime example of how Western left-wing politics can clash head-on with 3rd world feminism:

From his perspective, the United States is a land filled with racism and sexism and dangerous evangelicals. [Obviously, these problems exists - we snark on them daily.] Hirsi Ali, however, compares her experience in the United States with her experience in Somalia, and from her perspective it's a place of freedom.

I don't think that most Western feminists are consciously racist. Some, however, can have a sort of tunnel vision and focus on their own issues to the exclusion of issues affecting other women around the world. Others take offense when 3rd world feminists depart from the standard left-wing beliefs and dare to embrace the United States or any figures on the right.

That's not to say that no one can debate the views and positions of 3rd world feminists. I certainly don't agree with everything that Hirsi Ali says. To me, though, what is racist is a failure to acknowledge and respond to issues that affect women from other countries and cultures and religions, in the same way that one would react to issues facing American Christian women, and a rejection/silencing of their voices and experiences if it threatens the dominant message and aliances.

That doesn't mean that American feminists shouldn't fight for local issues. What wrong, IMO, is when they are so focused on their own issues and being so hyper-critical of their own societies, that they can't stand anyone else pointing out that things are far worse elsewhere, nor can they support other women who are challenging their own other patriarchies.

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OkToBeTakei
I agree with her. Others have echoed this argument (Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Irshad Manji, Raheel Reza).

I think this clip of Avi Lewis interviewing Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a prime example of how Western left-wing politics can clash head-on with 3rd world feminism:

From his perspective, the United States is a land filled with racism and sexism and dangerous evangelicals. [Obviously, these problems exists - we snark on them daily.] Hirsi Ali, however, compares her experience in the United States with her experience in Somalia, and from her perspective it's a place of freedom.

I don't think that most Western feminists are consciously racist. Some, however, can have a sort of tunnel vision and focus on their own issues to the exclusion of issues affecting other women around the world. Others take offense when 3rd world feminists depart from the standard left-wing beliefs and dare to embrace the United States or any figures on the right.

That's not to say that no one can debate the views and positions of 3rd world feminists. I certainly don't agree with everything that Hirsi Ali says. To me, though, what is racist is a failure to acknowledge and respond to issues that affect women from other countries and cultures and religions, in the same way that one would react to issues facing American Christian women, and a rejection/silencing of their voices and experiences if it threatens the dominant message and aliances.

That doesn't mean that American feminists shouldn't fight for local issues. What wrong, IMO, is when they are so focused on their own issues and being so hyper-critical of their own societies, that they can't stand anyone else pointing out that things are far worse elsewhere, nor can they support other women who are challenging their own other patriarchies.

Freehannie made some great points.

To the bolded, this for me is the biggest issue with feminism in general. For a movement which can mean many things to many people within their own cultures or personal beliefs never have I seen such intolerance between women than when debating feminist issues.

Whilst trying to secure equality for all women some aspects of the feminist movement has done a sterling job in misrepresenting the movement and alienating the very people they should be supporting. Other women.

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antares

^i feel that way about manboobz sometimes. Some of the regulars can be really catty(no pun intended.) it can feel like a good ol girls club there sometimes.

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jaelh

JD, I agree with your point about there being significant and much worse issues "out there". I lived in the developing world for a number of years, working on various projects for women and women's development. Yep, stuff is *much worse* in many other places.

However.

And this is a HUGE however.

I find the western-feminist in the west (including whose taken a few months holiday in the developing world/volunteered at an orphanage/studied international development/study abroad in the developing world), when they are concerned about developing world issues, tend to have a very myopic view of the issues.

Women are passive victims (and only passive victims). Women in poor countries and oppressive contexts are reduced to victims who require rescuing. Which is ok - some women are. The problem is when *that's all* these women are; that's the entirety of the person they are reduced to. The mainstream-western-feminist discourse struggles to transcend this.

Attention also tends to become tunneled - the worst abuses are understood as the norm. The fury and the power are directed to stopping X, rather than facilitating a systematic dismantling of the culture that perpetuates the abuses. The abuses are seen as the disease; when really they're not, they're merely the symptoms. This isn't bad, in and of itself, but you can see how it plays into the construction as the other as a monolith, no?

I thought the complaint "my experience is being minimized" was... look, i've heard it *so many times* from local women, who find the whole movement of western feminists riding into town and crapping all over what local women are saying they want (which, perhaps unsurprisingly, is often not that which is considered desirable from the outside - even from outside particular national subcultures. To given an eg: do you think a wealthy upper-east side raised NY woman could speak to the experiences of a poor woman from the Appalachians; or an indigenous woman from a SD reservation?).

