Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

The Ground beneath Her Feet: "Third World" Feminisms

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

The Ground beneath Her Feet: "Third World" Feminisms

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper advances the argument that third world feminism calls for a re-orienting of our critical energies from merely taking sides in a debate, to questioning the material and ideological lens that interpolates the debate, i.e., the habitus from which we make our stand. Constituted by the tension between "finding the ground on which we make our stand" and the struggle with whether "we are mostly given that territory", third world feminisms pursue political agendas interpolated by the cracks and fissures of post-colonial nationhood and internationalized feminisms. The ground of struggle is varied--working conditions and economic self-determination, family and ideology, ethnic conflict and pluralism, sexuality and subversion, disciplinarity and the production of academic knowledge, religion and secularism, human rights and supra-liberalism. This paper pursues a somewhat non-systematic encounter with these different yet intersecting thematics in relation to discrepant third world feminist debates on the plurality of discourses and practices regarding veiling and unveiling.

Key Words: Post-colonial, third world, veil

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"Good bye Hope". Those are the last words of Vina Apsara, the heroine of Salmon Rushdie's novel, The Ground Beneath Her Feet (1). The earth swallows her just as she is about to escape the earthquake by taking flight on a helicopter. Born in India, on tour in North America, Vina Apsara is a much-celebrated pop music icon transacting harmony across frontiers. Rushdie's negotiation with Vina's iconic status in the political economy of international pop narrates tectonic changes in aspirations for what 'the good life' or indeed, 'independence' would mean in the third world's negotiations with the local/global frontiers of culture and economy. The ground beneath her feet shifts and tilts disconcerts and reorients, it promises the hope of flight only to then plunge an icon into an abyss.

As I found myself reading the novel at the same time I was tasked with writing this paper, the narrative seemed stunningly evocative of both the challenges and passions of third world feminisms. Rai, the novel's photographer and narrator, claims that "We find ground on which to make our stand", and yet, looking back at the lens, we struggle with whether "we are mostly given that territory" (Rushdie 55). As elaborated in the unfolding of this text, the principle thrust of this paper is to advance the argument that third world feminism calls for a re-orienting of our critical energies from merely taking sides in a debate, to questioning the material and ideological lens that interpolates the debate, i.e., the habitus from which we make our stand.

Constituted by the tension between "finding the ground on which we make our stand" and the struggle with whether "we are mostly given that territory", third world feminisms pursue political agendas interpolated by the cracks and fissures of post-colonial nationhood and internationalized feminisms. The ground of struggle is varied--working conditions and economic self-determination, family and ideology, ethnic conflict and pluralism, sexuality and subversion, disciplinarity and the production of academic knowledge, religion and secularism, human rights and supra-liberalism.

This paper pursues a somewhat non-systematic encounter with these different yet intersecting thematics, in relation to discrepant third world feminist debates on the veil. The complex dynamic attending the iconic status attained by the veil in relation to third world feminism is conveyed in the plurality of issues raised by battles over the veil, including the battle over its iconic status itself. Thus even as this paper itself replicates this absorption with contrapuntal veil debates, it also seeks to foreground those debates that speak to how a fetishistic absorption with the veil excludes or marginalizes other political priorities--in some cases these may be questions pressing economic re-distribution, in others it may be subaltern aspirations not captured by the anti-colonial struggle, in yet others it could be the interrogation of the production of knowledge in the social sciences and humanities, and so on. …

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