Mohanty

by Student 070723

Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses is an essay by Chandra Talpade Mohanty, published in 1986, that criticizes the tendency of Western feminists to assume homogenity and universality among "Third World women". Women, Mohanty claims, are "characterized as a singular group on the basis of a shared oppression" (p.402) and "taken as a unified 'powerless' group prior to analysis" (p.403), without putting them in the context of geographical and historical specifity.

Mohanty writes of five specific ways in which women as a category of analysis appear in Western feminist texts: as victims of male violence, as universal dependants, victims of the colonial process, victims of the economic development, and victims of the Islamic code. In all of these, Mohanty's singular point is that women in the Third World are generalized into a hegemonic group that assumes their stand as victims, without taking into consideration the complex interaction of class, race, culture, et cetera. "…all African women are politically and economically dependent." (p.402) "[All] Bemba women have lost the protection of tribal laws." (p.404) "All women, regardless of their differing positions within societies, come to be affected or not affected by Islam." (p.405)

Mohanty also provides an example that counters these usual cultural reductionisms in Maria Mies' study of the women lace-makers of Nasapur, India, who are viewed as "non-working housewives" even as they produce lace doilies. Mies is able to analyze the "ideology of the housewife" as a "subjective and sociocultural element for the creation and maintenance of a production system that contributes to the increasing pauperization of women, and keeps them totally atomized and disorganized as workers" (p.407) According to Mohanty, Mies' study is a "careful, politically focused, local [analysis]" that shows the effect of "a certain historically and culturally specific mode of patriarchal organization… constructed on the basis of the definition of the lace makers as 'non-working housewives' at familial, local, regional, statewide, and international levels." (p.408)

The following is a link to an article that discusses the ritual of honor killlings in a way that go against what Mohanty explains in Under Western Eyes: Thoughts on the struggle against honor killing. It universalizes male violence against women victims as an exercise of gender power (which Mohanty crticized in the example of Fran Hosken's study of genital mutilations in Africa), and homogenes the experiences of women worldwide, in terms of of subordination by patriarchal society.

Here is something you can read before reading the other article, to serve as an introduction to honor killing.

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