Feminism is Detrimental to Third World Women

Feminism is supposed to help almost everyone… so why are third world women being oppressed by it?

The Western feminist movement has been quite a hot topic in the past decade or so and it has been progressively gaining a lot of momentum. People across the globe discover the Western feminist movement, often through the internet, and voice their support through social media or at protests such as the Women’s March. While many view this as a positive for the movement, it also comes along with its drawbacks. Numerous self-proclaimed feminists fail to acknowledge the many different forms of oppression that women across the globe experience and thus, this leads many feminists to perpetuating a form of oppression.

One example, is the oppression of “Third World” women by Western feminist. Kate Emmons in her article How Western Feminists Should Actually Support Third World Women, describes the reason this oppression by saying:

Western feminists cannot understand the assistance women in the developing world need, unless they look past the false conception of a struggling sisterhood and take into account race, class, sexuality, religion and culture.

Western feminist tend to have their own perspective of how “Third World” women are being oppressed, but this is actually detrimental when it comes to formulating actual solutions to help “Third World” women. Since a majority of feminist are white women, who are also privileged from first world countries, this creates a large lack of global perspective in the feminist movement. Thus, the progressive movement is often lacking in many non-first world countries.

The Western feminist movement is also predisposed to overgeneralizing the many different identities of women worldwide. An example would be by using the word “Third World Women” to describe any women that does not live in a Westernized, first-world country. Chandra Mohanty analyzes this sentiment in Under Western Eyes: Feminist by saying,

I would like to suggest that the feminist writings I analyze here discursively colonize the material and historical heterogeneities of the lives of women in the Third World, thereby producing/representing a composite, singular “Third World woman” -an image that appears arbitrarily constructed but nevertheless carries with it the authorizing signature of Western humanist discourse.

Mohanty is essentially stating that the image of a “Third World woman”, that was created by Western society and used by Western feminist, typecasts a large group of women who come from very different socio-economic backgrounds, as women who are oppressed and powerless. Since they are women who are also oppressed, they should also fall under the same Western feminist agenda, but this agenda does not account for the form of oppression these women experience. This assumption in itself is a form of oppressing these (“Third World/Global South) women since they will not receive the proper assistance and this perpetuates the notion that these women are victim. Thus, the patriarchy is mirrored in a sense with the Western feminist taking on the role of the male and the “Third World woman” are the oppressed.

Where the Western Feminist movement falls short is that it makes assumptions and overgeneralizations in order to simplify their movement and bring what they think is solidarity. In reality, these other Global South women need their own feminist movement and Western Feminism can help by sparking such movements and not grouping them into the same agenda. Western Feminism can still show solidarity with these movements by providing resources such as supplies, education, and by helping spread the word globally.