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Foreign Policy Analysis
Feminism and Imperialism???

Feminism and Imperialism???

Hey, welcome to Feminist TimeOut. Let’s take a timeout to talk about the problem
of feminism and Imperialism. Imperialism is a strange beast. It’s a huge concept. It has many forms. And those forms change and develop. To start out with, let’s define imperialism
as a way of thinking that enables some countries to go to other countries and take over. Not only does imperialism enable them to do
this, imperialism makes them think they have a moral necessity to. Imperialism and colonization are really similar. The scholar Linda Smith says that colonization
is a tool of imperialism. Imperialism is what’s lead to various periods
of conquest. Imperialism matters to feminism for a lot
of reasons. One of them is, imperialism is an oppressive
way of engaging with the world. And as feminist, we’re into resisting those. But much more heartbreakingly, as feminists,
especially feminists coming from the West, coming like countries like the US and Canada,
or Britain and France, we need to understand that imperialism plays a part in how we engage
with women not from the West. And also, how imperialism has utilized feminist
narratives in order to excuse taking over other countries. Before we continue, here’s some other stuff
Linda Smith says about imperialism. She says that past imperialisms inform new
ones, that means that when we look back in history, we can see connections between imperialisms
from hundreds of years ago and imperialisms that are happening today. Imperialism isn’t just a method of taking
over. Imperialism is a way of thinking or acting,
realized in different ways. No matter how imperialism is trying to dress
itself up, imperialism is about subjugating people, economic expansion, and domination. There’s this pretty famous scholar named Spivak. You may have heard of her because she wrote
a piece called Can the Subaltern Speak. In this piece she’s talking about the way
that marginalized folks, so those who don’t have power and control in their society or
in the world at large, can’t be heard by those around them. Don’t get to have their opinions or what they
think about the world heard. And because of that, they have less control
over their lives. Can the Subaltern Speak is a very dense text. The part I want to focus on is Spivak’s discussion
of different types of representation. Representation is also a big complicated idea. What Spivak focuses on is that there’s two
very distinct types of representation. Representation in the form of portraiture
– by that we mean that when we represent people, we’re trying to make an image of them. the other type of representation is an issue
of proxy. Now proxy is when somebody stands in for somebody
else. So then representation when we talk about
proxy would be when other people are advocating on behalf of someone else – our elected government
officials, or union reps. The reason that these ideas of representation
matter is because we have to see the way that they work together. So this is a key point of Spivak. The way that the world is represented by portraiture
comes to bear meaning on the choices about proxies that we make. And we can see this in the way that feminism
has been a tool of imperialism. In her article Do Muslim Women Really Need
Saving, Lila Abu-Lughod analyses one of the addresses that Laura Bush made in her time
as First Lady. During Laura Bush’s address she attempts to
represent to issues that women in Afghanistan face as all being issues of the Taliban. And because of that, she’s able to claim that
America’s war in Afghanistan is a war for Women’s Right. This is gross for a lot of reasons. Firstly, no issue that any woman faces is
quite that simple. Afghanistan has a complex cultural history
that includes struggle with the US before the Taliban. This explanation completely excludes any of
the ways that the US has had to do with the rise of Islamic Nationalism. It puts forward the idea that the Taliban
is completely responsible for sexism within Afghanistan. And its making claims about another country
completely based on Western ideas of Women’s Rights. Abu-Lughod tells us that we need to be suspicious
of any time that somebody is claiming to save women and they have a line-up of men with
guns behind them. Feminism is also a part of the Imperialism
of Canada’s history. Winona Stevenson tracks the way that during
Settlement, Indian Agents created a portrait of Indigenous women as being both uncivilized
as oppressed by the men in their communities. And as such, colonizing nation could claim
that their settlement was an act of charity. These huge powers positioned themselves as
the proxies. And that’s so manipulative. It makes it very hard to resist these ideas,
because if you do so, you’re someone who hates women. As feminist, we have to work to tease out
these ideas. Not all feminisms are equal. Different feminists will lead to different
work in the world. And it breaks my heart that feminism has a
long history of being used to dominate others, by feminist or by people claiming to be so. Abu-Lughod sees a lot of the problem that
Western feminists have as being a problem of knowing how to deal with difference. Luckily for us she gives us three suggestions
of how to do better. The first suggestion is that we need to be
suspicious of strange bedfellows. By this Abu-Lughod means that doing feminist
work means engaging with those around us. And some people who might be claiming to do
the same work that we do might not be, or might be doing so in a way that is harmful. For example, Laura Bush claiming an army can
