Boshemia Book Club // Feminism Without Borders

To kick off our Boshemia Book Club this autumn, we dove into Chandra Talpade Mohanty’s Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity (2003). Mohanty is a prominent postcolonial feminist theorist and Distinguished Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, Sociology, and the Cultural Foundations of Education at Syracuse University. In brief, Mohanty’s book serves as a critique of Western academic feminism, and how the project of Western feminism has collapsed the identities of Third World Women into a reductive “Other,” united in their presumed exploitation and a monolithic notion of sexual difference. Rather than imagining Women as a cohesive group, through her essays, Mohanty analyzes the borders that divide and differentiate us.

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Not a Borderless Feminism ~ from Becca

This volume really stands out as an educated and intelligent look at the ways in which feminism is evolving and developing in a society of ‘borders’. It particularly caught my attention in the Introduction under ‘Feminist Commitments’, where it stated that feminism without borders is not the same as ‘borderless feminism’, which sparked a revision of thinking in my own mind about the everyday limits of feminism. Carrying out feminist conversation in person and online is definitely celebratory, but as Mohanty explains throughout this volume, one must acknowledge the very real borders that lie between races, classes, disabilities, and religions in order to achieve an understanding of how best to employ feminist conversation. With knowledge and awareness of these borders, Mohanty emphasises that we are better equipped to transcend them and spread feminist love in all communities. This volume has contributed to my learning on the conditions that affect women in a global context. Growing up white and therefore automatically privileged, I have found myself to be a part of the general conversation about the differences between Western and Third World women. I’ve found this volume to be a humbling and educational script on how these differences are part of a larger web of capitalist and globalist borders, which women are all limited and affected by. Mohanty’s work is a reviving insight into the employment of feminism on a worldwide scale.

An Imagined Community of Divergent Histories ~ from Kylie

The most groundbreaking thing I learned from Chandra T. Mohanty’s Feminism Without Borders is that grouping together oppressed women simply because they are women is a problematic move for anyone to make, feminist or not. You would think, as I did, that what bonds many of us together as feminists is a presumed universal identity of “woman;” however, Mohanty emphasizes that if our gender is our sole identifier, we are reduced to a sexual label and the variety of other aspects comprising our identities (social class, ethnicity, political preference, etc.) are completely ignored. It is difficult, then, for a feminist in Canada to find common ground with a feminist in Ethiopia if she cannot simply use the category “woman” to relate to her.

Difficult, but not impossible. Mohanty offers us a method through which to relate to other women facing their own unique yet familiar struggles: the “imagined community.” This community is constructed of women with “divergent histories and social locations, woven together by the political threads of opposition to forms of domination that are not only pervasive but also systemic” (46-47). The ease of this identifier comes in its fluid and inclusive definition: one’s membership in the imagined community comes anytime one happens to be involved in some sort of opposition to a dominating, systematic force, regardless of the individual’s gender, geographical location, or social class. This definition can easily encompass feminists from around the globe without diminishing their identities to something purely biological as well as without disregarding their varied histories and unique locations. Being introduced to this method of relating to people with whom I would otherwise have nothing in common gave me confidence in pursuing feminism in my particular social, political, and geographical climate and also opened my eyes to the unique climates of other feminists around the world, as well as helped me to see commonalities between feminists that go so much further than our biological labels.

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Borders Are Fundamental ~ from Elisha 

Feminism without borders consistently provides a well-versed rebuttal to problematic Western Feminist microaggressions and misconceptions. The concept I most enjoyed was the implication that it is an oxymoronic idea to assume Feminism can truly exist without borders or that it would be more beneficial to Feminism to not acknowledge borders. The borders that exist between nations, cultures, socioeconomic classes, ethnic groups, and religions are a fundamental aspect of women’s lives which shape each of us throughout. To operate from a truly borderless mindset is to minimise the individual experiences which each of us faces within our borders. To acknowledge and celebrate these differences is to truly gain a multicultural Feminist understanding.

Mohanty further expounds upon this idea to add that decolonising Feminism involves the careful examination of Eurocentric and/or Western Feminist ideals and the privilege of the women associated with them. These ideals perpetuate stereotypes and microaggressions toward women residents of what are considered “Third World” countries by women who follow a Eurocentric/Western Feminist model. The homogenization of cultures and the assumption that a Eurocentric/Western way of life is a more preferable option which automatically makes women less oppressed than their Eastern counterparts is harmful to Feminism. It excludes cultures which hold women in a different, or higher regard that gives women of those cultures freedoms and respect equal to or greater than what is received by women of Western and European cultures. I think it was an astute observation to make that, while it is more prevalent in some cultures and religions to define women purely by the role they fill within a family structure, women are confined to the roles that they fill within a patriarchal structure across all cultures, including Western and Eurocentric cultures.

Standpoint Theory ~ from Eve

One of the most important concepts that Feminism Without Borders taught me didn’t come directly from the book. Chandra Talpade Mohanty mentions ‘Standpoint Theory’ in her introduction. I didn’t know what she was referring to so looked it up and it was GOLD. Standpoint Theory supports the idea that marginalised and/or oppressed individuals within society can help to create more objective accounts of the world through the ‘outsider within’ concept. This theory validates the idea that marginalised and/or oppressed individuals are forced to live ‘biculturally’ by the dominant culture (read: white, male patriarchy) in order to survive. It also acknowledges that these individuals, therefore, are better at recognising patterns of behaviour in the dominant culture, because of this position. So in simple terms: when POC and other marginalised groups are calling out issues in dominant culture, Standpoint Theory states that they are more likely to be correct in their observation than those within that culture who may be disagreeing. In order to recognise our own privilege and practice intersectional feminism, this is essential to acknowledge.

Munroe Bergdorf’s recent media storm is the perfect example. So many people asked ‘what gives her the right to make these statements? The fact that she is black?’ And the answer is, yes, that is exactly why she can and why we need to believe her, and this theory supports that. Unfortunately, in practice, many white people continue to feel attacked at the concept of structural racism implementing them as racists (unless actively dismantling it), and so totally disregarded her statements as insulting. 

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photo of Mohanty // via FB

In Feminism Without Borders, Mohanty reiterates that by systematizing and homogenizing groups of women, we erase their experiences. She ultimately argues for the necessity of building solidarity between Western and Third World feminisms. The babes at Boshemia really enjoyed this read!

For updates on Boshemia’s October book club, follow our Instagram and Twitter. Want to join us in our reading? Send us a message!

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