When I would discuss feminist issues, my ex would occasionally argue that feminism is no different than colonialism. He would compare me to a missionary going into another country to spread Christianity. The same comparison works for other types of colonialism as well. Though I quite fervently disagreed with him, my globalization, transnationalism and gender course has caused me to rethink my position.
The authors that we discussed in class tonight argued that liberal and radical feminisms (or, arguably, 'first wave' and 'second wave' feminisms) were exclusive and dogmatic. They often represented 'women' as a homogenous category in order to lobby for change either within the system or outside of it. The post-structural and post-colonial/third world feminist critique of these feminisms is that they really only benefit middle to upper class white women in the United States and parts of Europe. Making feminism into an exclusive club limits the voices that we hear and the progressive change that we can affect. And of course, it made feminism irrelevant for so many women!
I have long considered myself to be a post-structural/post-modern/quasi-socialist feminist with Marxist leanings (take that!!). But I am starting to wonder whether all feminisms by their very nature as political movements aren't just additional forms of colonialism. If we give feminism a certain set definition and we hold on to some utopian vision, whatever that might be, then we must believe that our ideology is superior to others and our goal must be to sway all people to our position. Why spend so much time reading, writing and re-writing theory if this were not true?
When I write for this blog I am trying to convince anyone who will listen that there is something wrong with American media; that portrayals of gender in media are hurting people and that feminist analysis can help. And I do firmly believe that. Of course, as a post-structuralist I believe that there are many layers of meaning embedded in every image and that interpretations of images and their effects are wide and varied. Still I wonder if my strong ideological stance as a feminist does not mirror the ideologies of the Christian missionaries or the European colonists. In fact, I think that the argument could be made that feminism isn't all that different from some religion only it is less centralized and much less organized.
This thought is really frightening to me because I have been recovering from Catholicism since I was sixteen and I certainly don't want to utilize similar techniques for disseminating knowledge that I believe to be enlightening. But I wouldn't be a feminist if I didn't think that feminism could or would improve the lives of anyone who embraced it.
One of my classmates suggested that we just need to remember to check ourselves. That if we never settle into a comfortable ideological position and constantly challenge our own beliefs we can avert some of those tendencies. She also suggested that we need to remember to see ourselves as part of the system for better or for worse. Imagining ourselves as transcendent is the epitome of modernity.
I am not sure I have any answers to offer here. Tonight my feminism experienced a major challenge. I guess that is a good thing.