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8.3: Intersectionality and Third World Feminism

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    Centering Women of Color

    Once we understand the relevance of an intersectionality framing, we need to also understand why the term feminism or the mainstream women’s movement alone might be insufficient when addressing specific challenges and oppressions experienced by women of color. Author and Creative Writing Professor, Susan Muaddi Darraj described the challenges she faced when confronted with “a brand of white feminism” that she felt didn’t represent her experiences as an Arab American. Upon learning about Betty Friedan’s work, The Feminine Mystique (1963) in graduate school, Muaddi Darraj felt that the woes of the housewife spoke to a specific race and class privilege of white middle class women that didn’t represent her experiences. The assumption around the heteropatriarchal nuclear family model where the husband in the heterosexual marriage financially supported the household contrasted deeply with her own family, where her mother assumed housekeeping duties in addition to working full-time for their family business (2019, p. 286).

    She further elaborated that she disliked how “this version of feminism” viewed women like her as veiled oppressed women from the Middle East, an “orientalist cliché,” who needed rescuing by the supposed “assertive, liberated” western women. Pointing out the hypocrisy in such notions, Muaddi Darraj stated, “They wanted to save them from the burden of their families and religion but not from the war, hunger, unemployment, political persecution, and oppression that marked their daily lives and that left them with only their families and religion as sole sources of comfort” (2019, pp. 287 - 288). She added that Arab women were simultaneously exotified and “othered,” being asked if she knew how to belly dance and often mistaken as Muslim, even though she is Christian (p. 293).

    a profile picture of Bouhired from an old newspaper
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Algerian revolutionary, Djamila Bouhired. (CC BY-SA 4.0; Hijazilanai via Wikimedia Commons)

    So, Muaddi Darraj went in search for her feminism, pointing out that Arab culture was “a jungle of patriarchal pitfalls,” but also how she felt that her culture never stood in her way. In fact she found feminism in her culture, as evidenced by the stories her father told her about Djamila Bouhired (Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\)), an Algerian revolutionary who resisted French colonialism. This was a common story he heard growing up in Palestine. She learned about Muslim women who saw no contradictions between feminism and Islam, such as the Muslim Sisters (Ikhwat al-musilmat) in the West Bank who believe that Islam gave women their full rights, but that the religion was corrupted by men to suit their patriarchal agenda (2019, p. 294).

    Inspired by the works of Black feminists and other women of color feminists who “had the courage to carve a feminism of their own out of the monolithic block that was generally accepted as ‘feminism’” (p. 295), Muaddi Darraj began developing her own feminist voice, reflecting that “It required no great sacrifice of my Arab heritage, no shame at my close ties to my family, and no compromise of my own needs” (p. 299).

    Third World Feminism

    Feeling alienated by mainstream, white, or western feminism seems to be a common experience for many women of color. They often don’t see themselves reflected in the people who purport to represent all women, but instead often erase or ignore most who don’t fit their narratives. This was even experienced by a Latina professor of Women’s Studies and Chicano/Latino Studies at CSU Long Beach, Dr. Maythee Rojas. In the prologue of her book, Women of Color and Feminism (2009), Rojas states how the project of feminism is to center women’s stories, but “often the generic ‘women’ has meant white women” (p. ix) and so it’s not surprising that many women of color don’t gravitate toward feminism. Rojas even admits that she has a hard time identifying herself as a feminist at times, since “as a Latina from a working-class background whose family and friends are still largely removed from the academic world, I often feel the tension that the word raises when it is brought up” (p. ix).

    This is perhaps why in addition to understanding intersectionality, we need to be familiar with Third World Feminism. According to author and Professor Emeritus of History, Dominican University, Cheryl Johnson-Odim, there is an added element of racism and imperialism in addition to gender and class oppression, that needs to be applied when understanding struggles by Third World women. “The term Third World is frequently applied in two ways: to refer to ‘underdeveloped’/overexploited geopolitical entities, i.e., countries, regions, and even continents; and to refer to oppressed nationalities from these world areas who are now resident in ‘developed’ First World countries” (1991, p. 314). Both groups of Third World women feel marginalized under this “feminist terrain as an almost singularly antisexist struggle” while ignoring how sexism overlaps with oppressions tied to class, race, and empire (p. 315).

