Global Feminisms, Transnational Political Economies, Third World Cultural Production

By Woodhull, Winnie | Journal of International Women's Studies, April 2003 | Go to article overview

Global Feminisms, Transnational Political Economies, Third World Cultural Production


Woodhull, Winnie, Journal of International Women's Studies


Third Wave Feminism and the Wider World

If anything can be said with certainty about third wave feminism, it is that it is mainly a first world phenomenon generated by women who, like their second wave counterparts, have limited interest in women's struggles elsewhere on the planet. The most comprehensive studies/expressions of third wave feminism that have appeared in the US, such as Leslie Heywood's and Jennifer Drake's Third Wave Agenda, the special issue of Hypatia on Third Wave Feminisms edited by Jacqueline Zita, and the anti-intellectual Manifesta: Young Women, Feminism, and the Future by Jennifer Baumgardner and Amy Richards, explore many new ways of "doing feminism" but exhibit little concern with the politics of gender and sexuality outside the west. Likewise, a perusal of third wave feminist websites yields only one site centered on "the fight for social justice" (Third Wave Foundation), and even that one unself-consciously focuses exclusively on events in New York City and on women's efforts in that town to combat inequalities stemming from "age, gender, race, sexual orientation, economic status" and so on. A current article in this same foundation's Women's E News earnestly reports the proceedings of a Barnard College conference (New York again) sponsored by the Veteran Feminists of America--Susan Brownmiller, Catherine Stimpson, Betty Friedan, Barbara Seaman, and others--as well as the critical response of the young women in attendance, with nary an allusion to any part of the world in which the names and aims of US feminists of the past and present would have little meaning (Friedlin). Other sites, produced in Germany, Quebec, France, Australia, the US and other wealthy nations/regions, proclaim that feminism is alive and well despite reports of its death {REF}, and provide information and articles on everything from activist projects, sports, and entertainment to domestic violence and diabetes. But these sites address feminist concerns in North America and Europe exclusively.

Not surprisingly, a number of third wave feminist websites promote women's empowerment in and through computer technologies. Sites such as DigitalEve, Techniquelle and Webgrrls International celebrate women's involvement in the field of information technology and encourage all women to make use of it in any way that may be helpful to them and to feminist causes. Symptomatically, however, most of these sites either unabashedly promote capitalist self-advancement in the name of feminism, or else mistakenly assume that their sincere appeal to feminist action, self-help, and solidarity really addresses a worldwide audience. For example, Girl Incorporated, which designs websites and online marketing strategies passes itself off as feminist simply by virtue of being a women's business that markets to women in business. DigitalEve, on the other hand, which is feminist in a more meaningful sense insofar as it aims to broaden women's access to a masculinist domain and to put information technology in the service of feminism, characterizes itself as a "global" organization, by which it means that it has chapters in the US, Canada, the UK, and Japan. I point this out in order to suggest that in much of the cyberfeminist world, as in much third wave and second wave feminism generally, the first world, perhaps unwittingly, stands in for the world as a whole.

This aspect of western feminism is quite troubling, particularly since it is not limited to liberal organizations such as DigitalEve or to the work of liberal academic feminists. For example, Elaine Showalter's reaction to the attacks in New York on 11 September 2001 at the Third Wave Feminism conference exhorted young feminists to support and actively engage in western governments' profoundly undemocratic antiterrorist operations, as if such moves would reflect and advance the interests of women everywhere. Unfortunately, even "radical" feminists often turn a blind eye to the situation of women in the third world, or content themselves with paying lip service to the importance of third world feminist struggles without bothering to investigate the ways in which those struggles are linked with their own. …

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