Forum: What Challenges Do Feminists in the U.S. Face When Trying to Think Globally?

By Sanday, Peggy; Namjoshi, Sunita et al. | Transformations, March 31, 2001 | Go to article overview

Forum: What Challenges Do Feminists in the U.S. Face When Trying to Think Globally?


Sanday, Peggy, Namjoshi, Sunita, Graham, Ann, Janette, Michele, Moffet, Helen, Coconis, Michel, Gray, Janet, Bagele, Chilisa, Grossholtz, Jean, E, Joan, G, Erica, A, Susan, Transformations


FORUM: What challenges do feminists in the U.S. face when trying to think globally?

Peggy Sanday

Professor of Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania

I respond to this question as an anthropologist who from 1981 to 1999 went almost every year (during sabbaticals and summers) to live in a village in the highlands of West Sumatra where I studied women's culture. During this period of time I became so deeply immersed in friendship with the women of one family that they named a baby girl, born in 1987 while I was in the village, after me. I share more than a name with the Peggi Sandi (as her name is spelled) who lives in West Sumatra; ! share a common life experience and feel a special bond. Eggi (as she is called) and the women of her family welcomed me into their home and taught me what it is like to be a baby, a girl, and a woman in a matrilineal culture where women have unusual economic and social autonomy. Based on this experience, I conclude that the greatest challenge Western feminists face is cross-cultural communication to learn from our sisters in other parts of the world and to tell them about ourselves. Something so simple as answering women's questions, or sharing a name, makes us equal partners in the project of living life in different settings in different ways. Once we know and trust one another then we can begin to think about the global issues together, and together we can embark on the project of responding to those issues. In the case of the women in Eggi's village, I know that what they most want in life is a good life for their children and grandchildren. Since that is what I want for my children as well, we have common ground. Building from common ground as we discover it is what global feminism should be about.

Suniti Namjoshi

Member, League of Canadian Poets

I assume you know that I'm not an American and that I do not live in the United States. The central challenge that American feminists face is the same one that the relatively powerful always face in relation to the relatively powerless. The language and the norms of the more powerful usually prevail and then it becomes difficult not to give in to the stupidity and laziness of assuming that these norms are somehow more evolved. This stupidity is a function of power. "Citizens of Rome are stupid in relation to the rest of the world. Human beings are stupid in relation to the rest of creation, masters are stupid in relation to servants, men in relation to women, adults in relation to children, the rich in relation to the poor..." (from Namjoshi's Goja: An Autobiographical Myth). That we're conducting this dialogue in English does, in its way, illustrate the point.

Ann Graham

Associate Director, Local Democracy Partnership Center for Russian, Central and East European Studies, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

I believe this question requires the following breakdown: 1) do feminists in the United States think globally; 2) if and when they think and act globally, what are the challenges they face both in the United States and in other parts of the globe; and 3) do feminists who think and act globally understand regional and local differences? I ask these questions as a feminist activist who works in Central and Eastern Europe and the Newly Independent States of the former Soviet Union. First, I do not believe that all feminists in the United States think globally. Although women's studies programs, popular feminist magazines, and feminist interest groups in the United States have included much more information and attention to women's problems beyond the borders of the United States (i.e. women in Afghanistan, sweatshop workers in Mexico and Southeast Asia), I am concerned that our understanding of how these issues influence America's political and economic well-being is not fully explored. When feminists in the US do think and act globally, they are often subjected to parochial reactions from American feminists and non-feminists alike. …

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