Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Racialized Boundaries: Women's Studies and the Question of "Difference" in Brazil

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro Education

Racialized Boundaries: Women's Studies and the Question of "Difference" in Brazil

Article excerpt

This article seeks to explicate the racial politics of knowledge production in Brazil. The analysis compares trends in women's studies scholarship in the United States, England, Canada, and Brazil by focusing on the significance accorded to the intersection of race and gender by women's studies scholars in each region. It addresses four key questions: How has feminist scholarship by women of color from these other countries traveled to Brazil? How has work by Afro-Brazilian women contributed to Brazilian conceptualizations of race and gender? What impact has scholarship on race and gender had on research and theory produced about Brazilian women? What are the persistent challenges to making race and the experiences of Afro-Brazilian women visible in Brazilian women's studies scholarship?


The past three decades have been marked by a noticeable increase in U.S., British, and Canadian scholarship that recognizes the role of racial, ethnic, and cultural differences in the construction of women's identities and experiences. In many ways, current trends in the study of gender are indebted to critiques by U.S. women of color, Black women in Britain, and Third World feminists. African American, Latina, and Asian American feminist scholars have made major contributions to understanding the multiple axes of oppression that shape the life experiences of U.S. women of color. Similarly, the theoretical contributions of feminist scholars and activists of Caribbean, African, and South Asian descent in England and Canada have led to reconceptualizations of womanhood that underscore the impact of historical and cultural factors on the construction of women's identities and social experiences (Bannerji, 1995; Bryan, Dadzie, & Scafe, 1985; Carby, 1983; Mama, 1995; Parmar, 1990).

Since the late 1970s, feminists of color have challenged unitary models of gender and called for views of womanhood that take into account issues of race, ethnicity, class, and sexuality. The emergence of the so-called third-wave of feminism during the 1980s and 1990s challenged the unitary gender paradigms developed by White middle-class feminists during the 1960s and 1970s. Estrangement from mainstream feminism prompted U.S. feminists of color to reflect on the differences rather than the assumed similarities and commonalities between women. Disenchantment with the models and discourses that were being developed by White middle-class feminists caused women of color to use their own experiences of alienation and discrimination as a basis for developing alternative conceptualizations of gender and feminism (Anzaldua, 1987; hooks, 1984; Hull, Scott, & Smith, 1982; Sandoval, 1991; Wallace, 1979).

U.S. feminists of color have long argued that feminism's exclusive focus on gender as the source of women's oppression fails to establish connections between sexism and other forms of domination (Lorde, 1984; Sandoval, 1991). They have also maintained that a primary focus on gender negates and erases other aspects of women's identities and experiences including race, sexuality, and class. They further contend that mainstream feminism has inadequately addressed differences among women and failed to explicate the ways in which womanhood is constituted for women of other races, ethnicities, classes, and cultures.

Scholarly work by women of color from the United States has contributed to a greater understanding of how female gender identity is constructed within the U.S. context. Much of this work has explored how gender differences are constituted in and through social relations, both within particular ethnic and racial communities and in relation to other segments of the population. Since the late 1970s, African American and Chicana feminists such as Patricia Hill Collins, Gloria Anzaldua, and Deborah King, have argued for the existence of distinct and multiple forms of consciousness among U.S. women of color. …

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