Neoliberalism, Gender, and Development: Institutionalizing "Post-Feminism" in Medellin, Colombia

By Murdock, Donna F. | Women's Studies Quarterly, Fall 2003 | Go to article overview

Neoliberalism, Gender, and Development: Institutionalizing "Post-Feminism" in Medellin, Colombia


Murdock, Donna F., Women's Studies Quarterly


Those of us in this type of institution, I think we sometimes, in order to maintain ourselves there, have to lower the tone of critique that subverts, or the permanent subversion of the daily-ness of the patriarchy . . . and in fact, you do not have to be feminist in order to work in a program for women in NGOs. What are the qualifications that they require? Women who have knowledge of the theory of gender!1

-Feminist NGO director, Medellin, Colombia

In what context does this woman's distinction between being a "feminist" and having "knowledge of the theory of gender" make sense? After all, it is feminists who have created the theory of "gender" and who have worked hard for its integration into mainstream development work. How is it that a woman in Medellin, Colombia, has come to see knowledge of gender as not feminist, perhaps even "anti-feminist?"

Like all theoretical tools and discourses, the theory of gender is always interpreted by persons within particular social contexts and with particular orientations to the social world. In the context of an increasing neoliberal hegemony, states are shrinking their development budgets, seeking new ways to economize, and gender policies are of course implicated in these changes (Babb 2001; Rosen and McFedyen 1995). At the same time, feminists have been so successful at flagging the importance of considering women's participation in development that governments are compelled to attend to gender issues if they want to receive development monies (Young 1993; Alvarez 1999). With the need to downsize and yet still attend to women, states increasingly turn to feminist NGOs to provide services and expert knowledge. What the quotation above refers to is the tendency for an increasing number of these NGOs to provide states with knowledge of the theory of gender minus the feminist critique of gendered power relations (see also Alvarez 1999; Lebon 1996, 1998; Thayer 2000, 2001; Lind 2000; Garcia Castro 2001).

From 1998 to 2000, I conducted ethnographic fieldwork among state and city development agencies as well as several feminist NGOs in Medellin, Colombia. Knowing that discourses rarely (if ever) translate directly, I asked, What does gender perspective mean in the context of Medellin? What is the impact of the substitution of gender perspective for earlier references to feminist? Is it a move "beyond" feminism, as some in Medellin claimed? Or is it more like the "anti-politics" machine that Ferguson (1994 [1990]) claimed for development discourses more generally and that Scott (1988) and others have cautioned against in relation to the term gender m particular?

In this article, I discuss how both state officials and local feminist organizations used the gender perspective discourse. While there were some positive associations with this discourse, there was also evidence that under neoliberal regimes, it could justify a hostile reception to subversive feminist politics. Specifically, when used by state actors, it seemed to delegitimate feminist critiques of essentialized linkages between femininity, women, and motherhood. As Babb (2001) observed in Nicaragua, I found the local government in a neoliberal economic context eager to reinscribe domesticity upon women, to reassociate them with their children and families as against feminist attempts to establish women's individual subjectivity.

Feminists working in NGOs appreciated the ability of the "gender perspective" to "move beyond" feminists' exclusive focus on women. However, they also feared the retrenchment it seemed to signal in some hands, especially as the reinscription of domesticity signaled a particularly hostile attitude toward the most controversial feminist issues, such as abortion and homosexuality. Far from a move "beyond" feminism, it seemed more like a move around feminism, toward a "post-feminism" that would arrive long before the subversive promises of feminism were realized.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Neoliberalism, Gender, and Development: Institutionalizing "Post-Feminism" in Medellin, Colombia
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.