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A comparison of the different feminist theories of the state

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Women of color and ethnicity, postcolonial feminists and poststructural feminists, in addition to the questions and debates raised by liberal feminists and their critics on the implications of multiculturalism for feminist goals, have produced scholarship that highlights issues of cultural difference, division, diversity, and differentiation.

At least since Simone de Beauvoir 1973: Liberal feminists, for example, generally overlooked culture in their analyses or regarded it as a mere obstacle to sexual equality — one which can be overcome through legal and institutional reform and the achievement of full equality with men. As this essay will reveal, the work of women of color and ethnicity, postcolonial feminists and poststructural feminists, in addition to the questions and debates raised by liberal feminists and their critics on the implications of multiculturalism for feminist goals, have all been instrumental in spotlighting issues of cultural difference, division, diversity, and differentiation.

Feminism was a protest against women's political exclusion: This essay therefore traces the variety of ways in which four significant strands of third wave feminism have engaged with questions of cultural difference, division, diversity, and differentiation, outlining some of the major contributions of each to our understandings of the relationship between culture and gender, and exploring the implications for international feminist scholarship and practice.

Feminism and the Politics of Difference

Third, the essay examines the dilemmas raised by liberal feminists in relation to the issue of multiculturalism, exploring the crucial question of whether promoting respect for and recognition of cultural diversity conflicts with the feminist goal of achieving gender justice and equality.

It is hoped that reading this essay alongside others by Nancy A. However, as Cathryn Bailey 1997: These alternative trajectories of feminist thought and practice have articulated very different responses to the politics of difference.

Liberal feminists, for example, have focused on how multicultural liberal states should best respond to the claims made by minority groups for the recognition of, and respect for, cultural difference, and have sought to mediate between what are often viewed as competing demands for cultural rights and sexual equality e.

Feminists of color and ethnicity have embraced identity politics as a source of empowerment, community, and intellectual development, while poststructuralist feminists question the notion of coherent identities and view freedom as resistance to categorization and identity Coleman 2009: Insisting that feminists in the global North shake off orientalist and ethnocentric modes of thought, postcolonial feminists have worked to highlight the historical and cultural specificity of women's lives, to uncover the intersections of race, class, nationality, religion, sexuality, etc.

In This Article

The work of women of color and ethnicity has laid bare the racist underpinnings of the feminist movement in the global North Dubois 1978 ; Davis 1982 ; Smith 1982its historical connections to imperial ideologies, institutions, and practices Amos and Parmar 1984 ; Ferguson 1992 ; Melman 1992 ; Midgley, 19922007 ; Ware 1994 ; Lewis 1996and its propensity to marginalize, exclude, and erase the experiences and voices of women of color and ethnicity from its theories and practices hooks 198119841989 ; Hull et al.

Crucially, the feminist movement was exhorted to examine the forms of cultural imperialism, discrimination, and oppression that it had internalized, and to focus on building a movement that embraced difference rather than homogeneity Mann and Huffman 2005: This assumption of sameness and commonality of oppression 1 ignores or obscures the differences that exist between women, based on nationality, race, class, religion, language, sexual orientation, etc; 2 conceals the significance of such heterogeneity for feminist theory and politics; 3 wrongly regards the lived experiences of white, educated, middle-class, heterosexual women as representative of, and normative for, the experiences of all women Spelman 1990: As bell hooks 1984 asserts: All too frequently in the women's movement it was assumed that one could be free of sexist thinking by simply adopting the appropriate feminist rhetoric; it was further assumed that identifying oneself as oppressed freed one from being an oppressor.

To a grave extent such thinking prevented white feminisms from understanding and overcoming their own sexist—racist attitudes toward black women. They could play lip-service to the idea of sisterhood and solidarity between women but at the same time dismiss black women. The perception and celebration of differences between groups of women in terms of race, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, etc.

The 1980s thus brought a sustained critique of feminist theoretical frameworks grounded solely in the concept of gender, as women of color and ethnicity sought to build feminist theories of differences among women, to consider the ways that women's lives are shaped by the multiple identities that women negotiate in their lives, and to understand the complex relationships that exist between gender domination and other dimensions and modalities of social relations and subject formations, such as nationality, race, class, religion, language, sexual orientation, etc.

