Feminism and Empire
Modern feminism, and specifically the appropriation of women’s rights, emerged in the context of British colonial expansion during the 19th century. Over two centuries later and after a series of considerable gains for the women’s movements of Euro-America, an ideological framework for women’s rights and emancipation has developed in the form of a transnational and Western liberal feminism. Third World feminists and other postcolonial feminists have been highly critical of this framework, alleging that its agenda is in fact racist, ethnocentric, and patronizing — and moreover that it seeks universally to “rescue” non-White and non-Western women from their patriarchal, misogynist societies. Others have alleged that it is merely a cover to advance the crusades of Western imperialism.
In this course we explore the dialectical relationship between empire and feminism using key texts and case studies from the Global South. We will investigate how quests for women’s liberation and gender equality have been used as moral justifications for war and colonialism and to further the notion of Euro-American superiority over native peoples. We will pose questions like: What is imperial/colonial feminism and how does it impact me? What role does Western-style feminism play in fomenting the “War on Terror” and against whom? For four weeks, we’ll examine themes of race, sexuality, identity, representation, colonialism, language, and resistance as we study the the unlikely bedfellows of feminism and empire.