The communication gap between First and Third world feminist, as expressed by Narayan lies within a cultural setting: though Western feminism is still an upholding to the rights of women, Third world feminism speaks towards a culture’s specific issues, as Narayan writes, “I am arguing that Third-World feminism is not a mindless mimicking of ‘Western agendas’ in one clear and simple sense – that, for instance, Indian feminism is clearly a response to issues specifically confronting many Indian women” (13).
Thus, feminism is explicit to country and cultural beliefs, not hinging upon a predetermined or in this case Western view. There are many people, mostly women, who have been fighting for their equal rights – and we now commonly call this as feminism. Feminism started not merely on 19th century, but even during the 17th to 18th century. This is the very reason why feminists have gotten so much attention from well respected organization and government officials. With this idea in mind, many are now asking, who are the women who started the feminist movements and what prompted them to initiate such action?
By digging deeper to what the real meaning of feminism is, it can also be identified the first few women who fought and strived really hard just to show the world that feminism is indeed worth fighting for. These women have their own issues that they highlighted and it all boils down to the fact that females are not just a decoration for males, instead, they are people who can be effective even in dealing with other important aspects of he society like the government. Feminists’ ideas started during the time of the infamous Enlightenment, with Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and the Marquis de Condorcet who initiated championing women’s education.
The first scientific society for women was founded in Middleberg, a city in the south of the Dutch republic, in 1785. Journals for women which focused on issues like science became popular during this period as well. Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is one of the first works that can be called feminist, although by modern standards her comparison of women to the nobility, the elite of society, coddled, fragile, and in danger of intellectual and moral sloth, does not sound like a feminist argument.
Wollstonecraft believed that both sexes contributed to this situation and took it for granted that women had considerable power over men. Indeed, it was during the late 17th century to the early 18th century that the earliest works on the so-called “woman question” criticized the restrictive role of women, without necessarily claiming that women were disadvantaged or that men were to blame (Deckard, 1975). When 18th century came, the movement is generally believed to have begun as people increasingly came to believe that women were treated unfairly under the law.
The feminist movement is rooted in the West and especially in the reform movement of the 19th century. The organized movement is dated from the first women’s rights convention at Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848 (Deckard, 1975). This feminism started not on one place or country, but coincidentally, a lot of women from various countries around the world fought for their rights as and equal and rightful members of the society. Emmeline Pankhurst was one of the founders of the suffragette movement and aimed to reveal the institutional sexism in British society, forming the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU).
Often the repeated jailing for forms of activism that broke the law, particularly property destruction, inspired members went on hunger strikes. Due to the resultant force-feeding that was the practice, these members became very ill, serving to draw attention to the brutality of the legal system at that time. In an attempt to solve this the government introduced a bill that became known as the Cat and Mouse Act, which allowed women to be released when they starved themselves to dangerous levels, then to be re-arrested later. (Deckard, 1975).
Meanwhile, the Feminist movement in the Arab world saw Egyptian jurist Qasim Amin, the author of the 1899 pioneering book Women’s Liberation, as the father of Arab Feminist Movement. In his work Amin criticized some of the practices prevalent in his society at the time, such as polygamy, the veil, or women’s segregation, and condemned them as un-Islamic, and contradicting the true spirit of Islam. His work had an enormous influence on women’s political movements throughout the Islamic and Arab world, and is read and cited today (Deckard, 1975).
Various women were able to raise their voices during that time. They were able to capture the attention of many and hear out their grievances. Let us take a closer look at each of the famous and most influential women during this Abolition Movement, and create a more prominent appreciation on their ways and methods of fighting for their cause. Among the most influential women whose actions were all aimed at highlighting the feminist rights, the Grimke sisters (Sarah Grimke and Angelina Grimke Weld) topped the list.
Motivated by religion and a desire to live a useful life, they were among the first American women to speak in public. They wrote a number of tracts against slavery and for woman’s rights. To abolitionist acclamations, Angelina became the first American woman to address a state legislature. Both sisters would remain abolitionists and woman’s rights activists for the remainder of their lives with Angelina concentrating on the abolitionist movement and Sarah concentrating on the woman’s rights movement (Lerner, 1998).
Sarah Grimke offered the best and most coherent Bible argument for woman’s equality yet written by a woman. She was also able to identify and characterize the distinction between sex and gender; she took class and race into consideration; and she tied the subordination of women both to educational deprivation and sexual oppression. She identified men, individually and as a group, as having benefited from the subordination of women.
Above all, she understood that women must acquire feminist consciousness by conscious effort and that they must practice asserting their rights in order to think more appropriately (Lerner, 1998). Angelina, on the other hand, in several of her pamphlets and speeches, developed a strong argument for women’s rights to political equality. In her insistence on women’s right, even duty, to organize for political participation and to petition, she anticipated the practice and tactics women would follow for the rest of the century.
In both her “Appeal to Southern Women” and in her “Letters to Catherine Beecher” she fashioned a defense of women’s right to organize in the antislavery cause which connected it with the causes of white women and influenced the practice of several succeeding generations (Lerner, 1998). The way in which women are treated is also beautifully highlighted in the novel The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. The author in a few brilliant and well-placed strokes of writing, makes it clear to the reader the place that women are given in his setting.
While describing the ill treatment of the woman ‘adulterer’ at the hands of the Taliban, Hosseini says, “And what matter of punishment befits the adulterer? We shall throw stones”. ( 237, Hosseini) The brutality of this remark is accentuated further by Hosseini’s vivid portrayal of the scene in which the woman is mercilessly stoned to death. It is therefore in culture that the main difference between First-World and Third-World feminism lays. The treatment of women in India is one filled with hypocrisy.
