This spring, I was lucky enough to be introduced to the work of one of the most radical, dynamic thinkers of transnational feminism, Chandra Talpade Mohanty. If you haven’t read any of her work, you’re missing out (try starting with “Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses” http://blog.lib.umn.edu/raim0007/RaeSpot/under%20wstrn%20eyes.pdf). Lately I’ve been gorging myself on one of her books, Feminism without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity. So far, I’ve enjoyed it probably a little too much, but I ran into a little terminology trouble in the second chapter.
On page 49, Mohanty comments that the terms “women of color” and “Third World women” are interchangeable, in that both are “sociopolitical designation[s] for people of African, Caribbean, Asian, and Latin American descent, and native peoples of the United States” (49). I’m not sure I agree.
It seems to me that the phrase “Third World woman” is, for better or worse, inextricably linked with certain characteristics (i.e. ignorant, primitive, oppressed) in neo-liberal parlance. For Western women of color—particularly those several generations or more removed from the geographical “Third World”—to appropriate the title is to suggest a shared experience, an assumption I do not buy. I would argue that the systems of privilege and oppression faced by Western women of color, while brutal, are vastly different from those experienced by geographically Third World women.
What do you think?