Reconstructing the deconstructed: some thoughts on transnational feminist activism

The genetic material that connects us people with pre-historic creatures are the hox genes; genes that determine the basic shape of the body – signalling where the front and back, top and bottom of the body of more complex organisms (this includes worms I’m afraid) would be, essentially. Now, the discovery of the hox genes kind of proved what Darwin had wanted to say all along: that we are all related and our evolutionary ancestry can be traced way back in what he had elegantly allegorised as the tree of life. If related in modern genetic terms, the hox genes would be right at the roots of this tree from which further genetic extension (or branches) would go on to create diverse creatures on this earth.

I’d like to see feminist theory as the hox genes of global feminist activism. As unchanging and “un-evolveable” as the hox genes, the basic tenet of feminism (end to oppression based on gender, sexual orientation, race, disability, and class) would form the shape, direction, and ultimately the destiny of feminist politics. Mutations in feminist theory would mean that its perspective on ending oppression will be distorted, and in some cases, as good as dead. From an immutable and intact set of basic theories and goals come the social movements that take on a variety of modes based on historical, geographical, cultural, and religious circumstances, producing what we recognise today as localised and grassroots feminisms around the world.

The idea of a superstructure transnational feminism does not make a lot of sense to me. In fact, I find discussing global sisterhood boring and a little pointless. I attended the Feminist Theory and Activism in Global Perspective conference at SOAS today wondering what it really wanted to achieve, and left the conference still wondering. On the one – more positive – hand, there exists the idea that transnational feminism breeds solidarity. No doubt showing support as an emblem of solidarity is great, but effective activism needs a real understanding of the multiple contexts that influence it. Solidarity alone is not enough.

To be fair, it’s great seeing an international panel of feminist speakers talking about their work and how they can be raised as transnational feminist issues. Issues such as violence against women, working with women in zones of conflict, and postcolonial literature all have transnational appeal, but I find it unusual for feminist academics and activists to seek connections with others who don’t necessarily share the same contextual circumstances that are so crucial in addressing localised hegemonic patriarchy. Is a conference on transnational feminism something like the UN of feminist activism? We all know that the UN is far from perfect.

It seemed a little ironic to me that today’s conference did not include a talk on bridging Muslim and Western feminism, as that appears to be like the hottest topic of all time and basically the ultimate narrative of reconciling two very different feminisms. And so I went home today feeling a little cheated by a pretty bombastic line-up of talks that only rang hollow to me. We know that grassroots feminism is efficient and effective. Tinkering with it by including external intervention that has yet to be proven effective and most certainly complex to manage can distance the site of activism from those who know it best. In other words, why bother?

By Angry Malay Woman

I like plants.


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