In Narayan’s essay, the India chastises Western civilization for their treatment of women; for instance, Indian women were permitted to attend higher education classes decades before the English even considered the aspect. Indian’s say that they treat their women as goddesses, while the West treats their women far less as equals, but this in turn is duplicitous, in examples Narayan gives of the treatment from men received by her grandmothers, and her mother (chastisement, beatings, and submissiveness, and silence).
In her book, Speech and Silence in the Mother Tongue, Narayan gives childhood examples of how she became a feminist, and they are not dominantly rooted in the idea of Westernization, but culturally in a Third-World view, as she writes, “…though I cannot bring myself to it, of her pain that surrounded me when I was young, a pain that was earlier than school and ‘Westernization’, a call to rebellion that has a different and more primary root, that was not conceptual or English, but in the mother-tongue” (7).
This then gives insight into how feminism isn’t dependent upon the introduction of Western culture in liberating women, but is in fact contingent upon a witness’s own account of oppression and their reaction to that oppression, that is that Narayan’s own rebellion was a response to her mother’s sadness in being trapped by her mother-in-law and her marriage.
This exemplifies the difference between First-World and Third-World feminism, the fact that Narayan must contend with the paradigm of Western feminism instead of simply revered as representing her own culture’s fault; Narayan is not representing Western ideas but is only supporting equality and fair treatment for her fellow Indian women. In the Indian culture, women are perceived to become wives first and their own identity as a person is wiped away by such a paradigm, this is true for the incentive of women’s movements, the West included.
Indian wives are submissive and the Third-World culture enhances this notion by parlaying women into marriage at the age of thirteen (as Narayan’s grandmother had done), and treating them as Other rather than as Self. In her book Speech and Silence in the Mother Tongue, Narayan writes of the predominant sentiment found in India in regards to women and mentions, “They were anxious about the fact that our independence and self-assertiveness seemed to be making us into women who lacked the compliance, deference, and submissiveness deemed essential in good “Indian” wives” (8).
The wife and mother ideas of women are predominant in most cultures, and the concord factor between First and Third world feminism is united in this fact, and their rebellion against such submissiveness. The culture of feminism is presented as one that has great bonds with politics. For both First-World and Third-World feminism there is no difference in the root of feminism when it is in politics, and political campaigns that women are often secluded: in schooling, voting, and citizenship, women have been treated secondarily in both First and Third world cultures.
Therefore, Narayan’s generation of Third-world feminist aren’t rebelling because of Westernization, but because in their own politics women have been forgotten in India and in the West. It takes political connections to other women and their experiences, political analyses of women’s problems, and attempts to construct political solutions for them, to make women into feminists in any full-blooded sense, as the history of women’s movements in various parts of the world shows us. Therefore, the dichotomy of First-World and Third-World feminism finds harmony in this political connection.
The westernization of Indian has been blamed for the rebellious nature of feminism and even the introduction of the women’s movement, but in fact, it is the own culture’s deviant nature that gives rise to the necessity of feminism. Narayan gives example of her cousin being tortured with cigarettes and being locked away while in another country and keeping silent about it for years until a relative came to visit. The silence is the devastating part of the story; in Indian culture, it is supposed and indeed ingrained in Indian women to hold their tongues, and be submissive, and not innocent, but obedient.
Yet, western culture was seen to pervade the Indian traditional way of living. In the book, Speech and Silence in the Mother Tongue, Uma says, “Veiling, polygamy, child-marriage, and sati were all significant points of conflict and negotiation between colonizing “Western” culture and different colonized third-World cultures. In these conflicts, Western colonial powers often depicted indigenous practices as symptoms of the “backwardness and barbarity’ of Third-World cultures in contract to the “progressiveness of Western culture.
” The figure of the colonized woman became a representation of the oppressiveness of the entire ‘cultural tradition’ of the colony. “(17) The effect of this colonization of Indian women was one of conflicting progressiveness. Traditions of Indian culture were already bred with English sentiments (such as the sari) and English clothing was continually being upgraded and introduced into Indian culture; in fact men were wearing suits long before women were allowed to change into less traditional clothing.
In her book Speech and Silence in the Mother Tongue, in one example Narayan gives, she talks of how, she and her family went on a vacation in a more rural part of the country and she was instructed to wear her Indian clothing and not her Western clothes because she had hit puberty (though in the city nothing was wrong with such clothes), Narayan writes, “My story reveals that what counted as ‘inappropriately Western dress’ differed from one specific Indian context to another, even within the same class and caste community”(27).
The effects of Westernization therefore and colonization give rise to differing ideas of what constitutes traditional wear from one part of the country to another. In conclusion, Narayan gives insight to how differing opinions of feminism are still spurned from similar ideals. Third-World feminists are not ‘outsiders within’, that is, they are not denying the tradition of their country, but instead, feminists need to challenge some of the more patriarchal rules of India. Third-World feminists are not denying their culture, but are asking for change. Work Cited
Ahmed, Sara (2004). “The Cultural Politics of Emotion”. Routledge Publishing Boydston, Kelley, Margolis, The Limits of Sisterhood, p. 178. Deckard, Barbara. 1975. The Women’s Movement: Political, Socioeconomic and Psychological Issues New York: Harper & Row. p. 253. Gerda Lerner. 1988. The Grimke Sisters from South Carolina: Pioneers for Women’s Rights and Abolition. Oxford University Press. Narayan, Uma. Speech and Silence in the Mother Tongue. Yee. Shirley J. Abolitionist Movement. February 2002. Sunshine for women. <http://www. pinn. net/~sunshine/whm2002/abolitn. html>
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