Hopefully, this post is going to make a lot of the feminists and global citizens better and more conscious of the realities of the world and women. This semester, I had the opportunity to create my own independent study class and curriculum. Something I’ve started becoming more dedicated to is furthering my feminist knowledge and awareness. This mainly meant that I wanted to know what other cultures, countries, parts of the world I have missed out on learning due to my western and euro-centric learnings, and bubble. As feminists, we often learn about Betty Friedan, Simone de Beauvoir, and Mary Wollstonecraft. That becomes our idea of feminism. However, this western bubble limits our understanding and creates a harmful ignorance, and weakens our feminism. Within the first week of learning about unacknowledged parts of feminism, my western mindset was burst. For example, I had never truly examined the connotations of monogamy that differ from Europe, where it is considered unacceptable, to some African countries, where it gave women opportunities to work and co-parent. This post is meant to be a wakeup call and introduction to the sides of feminism that we don’t acknowledge, and the feminism we forget about.
disclaimer: This post may make you reexamine your privilege and view of the world. It may make you question your status as a feminist and that’s okay. Feminism requires the growth and openness of everyone, and if that means reexamining your unwitting bias or preconceptions, that’s okay. This post may also seem like a radical version of feminism. While that is a topic for another day, I don’t think that there is anything radical about acknowledging that women are independent individuals and that western feminism has a dark history of racism and imperialism. There is absolutely nothing radical about acknowledging racism and bias within our minds because that means we can grow and become better feminists and global citizens.
what is western feminism? Western feminism is a form of feminism that is built off of western women and western societies. It relates to the world’s history of colonialism and imperialism. Some examples would be the late 1900’s feminist trend to go to Africa and “save” the women from tribalistic oppression because it doesn’t match what happens in the West.
what is white feminism? White feminism, in my opinion, is not actually feminism. It is a form of feminism that focuses on white women, overlooking other women of color. Often they don’t acknowledge differences in women’s equality as it pertains to race, socio-economic status, etc. The way this differs is that while white feminism is race-based, western feminism is about societies, history, and mindset, although there are often race-based patterns.
who are western feminists? A really important thing to realize is that you don’t need to be from the West to have western feminist tendencies. If a mindset and view are founded on the idea that the West is the standard everywhere, but is also more enlightened, then that’s a western mindset. Additionally, just because you aren’t aware of some aspects of global feminism or aren’t aware of your western feminist tendencies, that doesn’t mean that you are a western feminist. The important distinction is the value you have in taking the time to learn, making yourself aware of the world, and realizing your western shelter.
what is gender imperialism? Gender imperialism is essentially the western feminist “encore” of European and North American colonists and imperialist history. The main idea of gender imperialism is that the West has a “responsibility” as the epitome of civilization and justification to go a fix the world. Connecting back to my example earlier, gender imperialism is the best known as western women in the late 1960’s going to Africa to instill their Western feminist ideas in African women, without acknowledging cultural differences, the individualism of Africa countries, and the basic fact that West doesn’t mean right.
why is this bad? Well if I didn’t make this clear already, gender imperialism is bad. Not confronting western feminism or western feminist ideas does nothing for the fight for equality and if anything, just perpetuates racism, imperialism, and inequality amongst us. It also weakens the types of intersectional feminism that do strive for true equality and understandings of one other, by destroying the connotations of the word “feminism”. Furthermore, the ideas that western feminism is built on are unfounded and just wrong. Being western does not equate to being right or the ulterior voice of right. It’s full of contradictions, like saying that gender or the idea of patriarchy is a social construct but then saying that women in other countries and their treatment is the same, despite differences in cultures and societies.
how can we be more aware? I think that the first step is acknowledging that we can never be 100% aware of the perfect feminist. If we all took a moment to realize that we don’t know everything about everyone, and need to have a dedication to learning and tolerance, that would make us all better global citizens. Another way that works differently for everyone in education and reading books, from different narratives. Instead of reading a book about African cultures and women written by the 20th century, proclaimed American experts on Africa, try reading a memoir or personal essay written by someone with specific, genuine experiences and insights. By simply reading this post, you’ve taken the first step to show a commitment to becoming more aware of the world and your own biases.
Please do not take this post the wrong way. I, myself, am an example of someone who, despite taking the time to learn about feminist history and read diverse literature, still had blindspots and ignorance. There is no way any of us can be completely aware of the perfect feminist. However, simply taking the time and giving your feminist mindset the effort to grow, is proof enough that you are an intersectional feminist.
Final Note: When I have completed my course, and have read + verified all of the readings, I will create a book list that will help too. For now, I recommend reading African Women and Feminism: Reflecting on the Politics of Sisterhood. Although a quick warning, it is a little more provocative (in the best way I thought) than most feminist writing, it was the inspiration for this post.
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