Distortions of “Third-World Women” By Western Feminism

Western feminism serves to construct the idea of “third world women” as a homogeneous powerless group who are implicit victims of particular socioeconomic systems.

Chandra Mohanty in her piece, Under Western Eyes argues that there are several discourses used in Western texts that illustrate this dissertation; women are defined as victims of male violence, the colonial process, the Arab familial system, the economic development process, and the Islamic code (Mohanty 1984, 338).

Consequently, many modern theorists view “third world women” as a group based on shared dependencies. Mohanty challenges this view by arguing that if dependencies are what constitute a “group”, third world women will always be portrayed as individuals with no subject status.

One can definitely see the rise of Orientalist discourses throughout media representations of the South. There is an implicit assumption that the West is the primary reference in theory and practice, and the South should strive towards it, thus assuming growth is a linear trajectory.

These discourses utilized by Western feminists serve to situate themselves as the center of all analysis, which pushes all other women to a sort of mold around the pre-existing center comprised of generally, white woman. Read more about Intersectionality and its importance here.

Whether this sort of hierarchy genuinely exists in society is debatable, but this is the praxis through which western feminists organize their dissertations of the world, and shape media representations of the “third world”.

However, looking at third world women as representations of assumptions produced by hegemonic discourses in Western feminism attributes this false identity as a direct identity of these women, making them an extension of how they compare to the Western world rather than how they actually are.

It is also important to note that “third world woman” is placed in quotations because it is reflective of the power dynamics within global discourses that allow for some women to be classified as less than others.

This language is harmful for it is an extension of how we truly process the world. And if we speak about women in such derogatory fashion, we start to believe this is such, and our actions become reflective of these beliefs.

References

Mohanty, C. (1984). Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses. Boundary 2, 12/13, 333-358. doi:10.2307/302821

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3 thoughts on “Distortions of “Third-World Women” By Western Feminism”

  1. I agree with the statement about the term “third world women” being a damaging term. Is there a “standard way” to refer to women in developing countries that you see in the general feminist discourse?

    1. Kanishka Sikri

      I think the attempt to have an overarching term for developing countries is a problem in of itself. The “developing” world is gigantic, not just spatially but culturally. The variations that exist among them are greater than any variation in North America as a mode of comparison. In this light, attempting to homogenize and characterize “developing” feminism as one, would be a disservice and misrepresentation. Generally, if characterizing someone outside of the West, I would refer to them specifically alongside their local feminist movements, but as a general, if I were to generalize, I would use vocabulary such as intersectional feminist or women of colour theorist. I find it is more inclusive to refer to the geospatial dynamics of the area when attempting to describe a certain type of feminism, rather then a general homogenizing, universal discourse.

  2. Pingback: Feminism 101: An Introduction | Elcune

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