    Walker with short gray hair wearing a purple scarf is holding an orange rose
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Author, novelist, poet, and activist, Alice Walker in 2012. In 1983, she became the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her novel, The Color Purple. (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0; The American Library Association via Flickr)

    Johnson-Odim noted how such narrow definitions of feminism have led to some women of color electing to use a term other than feminist. For example, African American author, Alice Walker (Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\)) preferred using the phrase womanist to describe “a Black feminist or feminist of color” (1991, p. 315) whose priorities laid with the entire community, both male and female. Such a term stressed the sentiment amongst Third World women that their feminist struggles were not separate from the struggles against racism and economic exploitation that their communities shared (p. 315). See also "Sidebar: Black Womanism" in Chapter 3.

    The 1970s was a time when international feminist movements began to take shape, as women in Asian, Africa, and Latin America were emerging against colonialism and women of color in the United States were coming out of the civil rights movement. This was a time of applying social justice solutions to addressing racism, classism and imperialism, along with sexism. While many women who emerged from the civil rights movement were involved in antiracism, this didn’t prevent them from experiencing racism within the women’s movement in the U.S., nor was there much emphasis on the role of racism in the oppression of all women.

    Third World women in the west often ended up organizing separately from white women due to the racism they experienced. Gloria Joseph, who organized with Black women across the African Diaspora, pointed out how “black women have as much in common, in terms of their oppression, with black men as they do with white women” (Johnson-Odim, 1991, p. 318). There was a particular way that Black women were constructed in the slaveocracy that justified the violent oppression they experienced, and such ideas are still around today. And despite the slave system resulting in work by poor whites “nearly superfluous except to help police the black labor force,” instead of working to end slavery, poor whites aligned themselves to the white masters and desired opportunities for themselves to benefit off slavery. Johnson-Odim argued that some Black American women suspected the same with the white women’s movement, translating women’s interest to “the desire of a few white women to enter the corporate boardroom” (p. 319). This would only result in benefiting only a select few, and mostly women with access to race and class privilege.

    Johnson-Odim further points out how a feminist movement that soley focuses on the advancement of the most privileged class of women will never dismantle larger systems that continually rely on the exploitation of nations and people with less power. She writes how focusing only on “women’s rights” will never result in larger changes. If women from western societies accomplish some sense of equality with men through legal and moral changes in patriarchal systems without simultaneous challenges to racist and classist systems, this will ultimately undermine the success of a movement for all women. Also important to add that any “economic surplus in the West is often directly related to oppression in the Third World” (1991, p. 320).

    As First World women advance toward equality in the workplace or labor in the home, the “second shift” of housework are not picked up by men. Instead, they become dependent on labor from Black women, Indigenous women, women of color, and immigrant women largely from developing nations, who often are separated from their own families, paid poorly and work in highly exploitative and vulnerable positions. Filomina Clarice Steady, Professor Emerita of Africana Studies from Wellesley College wrote in 1985 that such a type of feminism will only help women “be seen as partners in oppression and as having the potential of becoming primary oppressors themselves” (Johnson-Odim, 1991, p. 321). Alternatively, Steady calls for an intersectional approach to not only dismantling sexism, but also larger systems of economic and political inequality that lend to a relationship of economic dependency and internal colonialism in Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, Asia, and economically impoverished areas of the United States.

    Additionally, paternalistic attitudes of western feminism often mistakenly portray women of the Third World as oppressed by “an indigenous patriarchy,” and act as though egalitarian relationships between men and women were brought over from western societies. Muaddi Darraj’s essay addressed this very hypocrisy when discussing how white women would see all Arab women as oppressed by Islam or Arabic culture. In fact, it could be argued that the opposite is true, as severe patriarchal values were often imposed on many cultures along with European colonialism. Ultimately, the point is that aspects outside of gender play a major role in the oppression of Third World women and that struggles remain “exacerbated by Western patriarchy, racism, and exploitation” (Johnson-Odim, 1991, p. 321).