Minimizing the experience of the subulturn is a cornerstone of how we operate as westerners. (Heck, of how we operated as humans). Shining a light on particular abuses is good, but see about about the "whole of the female experience" and the "whole of the person". One person's experience is *not* another persons. There are women that have had a dreadful time in various cultures; there are others for whom the culture works. "Not minimizing the experience of others" means finding a space for both voices. Not just listening to the person speaking loudest.

Does that all make sense?

Finally: I do think there is a very real risk that western involvement in local women's issues can do far more damage than good. "You've been corrupted by western sluts who don't care for their families" is a powerful way to silence women in patriarchal cultures who are seeking change. This isn't to say western women shouldn't be concerned about these issues, but I think getting western women involved is very, very hard to do right. It's not simply about saying - that's wrong (even when something is obviously wrong). Unless it's done well, the medicine might make the illness worse.

Anyway. The TL;DR: I agree with her, but I don't think the solution is as simple as she seems to be proposing.

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gardenvarietycitizen
What FreeHannie said..

As someone who frequently engages in feminist-/gender-related-discussions, I'm often met with the accusation that western women should shut up, because we have no "real" issues and that we shouldn't be fighting for equal rights here, when there are so many places where women and girls are worse off.

It is ofcourse a straw-argument, it is my duty to listen to and be accepting of the experiences of women of other cultural backgrounds and to support organisations and individuals who work for progress in other places, but I have no obligation to fight their fight(I couldn't even if I tried) or wait for other cultures to get to where mine is (editing, to make clear that I do not see my country/region as a goal all other countries should strive to be as) , before I start working to see change here.

I think it's worth repeating.

It seems to me that feminism in particular tends to come under this particular criticism that well, you shouldn't complain because others have it worse off than you do and in fact, you are oppressing them. You have first world problems. Feminism isn't an issue in the modern world anymore, if anything first-world women are spoiled. Etc. And dare I say it, a lot of women, raised to put others first, will "check themselves" because of it.

I think the original article has a point (one which is consistently made a lot of places) but that point is so very easily turned around in a divide and conquer move, often by men, to say "see? Even these other women think you're just whining."

Saying "you can't fight their fight, don't go in as a savior" is fine. I do agree with that, local people who understand their local issues should always be leading. But! It's a very small step from there to "and so feminism in the first world is a crock, it's unnecessary" type quashing of activism in the first world countries on those first-world women's OWN behalf. This "you shouldn't complain about your lack of shoes, don't you know those people over there are lacking feet?" argument. (And while I can understand that to a point when it's the people without feet doing the arguing, very often it isn't.) There's resistance to the idea that women should be considered a class at all, that there's some shared experience in being women that is common to people from very different cultures.

I don't seem to find the same sort of divisive arguments when it comes to other movements, people saying "well, a man shouldn't complain about racism until he acknowledges that women of his same group have it far worse off than he does, he's oppressing them" at every turn.

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2xx1xy1JD

I really don't think that the original article or my post was intended to mean that western feminists shouldn't advocate for causes close to them, or should ride in as saviors to take control of the agenda for 3rd world women.

I'd just say that:

1. Western feminists need to make room at the table for other voices.

2. There is a need to see women from other places and cultures as subjects, not objects.

3. They need to be open to the fact that, just like western feminists, feminists from other cultures may be critical of dominant structures (everything from religion to tribal powers to government to cultural issues) in their own societies. They will therefore have different priorities when it comes to criticism. If you are an American feminist, right-wing evangelicals and their influence in the Republican party and government policy is scary, and that therefore becomes the focus on your attention, but that may not be the top concern for someone else. I've seen some prominent feminists from Muslim backgrounds, who originally started out being quite left-wing, receive criticism from progressive and feminist quarters for criticizing their own communities and being seen as sliding to the right, esp. if they also point out that the United States or Israel are not the worst places in the world.

4. There needs to be recognition that race, gender, class and immigration status intersect. In an increasingly multicultural world, international issues ARE local issues. Teachers or school counselors need to be aware that a student may be genuinely fearful of having parents discover that they are not wearing their hijab at school, or that they have a boyfriend. Child protection officials need to appreciate that a wife sponsored from abroad may not have any support in the country if she takes her child and leaves an abusive husband, and may face overwhelming pressure from family members back home to return to her abuser. Women may have unique fears, such as children being taken without consent to other countries with foreign passports, and being unable to seek their return. Issues of language are often more severe for women - men sometimes have more opportunities to learn English in the workplace, but expect women to stay home and may oppose them attending language classes.

