global feminist theory–Chandra Talpade Mohanty

Transnational feminist theory is challenged by Chandra Talpade Mohanty who was raised in India and teaches university women’s studies in New York. Her 1986 article “Under Western Eyes” generated much discussion about deficits in post- or de-colonial transnational feminist theory, elaborated on in her book Feminism Without Borders, 2003, and in a video interview.[i] As a radical activist, she faults feminists for not doing more to join antiglobalization’s critique of neoliberal capitalism as the main oppressor. She faults US women’s movements for becoming increasingly conservative so that, “much radical, antiracist feminist activism occurs outside the rubric of such movements.”[ii] She aks Western feminists to scrutinize “materialist” (in the Marxist sense of economics and class) local histories from the perspective of gender and race. They should not assume that liberal theories, such as the importance of education for girls, apply universally without understanding the local context. Power should be studied from the bottom up in the lives of marginalized women, called standpoint theory, because women are most of the poor, sweatshop factory workers and refugees exploited by neoliberal capitalism. Western feminists should respectfully form solidarity movements with women globally, not looking at “Third World women” from a Eurocentric orientalist viewpoint as a simple category with similar female characteristics.

In opposition to postmodern relativists’ reluctance to develop general theories that has dominated US academia for the last three decades, she recommends the approach of “postpositivist realism“ doing “systemic analyses” as of patterns of domination, while recognizing local differences. She especially advocates that women of color in the West and women of the Global South make alliances, as she has attempted to do in organizing conferences. She reminds us that “corporatist” universities are not immune from neoliberal control of our thinking and make the mistake of approaching area studies, gender and ethnic studies, and globalization as if the US is the norm, not an “area.” Her main goal is to encourage an “anticapitalist transnational feminist practice” using a “comparative feminist studies model.”[iii] Such a cross-cultural course would include global women’s issues and activism around sex work, the “maid trade,” small-scale farmers, war, environmentalism, human rights, etc., not singling out the West as somehow superior or not part of the neoliberal system, thinking in terms of One-Third World and Two-Thirds World. Criticizing feminists for not being anticapitalists, she also criticizes the antiglobalism movement for matching masculinization of globalization discourse and not including feminist analysis, although it did include some of the feminist organizing processes.

In 2013 Talpade Mohanty identified the main challenge to feminist solidarity is neoliberalism’s normalization of the “so-called post-race/post feminist consumer cultures leading to generation differences” in attitudes. She calls for opposition to the neoliberal nations’ violence, as in the US, India and Israel’s “exercise of militarized and masculinized forms of control, surveillance and dispossession.” She praises resistance movements in Palestine, India’s anti-rape movement,[iv] post-Traynon Martin US, and Canada’s Idle No More indigenous environmental movement as the “key focus” for feminists. A model is the work of Indian feminist environmentalist Vandana Shiva.

[i] Chandra Talpade Mohanty. Feminism Without Borders. Duke University Press, 2003.

Interview by Linda Martin Alcoff, “Feminists We Love: Chandra Talpade Mohanty,” October 4, 2013.


[ii] Chandra Talpade Mohanty. Feminism Without Borders. Duke University, 2003, p. 221.

[iii] Chandra Talpade Mohanty, p. 242.

[iv] Reeti Mahobe, “Bekhauf Azadi: Ensuring Freedom Without Fear For Women,” Youth Kiawwaz, September 4, 2013

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