The word feminism is tricky to define in a global concept. There are so many women in this world, and feminism is claiming to bring equality to each of those women. This sounds great in theory, but in reality how can one feminist theory apply to the varying types of women in the world. This has become a major disparity between different cultures, mainly with Western women from the UK or US monopolizing the word feminism and what it means in the global context. This dominance leaves women from other countries to either identify with Western feminism or refer to themselves as a non-feminist. By definition, feminism is the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men (Oxford, online). This broad definition does not include specific goals or things women are fighting to change, but it has become something that Western culture has come to define and shape to their own needs and beliefs. This post will examine the inadequacies of feminism and why it fails to fit into Eastern culture, specifically within Poland.
Two feminists Maria Lugones and Elizabeth Spelman discuss this disparity in their essay “Have We Got a Theory for You.” This article is addresses the dominance of white/Anglo women within the Feminist movement, and how minorities are not as well represented. The article uses the voice of a Hispanic women to discuss the disparities within feminism, and it brings into question the lack of intersectionality within feminism. Intersectionality addresses the different characteristics a woman may possess that make up her identity, including race, gender, class, ability, or ethnicity (Oxford, online). This means looking at a woman as more than just a gender, but as a person with different elements within her life that may influence her desires, beliefs, and ideals. Western Feminism according to Lugones and Spelman has “arisen not, for the most part, arisen out of a medley of women’s voices; instead, the theory has arisen out of the voices, the experiences, of a fairly small handful of women, and if other women’s voices do not sing in harmony with the theory, they aren’t counted as women’s voices’ (Lugones and Spelman, 19). They are emphasizing the white/Anglo women’s dominance in deciding the beliefs of feminism, and how it affects other women. Feminism has become a word that is associated with a specific group of women and their definition of equality within government, the economy, and society as a whole. In one section of Lugones and Spelman’s reading the voice of a Hispanic women addresses white women’s dominance, “you theorize about women and we are women, so you understand yourself to be theorizing about us, and we understand you to be theorizing about us” (Lugones and Spelman). While this specific quote is the voice of a Hispanic women, it stands to represent all those women who feel as though feminism has become a term that they, as a woman, do not feel protected by.
The inclusion of others is the main inadequacy of feminism, as well as the lack of solutions. Third World Women and the Inadequacies of Western Feminism” by Ethel Crowley discusses how “more time and effort is spent on ideological nit-picking than on the formulation of strategies to redress the problems they highlight” (Crowley, 17). This comes from there being a broad amount of women under the word feminism, and its’ struggle to firmly define what the goals are of feminism because they are so many different types of women. This article further focuses on the idea that it is “not useful to apply theoretical concepts in a fixed, determinate way because this leads to a kind of ‘monoism’” (Crowley, 19). Like Lugones and Spelman, Crowley is addressing the singularities within feminism and how one solution cannot fit all. There are many different cultures within our society with different histories, religions, and cultural beliefs that make defining equality and how to achieve it very difficult. Western women isolate other women from their definition of feminism, and it does not help them advance in the Western terms of feminism. This, however, is a major issue that occurs between Western women and women from other cultures. The sense of superiority and moral righteousness that Western women feel they have earned through their feminist writings and actions can come across as arrogant and frankly, very American. It is almost ignorant how much Americans believe they know best, and feminism seems to be another place where this occurs. Of course, an American myself, I do believe that feminism can help women with unfortunate circumstances rise above their oppressors, but it also means that I have specific ideas of what oppression is and what is not.
Rosalind Marsh, a professor of Russian Studies at the University of Bath, discusses this relationship between Eastern and Western women in terms of feminism in her essay Polish Feminism in an East-West Context. According to Marsh, “Western feminists have sometimes offended women in Central and Eastern Europe by implying that they know ‘the truth’ or by concentrating on certain issues that have not been particularly important to women in the regions (such as pornography), as opposed to the survival strategies and reproductive rights that are closer to the experience of the women in the post-Socialist countries” (Marsh, 53). Both of these points have been key issues in the discussion of the inadequacies of feminism, and have become some of the main reasons why feminism has not become a term women widely associate themselves with in Eastern Europe. “Some of the problem may be due to the term feminism itself–even in the West many women regard it as being associated with such stereotypes as hairy man hating lesbians (Marsh, 48). The stereotypes of feminism may be part of the issue, as well as the term feminism and its connotations in regards to who it benefits. Throughout her reading, Marsh highlights the historical differences that occurred in Poland, such as communism and the illegalization of abortion. These historic differences meant that Polish women are growing up in an environment than Western society, and their societal roles mean that they are not fighting for the same equalities as Western women. The Communist era, for example, meant that women were allowed in the workforce but it created the double burden for Polish women. The double burden is the duty a woman feels burdened with by taking care of her household, her husband and children, along with working a job. This meant that while Western women were fighting for their right to be in the workplace, Polish women were already in that position, but were looking for other ways to look out for themselves and their family. Plus, the political involvement of women then became known as the triple burden, which included the home, work, along with political involvement.
Feminism is a word that in its broad definition promises to fight for equality for all women, but that definition does not take into consideration the many different women within our society. The differences Rosalind Marsh presented were only limited to Polish society, and showed how Western feminism does not fit the mold of the common Polish woman. Perhaps it is because people get so hung up on the word feminism and not the meaning behind it; maybe if every country was able to create its own word for feminism there may be some more advancements, but there will always be different voices wanting different things, and one or two voices that dominate that conversation. Although it sounds pessimistic, trying to change existing ideologies is always going to be difficult, especially when people’s beliefs about how to change them vary depending on who they are, where they’re from, or what they believe in.
Crowley, Ethel. “Third World Women and the Inadequacies of Western Feminism.” Global Research. Global Research, Mar.-Apr. 2014. Web. 4 Dec. 2016.
Lugones, Marcia C. and Elizabeth V. Spelman Have we got a Theory for You! Feminist Theory, Cultural Imperialism and the Demand for “The Woman’s Voice.” Women and Values: Readings in Recent Feminist Philosophy. Wadsworth Publishing Company: California. 1986.
Marsh, Rosalind. “Women’s Voices and Feminism in Polish Cultural Memory.” Cambridge Scholars Publishing; Newcastle. 2012.
Unknown. “Oxford Dictionary” https://en.oxforddictionaries.com Accessed October 4 2016.