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jaelh

I love your one and two, JD.

But I don't agree with your point on "international issues are local issues".

The issues around understanding social issues around hijab wearing in the west are not the same as those around hijab wearing in (say) Iran. Limited language acquisition and social exclusion is a different issue to being kept in purda. Pressure to return to an abusive spouse aren’t “Islamic†or [insert vein of thinking of choice] issues; they might be experienced in NY, in Georgia, in Manilla, in Moscow.. What you’ve described is women experiencing %&^ family members, and social pressure. These are the universal issues. The form of those issues is entirely local.

Yes, we do need to be able to say – there is an issue. No dispute. Hijab wearing can raise some issues. Etc... That cultural perspectives don’t transfer well and create enormous problems for women - yes, yes yes!

But these are *not* the same issues faced by women in majority cultures. The source of those issues may be the same. But the issues themselves? There is no equivalence.

Broad level: patriacal culture of X type (eg: Christianity/Islam/porn culture)

Universal level: Action of Y (eg: submission/hijab/problematic sex)

Local level: The issue -- > the variance!

three alternative issues (dependent on local culture, family, social expectations etc..):

No control over $/scared of parents/poor sense of self. OR!

Beaten regularly/burned to death when not allowed out of a school on fire/stoned to death OR!

Works pretty well for this couple/hijab is an expression of personal power/sexual liberation and confidence

Anyway. I do take your point, very much. (and I love points one and two). But I think conflating cultural issues of migrants in the west with the issues of women in country who are looking to transform their culture are fundamentally different is really problematic, even if the overarching source of their different issues are the same.

I acknowledge class/status/etc.. matter enormously, and we do need to be able to have more engaged, meaningful discussions of culturally appropriate responses to migrant experiences. Totally agree on that. But that shouldn’t be conflated with the issues in country.

I don’t know if that makes any sense. I am typing and running, so my apologies. (as an aside – love how you think, XJD. Always enjoy your posts. )

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2xx1xy1JD

Point taken. Obviously, there's a huge difference when the government/militia is the source of oppression, and when there is no possibility of protection or freedom from the majority culture.

Part of what I meant was that where I live, I can't be in a bubble and say "X is happening Somewhere Far Away, and will never affect us here." Somali civil war = 50,000 refugees suddenly arriving in my city. My husband told me to expect something major to happen with the Iranian election in 2009, because so many of his patients suddenly came in for prescription refills because they were going back to vote. When things happen around the world, people in my backyard are directly affected.

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jaelh

we're in complete agreement - we're much too connected to say x over there doesn't effect me at y.

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antares

Sorry for the bump, but I thought you'd guys like to know that a commenter found you guys, lol

Sarah Chinski PERMALINK

October 21, 2013 4:08 am

Just wanted to let you know that an online message board (whose sole purpose is to rip apart Christian families and their choices) has now taken up discussion about you. These women claim to be feminists, but since their specialty is tearing women down, I highly doubt that is their true standpoint. Anyway, the link is here. They think they’re crafty by breaking the link, so you can’t see where the traffic is coming from.

viewtopic.php?f=8&t=19692

I hope their comments on you don’t turn nasty, but unfortunately that’s what they like to do, so I wouldn’t doubt it.

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Dysfundamental

One of the things Free Jinger posters seem to share is a revulsion for the misogyny endemic in Christian fundamentalism. Even folks here who wouldn't describe themselves as feminist, it seems to me, are appalled by the constant unfairness to women in fundy culture (after all, the board's called Free Jinger, not Free Jedediah).

As for the article, I think it raises meaningful and significant points. One of the best ways feminists and womanists in the West can support women's rights movements in India, elsewhere in Asia, in African countries, and in other lower-GNP nations, is to donate to and raise funds for locally based grassroots groups. I'm sure there are many groups doing important work right now in India; [link=http://www.gulabigang.in/]this group[/link] is one I've supported recently.

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antares

One of the things I've been wondering, but where do you think the "Western feminists are so hung-up on PC and multiculturalism that they forget about the women being oppressed by non-western cultures" trope originates from? For example, this was one of the commenters:

I am an Indian woman as well, and I really want to thank you for making this statement. Personally, I have felt very marginalized by western feminists who bully you to no end if you try and stand up for the oppressed women in YOUR OWN culture. I mean, it wouldn’t even be wrong for them to be standing up for women in Indian culture, but how in hell is it wrong for me to be standing up and pointing out the brutality perpetrated by men in my own culture?

