A Year of Feminist Classics

Because they're better together :)

Feminism Without Borders: Pre-Reading Discussion

Feminism Without Borders by Chandra Talpade Mohanty

I don’t know about you, but I’ve gotten my copy of Feminism Without Borders and have read the introduction and first two chapters. I can tell this is going to be a challenge, since as the subtitle Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity hints, Mohanty tackles a lot of theory. While I’m enjoying the theoretical analysis, I think it’s important for a group that like that we tie it back to our lives and experiences (I expect from the second part of the subtitle that Mohanty will be doing the same later in the book).

With that in mind, a few things struck me in the introduction as good pre-reading discussion questions (so even those who can’t read the book can still participate). To encourage an equal platform, I’ll be sharing the questions here but my own answers as a comment. Here we go!

Borders suggest both containment and safety, and women often pay a price for daring to claim the integrity, security, and safety of our bodies and our living spaces.

What are your thoughts on this? Agree/disagree? Have any anecdotes to share?

Feminism without borders is not the same as “border-less” feminism. It acknowledges the fault lines, conflicts, differences, fears, and containment that borders represent. It acknowledges that there is no one se of a border, that the lines between and through nations, races, classes, sexualities, religions, and disabilities are real…
In my own life, borders have come in many guises, and I live with them inside as well as across racialized women’s communities. I grew up in Mumbai (Bombay), where the visible demarcations between Indian and Pakistan, Hindu and Muslim, rich and poor, British and Indian, women and men, Dalit and Brahmin were a fact of everyday life. This was the same Mumbai where I learned multiple languages and negotiated multiple cultures in the company of friends and neighbors, a Mumbai where I went to church services-not just Hindu temples-and where I learned the religious practices of Muslims and Parsees. In the last two decades, my life in the United States has exposed some new fault-lines; those of race and sexuality in particular. Urban, Illinois, Clinton, New York, and Ithaca, New York, have been my home places in the United States, and in all three sites I have learned to read and live in relation to the racial, class, sexual, and national scripts embedded in North American cultures. The presence of borders in my life has been both exclusionary and enabling, and I strive to envision a critically translation (internationalist) feminist praxis moving through these borders.

Using Mohanty as an example, define your own geography, especially the borders you’ve observed, crossed, or been bound by.

Finally, I’d love to hear about your “feminist vision.” If you could snap your fingers and remake the world as a feminist utopia, what would it look like? Mohanty describes hers, but you might want to write your own before reading the below quote.

Here is a bare-bones description of my own feminist vision: this is a vision of the world that is pro-sex and -woman, a world where women and men are free to live creative lives, in security and with bodily health and integrity, where they are free to choose whom they love, and whom they set up house with, and whether they want to have or not have children; a world where pleasure rather than just duty and drudgery determine our choices, where free and imaginative exploration of the mind is a fundamental right; a vision in which economic stability, ecological sustainability, racial equality, and the redistribution of wealth from the material basis of people’s well-being. Finally, my vision is one in which democratic and socialist practices provide the conditions for public participation and decision-making for people regardless of economic and social location.

The prompts I’ve provided are just a springboard: if you respond to the excerpts I’ve shared in another way, definitely share that instead! Let’s get talking.

5 responses to “Feminism Without Borders: Pre-Reading Discussion

  1. mdbrady January 9, 2013 at 5:06 pm

    Excellent approach to a difficult book. In chapter 3, Mohanty essentially does what you ask with boundaries in our lives. She uses the example of Minnie Pratt’s autobiography in Yours for the Struggle. I will try my own later.
    But you are right. We can all respond to your questions, whether or not we’ve read Mohanty.

    • Eva January 11, 2013 at 2:59 pm

      I’m hoping the approach works, and I think I’m going to keep making sure I include questions even those who gave up on/couldn’t get the book can answer. I just wish there were more people commenting! Oh well.

      I’m still mulling over my own answers to the questions above. I suspect I’ll be using all of my typing quota on them! 😀

  2. onereadleaf January 13, 2013 at 7:04 pm

    I’m making my way through this book slowly; it’s a pretty dense read,and I have been working on a lot of other things as well,so … I’m getting there.

    It’s hard to ask about a feminist vision, when Mohanty insists upon the importance of recognizing all the nuances of each local context. She makes a very compelling case that the historical, social, economic and cultural particulars of each situation must be addressed as unique, while avoiding hasty generalizations and not making any assumption that what is true for one context will resonate in another. I think she’s right, that it’s important to recognize the particular, but is it then still possible to hold some kind of greater vision? Can we ever draw conclusions that are greater than just identifying the factors that contribute to the oppression of whatever group of women is under consideration at any given moment?

    Mohanty appears to believe the answer is yes, and I’m reading further to try to understand how she gets there. I’m having a little trouble wrapping my head around that part.

    • mdbrady January 15, 2013 at 4:10 pm

      Yes. A good point. I see the same problem with all who broaden feminism to include race, class, etc. Even bell hooks. My own view is that women as women need special attention even as we recognize our differences. Maybe that is my “essentialist” streak, but I find I empathize more with women across all the borders. I am not sure how far Mohanty goes towards erasing gender or clarifying her stance. I sense that she is simply more upset by the Robin Morgan types than the other end of the spectrum.

  3. mdbrady January 15, 2013 at 4:17 pm

    I tried writing about borders in my life and found it interesting and productive. it took me back to my agonizing about privilege in grad school. The borders I knew as a child were certainly restrictive, but later I decided that I needed borders, some ground to stand on SO THAT I could expand and speak out. So I stayed in academia and remarried, deliberately making those choices to get the intellectual freedom I needed to consider and take radical alternatives. So I challenge some of what Mohanty seems to say at times, that borders are bad.
    I will share more about this if others write about their own borders, too.

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