Debates emerged regarding whether to interpret these relationships in terms of an additive process, in which each axis of identity or discrimination is distinct and viewed as internally homogeneous, or as a constitutive process, where each social division is viewed as having a different ontological basis and as irreducible to the others Yuval-Davis 2006 ; Squires and Weldes 2007: This model later gave way to the recognition of the simultaneity of systems of oppression and inequality in shaping women's experience and identity, and a theoretical framework of intersectionality McCann and Kim 2003: The intersectional framework aims to provide a more thorough understanding of the complexity of women's lives and to destabilize unitary theories and categories of gender through an exploration of the relationality of dominance and subordination and of the relationship between social structure and women's agency.

Contributions of Postcolonial Feminist Theory Postcolonial feminists, like feminists of color and ethnicity, have also insisted on the vital significance of cultural and historical particularity to understanding gender relations, urging feminists in the global North to abandon hegemonic theories of universality in favor of the recognition of cultural difference and diversity Jordan and Weedon 1995: See Geeta Chowdhry and L.

Postcolonial feminists have highlighted the gendered and gendering nature of colonial ist discourses and practices, uncovering the ways in which colonial ist policies and practices relied upon the mobilization of hierarchically ordered gender identities. Colonialist attitudes continue to resonate in contemporary international relations, both within the discipline of IR and within contemporary practices of global politics.

  • This essay therefore traces the variety of ways in which four significant strands of third wave feminism have engaged with questions of cultural difference, division, diversity, and differentiation, outlining some of the major contributions of each to our understandings of the relationship between culture and gender, and exploring the implications for international feminist scholarship and practice;
  • Colonialist attitudes continue to resonate in contemporary international relations, both within the discipline of IR and within contemporary practices of global politics;
  • Listing a number of culturally or religiously sanctioned practices such as polygamy, clitoridechtomy, child marriages, and forced marriages 1999;
  • This question of how feminists in the global North should respond to cases where the claims of cultural minorities to recognition and protection conflict with the liberal feminist principle of gender equality has generated a substantial level of debate for critiques of Okin see especially Norton 2001 ; Shachar 2001 ; Volpp 2001 ; Benhabib 2002.

Several others have highlighted how policies and practices of international intervention e. Similarly, Narayan 1998 argues that feminist attempts to avoid gender essentialism, by taking into account issues such as class, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. And furthermore, to recognize that the position of the speaking subject within theory can be an historically powerful position when it wants the other to be able to answer back.

Their insights have also led to greater awareness of the diverse histories of women's struggles and feminist activism throughout history and across the globe, drawing attention to a multitude of campaigns, strategies, and forms of organization utilized by women in a variety of historically and locationally specific sociocultural contexts to advance specific interests and improve the circumstances of their lives Basu 1999.

As a result of such analyses, the formation of women's identities and interests within particular structural, political, and cultural contexts has been brought into greater focus — highlighting not only the complex conditions in which women become mobilized but also the temporal and spatial specificity of local discourses and practices of gender which work to obstruct or facilitate women's and feminist movements Ray and Korteweg 1999. Contributions of Liberal Feminists: Liberal feminists, on the other hand, have expressed concerns that moves within multicultural liberal states to recognize cultural difference and to formally accommodate the customs, norms, beliefs, and practices of cultural minorities may clash with the goal of achieving gender justice and equality e.

Listing a number of culturally or religiously sanctioned practices such as polygamy, clitoridechtomy, child marriages, and forced marriages 1999: This question of how feminists in the global North should respond to cases where the claims of cultural minorities to recognition and protection conflict with the liberal feminist principle of gender equality has generated a substantial level of debate for critiques of Okin see especially Norton 2001 ; Shachar 2001 ; Volpp 2001 ; Benhabib 2002.

However, diverging opinions have surfaced regarding the most appropriate strategies for feminists to adopt.

One strategy has been to identify certain nonnegotiable rights or equalities that must be upheld and which set limits to the claims that can rightly be accommodated within multicultural societies Phillips 2010: