Stop assuming and listen.
Labeling = Division.
Everyone has their own story. When we categorize and put labels on a group of people we dangerously harm their progress and devalue their intelligence. In the book “Feminism Without Borders,” author Chandra Talpade Mohanty goes in depth to critique standardized perceptions and assumptions in a number of Western feminist scholarly works that concentrate on women in the global south without having lived those experiences. Mohanty states certain feminist scholars sketch the idea that “Third World” women as a whole are deprived, illiterate, duty-bound, and oppressed. It is often omitting the existing range and array of women in the global south who are not any of those. She confronts and disputes the thinking behind the labels put on these women and argues that it is exclusive and does not reflect the societal status, culture, and racial backgrounds they are from.
““Third World Difference” that Western feminisms appropriate and “colonize” the fundamental complexities and conflicts which characterize the lives of women of different classes, religions, cultures, races and castes in these countries. It is in this process of homogenization and systemitization of the oppression of women in the third world that power is exercised in much of recent Western feminist discourse, and this power needs to be defined and named.”
There was an occasion I saw the effect of this in front of my eyes, my Indian friend said she just wanted to work at her parent’s restaurant after graduation because it was something she really wanted to do. I remember sitting in a room with my white friends who were to go off to college saying, “oh it must be because your family needs the money.” “Are your parents forcing you too.” “What your parents don’t want you to be a doctor, aren’t you going to get disowned?” In a way, completely devaluing her dream and passion for cooking. However, in a later conversation when my white friend had said “I want to open up a bakery.” She was praised for her skills and was called ambitious and was told “Good for you for following your passion.”
The bias in these scenario is systematic in the views set by the society we live in and further set by the works of white feminist writings that try to label groups of women without actually conversing with them. Being a desi person I now am disheartened by how this conversation went. Skin color dictated the rhetoric in the responses. As she was Indian it was assumed she wasn’t wealthy, or was being coerced into it, and the usual assumption her parents would force her to be a doctor.
Mohanty claims that in reality feminism of this sort harms the unity and accord amongst women by breaking them up into two categories. The first being the women in developed or western countries who are comprehensively progressive, free, not oppressed, have a voice, educated. The second being the women in “Third World” countries who are uneducated, mistreated, oppressed and have no voice or control over their own lives. Undervaluing those women of color who are doctors, engineers, lawyers and professors etc. Women of color are often seen at first glance lower than their white peers, always having to make that extra conversation about themselves to show their positions. I was the manager at the Baskin Robbins I worked at and my coworker who was the trainee cake decorator was white would always be assumed as the manager. People would try to get her attention if a situation occurred (and it did often as many people try to return ice cream after eating half of the scoop). The best part would be when I was the one they tried to complain on and them finding out I was the manager.
I cannot lie I too caught myself doing the same. I assumed when I went to urgent care that my doctor was the white lady and the black lady was the nurse who was going to check my pulse. I was wrong and I realized it right away and thought to myself, “why I would just assume that?” In the world we live in today we are still influenced by the colonized teachings that white is superior.
“Societies with widespread issues of colorism also have long histories of colonization and influence by european countries. In these societies, european features such as white skin, straight hair, and light colored eyes were overtly promoted as the standard of civilized existence, intelligence, beauty, wealth, and power.”
Mohanty also speaks of the incorrect assumptions of women veiling in predominately Muslim countries. Her argument is simple do not voice out for things you do not undergo. Veiling is assumed to be a method of oppression and that women are forced to do it. Which is not entirely true. I am from Bangladesh and Muslims constitute 90% of population. Nowhere have I seen anyone being oppressed by the Hijab. Those who wear it , it is by choice. As how many Christian parents make their children go to church on Sundays i the same manner Muslim parents as mine told me about the significance of the Hijab. When one gets older it is their choice to go to church or not and in the same manner it their choice to wear he hijab or not. It is this labeling of groups of women that Mohanty states the white feminist articulate but do not understand that generalizes all women in hijab to be puppets of their husbands and victims. These presumptions of groups of women by their skin, background or cultural practices holds them back and stereotypes them in a way fighting against what feminism stands for.