Western cultural relativists are absolutely disgusting. They want one standard for them and other for women in other cultures. They are willing to throw all of us non-western women under the bus just to status whore amongst themselves to see who can get to most PC erudite.

They hate it when you point out the brutality of the brown man because it is a fucking fact that the present day brutality of the white man cannot compare. Sorry people, but white western dudes don’t go on TV every day to give precise lessons on where and how to beat your wife. White western dudes don’t eat first and let women feed off the leftovers so that the women remain chronically undernourished. They decided that the number one enemy had to be the evil white privilege man, so it disturbs them when you point out that no, they don’t have a monopoly on misogyny and that brown people can be victimizers too.

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jaelh

i read a book the other day that might be helpful to your thinking, antares.*

it talks about the self-censoring that the blog author is protesting that arises from a desire to achieve particular political ends (eg: anti-racism) - which gives rise to a whole new set of problems (eg: engaging with cross-cultural feminist issues) as well as the protesting of the resultant phenomena itself.

http://www.amazon.com/On-Offence-indign ... B00E51T93Y

and a review http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/re ... 6711575152

(*i can't quite tell if you're interested in doing the thinking yourself, or if you start threads to get people to work through the issues for you. join in these conversations with your thoughts, not just with questions! :) )

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Sobeknofret

This is a very interesting conversation. Thank you for this discussion. I've got a lot of material to think about, and I appreciate the perspectives that you all are bringing to the table. It's long past time first world white feminists really tackle the issues of feminism across national, class, and color lines, and while I predict it's going to be painful for everyone in the broad global conversation, I hope we feminists can really move forward.

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antares
i read a book the other day that might be helpful to your thinking, antares.*

it talks about the self-censoring that the blog author is protesting that arises from a desire to achieve particular political ends (eg: anti-racism) - which gives rise to a whole new set of problems (eg: engaging with cross-cultural feminist issues) as well as the protesting of the resultant phenomena itself.

http://www.amazon.com/On-Offence-indign ... B00E51T93Y

and a review http://www.theaustralian.com.au/arts/re ... 6711575152

(*i can't quite tell if you're interested in doing the thinking yourself, or if you start threads to get people to work through the issues for you. join in these conversations with your thoughts, not just with questions! :) )

Hey jealh, thanks! Well I'm not really part of the whole gender politics debate, though I enjoy finding stuff on it and submitting here. I'm Asian myself, though I'm a western Asian, so I guess culturally I can't really speak for women of other regions of the world. Before I came here, I actually used to look at centre-right sites(City Journal and such) and they often criticized western feminism for this. However, when I check out feminist blogs, they seem to really want to appeal to women of color and talk about racism. I actually think the western right-wing writers write from more as a reaction to perceived excessive PC than really caring about the non-western women like this lady(who is non-western herself) does. Feminist blogs tend to adopt the critical theory, intersectionality, thing popular in the social science classes I've taken so far. That said I think conservatives exaggerate things, and all those popular conservative canards like "the left is in bed with islam and hates jews" is idiotic.

Western feminists focus more on the west, but they are also IN the west, it would make some sense to focus on issues in your own society more than issues in other societies. That said I believe in a 'connection' of feminisms around the world and would love seeing women working together and listening to each other on equal footing.

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2xx1xy1JD
That said I think conservatives exaggerate things, and all those popular conservative canards like "the left is in bed with islam and hates jews" is idiotic.

Yes, people exaggerate and over-generalize the positions of their opponents all the time. "The left", for example, is a pretty broad term. If you use it to described anyone from actual members of the Communist party to those who once voted Democrat, it's pretty clear that you'll have a diverse group that doesn't agree on anything.

That said, sometimes there is a small grain of truth under a stereotype. I identified as left-wing/socialist....right up until I met up with the Young Socialists group at my university. I couldn't stomach their support for terrorism directed against Jewish civilians.

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jaelh

There are some interesting comments in this thread: https://www.facebook.com/georgehtakei/p ... 5754673546

the discussion between "hugs boston" and "gayathri iyer" is esp. interesting example of an in-culture clash over this particular issue. I think it starts about 10-15 comments down, following a post by "hugs" starting:

"I have had enough of these "What else do you expect from India?" posts. We didn't have dowry laws or Art 377 in place before the British colonised us. Homophobia, to us, is a Western concept. Sadly, people have internalised so much racism that we think otherwise. But some of us have read enough to know the truth, so spare us your condescension. We know India isn't perfect, and has way more problems than the first world, but your oversimplification of this issue that gives any country that made its wealth by colonising us a free pass and a clean sheet? That's not cool, and we'll not stand for it."

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