fight sexism in Afghanistan. And I think we also need to be suspicious
of our suspicions. There’s a lot about feminism in the West that
we take for granted. Abu-Lughod talks about how Muslim women in
the Middle East faced with making the choice between a sexist Islamic movement or an anti-Islamic
feminist movement have chosen a third way. And that way is Islamic Feminism. Christine Jacobsen talks about the problem
that the West has of insisting on secularism in our feminism, and how that makes feminism
really unappealing to Muslim women. Abu-Lughod actually says the same thing. Because Islamaphobia is a real thing, even
and especially for feminist, we have trouble seeing the way that Islamic women are subverting
and redeploying their religious tradition. Rachelle Fawcette talks about a conference
she went to where Islamic feminists were gathering. At this conference, Muslim women were finally
able to get away from conversations that Western women are obsessed with: if the veil in oppressive,
and the problem of women not shaking men’s hands in the Middle East. Instead they had workshops about various women
in the Quranic tradition and the ways that they could learn lessons from them to fight
sexism in their societies. They were able to do contextual analysis of
the Quran, and in doing so dispute problematic beliefs right from the source. Fawcett talks about how, how Islamic feminists
assert that, within the Muslim tradition, no one is allowed to define what a full life
looks like for another. Perhaps an important idea for Western feminists
to get on board with. So the second suggestion that Abu-Lughod has
is that we need to accept the possibility of difference. And this is tricky – imperialism is kind of
like the ultimate rejection of difference. It’s saying, you are different, and you cannot
exist that way, so I will try to destroy that difference. When I hear discussion by Western feminists,
about non-Western countries, sometimes I hear phrases like “I just don’t get it”, or “I
can’t possibly see why someone would want to live that way”. I think we have to acknowledge as Western
women, we’re actually not in a good position to try to understand Muslim women. Islamaphobia and racism are such a huge part
of our lives. And we have to do the work of resisting that,
and its not really fair to Muslim women to put the work on convincing on them. Homa Hoodfar, and Iranian scholar and theorist,
has written about the pain and suffering that she’s felt engaging with Western women. In these interactions, she has to do the extremely
complicated work of both defending her culture, trying not to minimize the sexism that women
who she relates with face, while resisting Western racism, and not seeming like she’s
some sort of apologist for dominating ideologies. Sounds like an extremely unfair thing to put
on someone else. I want to talk about Mariana Ortega’s analysis
of a concept by Marilynn Frye, which is the idea of the arrogant eye. Frye’s idea of the arrogant is to describe
a way of trying to organize the world according to their own wants, desires, and understanding. The arrogant eye only serves the purposes
of the ones looking. Frye contests this idea with the notion of
the loving eye. The loving eye attempts to consider something
outside of oneself. The loving eye tries to consider the desires
and interests of others. Ortega articulates that the process of a loving
eye is to looks, listen, check, and question. “Check the realities that one may have invented
or lived by”, “question the perception that they’ve used to perceive”. In short, one has to consider a different
way of looking at the world. Now Ortega raises a lot of potential problems
with this. First and foremost, is that loving in a benevolent
way is really similar to imperialism – it can lead to somebody thinking that they know
what’s best for somebody else, and act on that in the name of love. So Ortega suggests that there are limits to
how much checking and questioning can really mitigate the harm of the Western gaze. And so I’ve brought this all up to say that:
as Western feminists, we have to move away from this idea that Muslim women and Muslim
feminists need to convince us to get on board with the work that they’re doing. Because like Fawcett demonstrates, the work
that they’re doing is really neat. We need to investigate the way that how we’re
looking at them, is potentially getting in the way of them doing that work. And then we have to figure out how to stop
doing that. And Abu-Lughod’s third suggestion is we have
to resist saviourism. We have to resist the idea that it’s our jobs
to go and save other women, or even that we can do that. Abu-Lughod stresses that we don’t exist over
and above people, we exist among. The struggles of non-Western countries are
intimately tied to the success of Western countries. The richness of Western countries was stolen
from somewhere. We have no position of superiority with which
to engage with other people. What we can have is a position of resisting
imperialism. So let’s try to build that. Alright, so in the comments, tell me what
you think, what are others ways that the feminist movement is imperialist? What are some ways that we can resist that
imperialism? What are some ways that I might have unintentionally
been imperialist? In general, how can Western feminists just
do better?

5 comments on “Feminism and Imperialism???

  1. another rich kid 'feminist' using feminism as a political tool. I feel for all the African, South Asian, Arab women who have to listen to this nonsense while living in a western women's idea of hell.

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