    Many Third World Feminist call for a movement that works to dismantle systems that oppress all women, including racism, sexism, classism, and imperialism. Johnson-Odim calls for First World women to confront racism in their own communities and struggle against the complicity of the First World in oppressing Third World women. While all women might share experiences of sexism, that doesn’t mean that a more privileged group of women can’t oppress other women. Third World feminism requires a decentering of the “colonial lens” and calls for a broad base of feminists to recognize the importance of respecting different cultures and “agree that women in various places are perfectly capable of having their own voice” (1991, p. 325).

    Chicana Feminism and Mestiza Consciousness

    Chicana feminist consciousness has also brought forward the role of Chicanas in organized resistance and crafting “spaces of liberation.” Chicanas were on the frontlines of the Chicano Movement of the 1960s and '70s, creating their own “Chicana praxis of resistance,” organizing within the margins, challenging the intersections of sexism, racism, classism, homophobia, and colonialism (Espinoza, Cotera, Blackwell, 2018, p. 1). Take for example, critical feminist thinkers like Yolanda Broyles-González who challenged the minimization of women’s role in Teatro Campesino (p. 8). Or the work of Chela Sandoval, Professor of Chicana and Chicano Studies, UC Santa Barbara, who “articulated a flexible oppositional consciousness” from which women of color negotiated their identities as they worked “within and between multiple movements to combat oppression” (p. 15).

    Chicana feminist writings are grounded in intersectionality, the editors of Chicana Feminisms writing, “Our guiding metaphor for Chicana feminist writing expands on Anzaldúa’s notion of Chicanas’ bodies as bocacalles. Literally, bocacalle translates as an intersection where two streets cross one another” (Arredondo, Hurtado, Klahn, Nájera-Ramírez, and Zavella, 2003, p. 2). But the editors further explain that bocacalle also translates to “mouth/street,” thereby eliciting a picture of women shouting in the streets, demanding to be heard. Chicana feminists have asserted their analysis of power dynamics in relation to their locations, based on diverse class, racial, sexual, linguistic, and nationality backgrounds. Still, there are common structural locations that women of Mexican origin share in the United States, including being predominantly working class, disproportionately poor, and a majority not experiencing social or economic mobility despite being in the U.S. for several generations. Chicanas are targets of racist schools, concentrated in segregated job markets such as in agriculture or garment manufacturing, and facing exploitative work dynamics including low pay and poor conditions (p. 3).

    A Chicana feminist point of view is also “rooted in Mexican history,” located at the intersection of colonialism, violence, discrimination, and racial and class hierarchies, “against the backdrop of Catholicism and language repression, especially toward indigenous peoples (Castañeda 1993; González 1999)" (Arredondo, Hurtado, Klahn, Nájera-Ramírez, and Zavella, 2003, p. 4). Furthermore, Mexicanas and Chicanas are impacted by 20th and 21st century neoliberal practices of free trade and the politics of globalization with the passage of GATT (General Agree on Tariffs and Trade) and NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), opening up trade restrictions that lead to major displacement and migration (p. 4). They point out how overlapping histories of Mexico and the United States lead to Chicanas having a transnational point of view, recognizing the border as a “site of convergence, conflict, and creativity” (pp. 4-5).

    portrait of Anzaldúa who is smiling, wearing a blue sweater
    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): Chicana feminist, Gloria Anzaldúa (1990). (Licensed under CC BY 2.0; Photo by K. Kendall)

    Chicana feminists offer various theoretical insights, marking a “consciousness of resistance to the repression of language and culture, a recognition of a ‘third space’ located within intersecting structures of power in which women construct claims to human agency,” such as Gloria Anzaldúa’s (Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\)) mestizaje and “borderlands” (Arredondo, Hurtado, Klahn, Nájera-Ramírez, and Zavella, 2003, p. 5). In Anzaldúa’s canonical work, Borderlands: La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1987; 1999), she locates the mestiza in a hybrid identity of indigenous, Spanish, and African ancestry, giving voice to people who live between worlds and are in “perpetual transition,” writing, “To live in the Borderlands means you...

    are neither hispana india negra española

    ni gabacha, eres mestiza, mulata, half-breed

    caught in the crossfire between camps

    while carrying all five races on your back

    not knowing which side to turn to, run from (p. 216).

    Anzaldúa also writes,

    the world is not a safe place to live in….Alienated from her mother culture, "alien" in the dominant culture, the woman of color does not feel safe within the inner life of her Self….caught between los intersticios, the spaces between the different worlds she inhabits….My Chicana identity is grounded in the Indian woman’s history of resistance….Like La Llorona, the Indian woman’s only means of protest was wailing (pp. 42 - 43).

    Anzaldúa and other Chicana feminists have called forward an erased history, that of Malinali Tenepat, or Malintzin, or La Malinche, or Dona Marina, transforming her from “traitor to heroine.” Sold into slavery as a child, then given to Spanish conquistador, Hernán Cortés, Malintzin is portrayed as a powerful woman who worked on behalf of various Indigenous tribes other than the Aztecs, a “mediator between languages, races, and cultures” (Exploring borderlands, 2003). Chicana feminists questioned who she’s actually betrayed, as she was enslaved and sold off as a child. Maria Herrera Sobek, Chicana/o Studies, UC Santa Barbara, stated, “In redefining La Malinche, the Chicanas are redefining themselves also, and redefining themselves in their own terms to put the record straight” (Exploring borderlands, 2003, 21:58 - 22:49). Anzaldúa calls out the patriarchal interpretation of La Malinche, the word, La Chingada, meaning the fucked one, stating, “She has become the bad word that passes a dozen times a day from the lips of Chicanos. Whore, prostitute, the woman who sold out her people to the Spaniards are epithets Chicanos spit out with contempt” (1987; 1999, p. 44). Anzaldúa argues that the bigger betrayal is in “making us believe that the Indian woman in us is the betrayer” (p. 44).

    In the chapter, “La conciencia de la mestiza/Towards a New Consciousness,” Anzaldúa (1987; 1999) challenges the constructions of borders and difference, uncovering a power of being in between. The New Mestiza consciousness is one that recognizes the fluidity of culture and position, claiming, “Rigidity means death. Only by remaining flexible is she able to stretch the psyche horizontally and vertically” (p. 101). She embraces “a tolerance for contradictions,” as the mestiza consciousness establishes a new way of thinking in this world, a way toward a future that dismantles old and harmful archetypes rooted in patriarchy, colonialism, and white supremacy, continuing, “A Massive uprooting of dualistic thinking…the beginning of a long struggle, but one that could, in our best hopes, bring us to the end of rape, of violence, of war” (p. 102).

    She proclaims the importance of mestizas to support one another in order to challenge patriarchy, emphasizing

    As long as woman is put down, the Indian and the Black in all of us is put down. The struggle of the mestiza is above all a feminist one. As long as los hombres think they have ot chingar mujeres and each other to be men, as long as men are taught that they are superior and therefore culturally favored over la mujer…there can be no real healing of our psyches” (Anzaldúa, 1987; 1999, p. 106).

    Anzaldúa (1987; 1999) also specifies that “The mestizo and the queer exist at this time and point on the evolutionary continuum for a purpose,” as Queer people of color have often had to have more knowledge of other cultures, have experienced more injustices, “survived them despite all odds,” and have always been at the front and center of “all liberation struggles.” She writes, “People, listen to what your jotería is saying” (p. 107). Anzaldúa connects this new consciousness back to the land, writing that Chicanas and Chicanos have always tended to the land, and that…

    This land was Mexican once

    was Indian always

    and is,

    And will be again (p. 113).

    See also "Chicana/o/x and Latina/o/x/e Feminism" under Chapter 6.


    Ethnic Studies and Asian American Studies (San Francisco State) professor, Dr. Allyson Tintiangco-Cubales defines a very specific application of intersectionality in what she’s named pinaysism: “a radical pinay sisterhood that connects the global, local, and personal stories of Pinay struggle, survival, service, sisterhood, and strength to mentally, physically, politically, and spiritually uplift ourselves” (1995). She clarifies that pinayism is not simply a “Filipino version of feminism or womanism” but that it instead draws from various philosophies and examines the complexity of where race/ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality intersect (2005, pp. 139 - 141). First, of the use of the term “Pinay,” Tintiangco-Cubales cites the late Historian of Filipinx American history (San Francisco State), Dr. Dawn Mabalon, who identified the use of the terms Pinay and Pinoy of the 1920s and '30s as an identity localized in the United States (p. 140). However, Pinayism also tries to insert “a forum to make connections to the issues of Filipinas and Filipinos in diaspora” recognizing how the issues impacting Pinays are borderless. Tintiangco-Cubales explains that “Pinays who live in the United States are affected by the situations of Pinays in the Philippines, Australia, Canada, Kuwait, Japan, and around the world” (p. 140 - 142).

    Another important aspect of pinayism is that it’s an “impetus for change.” Tintiangco-Cubales writes:

    Rejecting white feminism, where women fight with men for equality, Pinayists must take steps to include Pinoys in the fight against sexism by making connections to issues such as classism and neocolonialism….neocolonialism is a system that maintains unequal relations of power on economic, political, and ideological levels in a postcolonial period. Profound relationships exist among sexism, classism, and neocolonialism (2005, p. 142).

    On that note, Tintiangco-Cubales and Professor of Asian American Studies, CSU East Bay, Dr. Jocyl Sacramento co-write an article titled “Practicing Pinayist Pedagogy,” where they explain how after fourteen years, “Pinayism has become a praxis asserting a transformative and transgressive agency that combines theory, practice, and personal reflection” (Tintiangco-Cubales and Sacramento, 2009, p. 179). As a praxis, which builds on Paulo Friere’s idea of students becoming agents of social change themselves, a methodology of applying theory to practice, pinayism is about action. Specifically, a pinayist praxis is the process and production of addressing issues related to Pinay struggles, service and sisterhood and a method of implementing change through “decolonization, humanization, self-determination, and relationship building, ultimately moving toward liberation” (pp. 179 - 180). At the core of this praxis is Pinayist studies, which offers counternarratives on Filipina women’s stories, histories and contemporary experiences.

    Next, participants uncover specific challenges (personal or community-based), and pursue a plan of action around resisting oppression and making a commitment to social justice. For example, Tintiangco-Cubales discussed when a young participant shared that her aunt was a mail-ordered bride and asked what she should do. She shared her story with Tintiangco-Cubales who could only suggest that she talk to her family about it and gave her names of supportive organizations. She learned later that this particular Pinay became an activist for women’s rights, last seeing her at a protest in front of the Philippine Consulate, urging the government to stop the trafficking of women and children. Tintiangco-Cubales wrote that, “She humanized Pinayism for me. She also gave me hope” (Tintiangco-Cubales and Sacramento, 2009, p. 182).

    In practice, pinayism offers both the teacher and the student a type of “mutual humanization” as that relationship is reciprocal and not hierarchical. The space turns into a place of “transformational resistance” and liberation for Pinays and Pinayists, ultimately cultivating a powerful healing space for all (Tintiangco-Cubales and Sacramento, 2009, pp. 180-181). Rooted in the context of the history of feminism, womanism, and third world/women of color studies, Pinayism also creates a space for hope, as it’s not about male-bashing, and all genders are encouraged to participate. The transformative moment happens when the Pinayist educator’s classroom turns into a space for hope and a place to call home (p. 185).

    This page titled 8.3: Intersectionality and Third World Feminism is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Kay Fischer (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative (OERI)) .