Sustainable Feminisms: Volume 11


Table of contents

(10 chapters)
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The significance of feminisms appears and disappears from where you stand. In the 20th century, feminisms of different contexts have been the very basis of struggles for equity and justice at the same as time as they have faced charges of illegitimacy or irrelevance. As in the last century, the current era can be read not as the histories of feminisms only but as chronicles of feminisms intertwined unevenly with other movements for social, political, and economic justice. In this sense, feminisms have disappeared or metamorphosed.1 Both verbs signify either that many feminisms are not recognizable as some had known or interpreted them to exist, or that they have altered beyond familiar shapes to forms that have displaced or substituted them. These transformations have led to debates on purist and reconstituted versions; these disputes have, in fact, maintained the vitality of feminisms.2

In 1992, a Kaq’chikel woman, Vera, told a tale of shapeshifting and dreams to me and the woman with whom she was staying while teaching weaving classes in Northern California. Laughingly, we were exploring the question of power between man and woman. Asked why she, a young woman, was the first to leave her town, Santa Catarina, to travel to North America, she cited a “lineage of power” back to her grandparents that turns on gender and reproductive roles. The following is a synopsis:The Nawal (Shapechanging) WifeHer grandfather had first a bad wife. This wife had no children. She was a woman who went out into the night and ran wild as a lion. The husband grew to be afraid and suspicious, even though she gave him something to make him sleep as if he were dead. One night he awoke anyway; his wife was not beside him. He went out of the house, taking his machete. He waits and he waits, and then it is big, cryingaieee”…“aieeein the night and it is coming close, it is coming closer and he slashes with his machete, he slashes his machete and she dies. He knew and yet did not “know” that it was his wife. The head of the animal, which was now human, uttered words. She did not finally die until she was returned to the house of her father the next day.

The structure and functioning of poor families have been deeply changed by processes of globalization. The concentration of capital in core areas of the world economy, for example, has spurred massive migrations, as many poor families in the Global South are faced with the decision of sinking further into poverty together or sending a member North in search of survival wages (Sassen, 1998). In places in the Global South where migration is not a viable response to economic crisis, families find other creative ways to make do (Moser, 1993). Compounding poverty, political instability in many areas threatens family safety and health (Lentin, 1997; Davies, 1994). In all situations of marginality and vulnerability, family survival and well-being depend on creative means of survival. This survival is often gendered.

The discourse of the “poor oppressed other woman” has been reinvigorated by the conservative turn in international politics. Thus, the Bush administration's deployment of her to justify the war in Afghanistan has been roundly criticized by feminist theorists (Braidotti, 2005; Youngs, 2006, p. 9). In this light, this chapter's criticism of another figure of “the third world woman”, the apparently more positive “super heroine” of women's liberation (see Ram, 1991) or worthy recipient of development might seem churlish and misplaced. However, the super heroine of development is also constrained by and assimilated within the dominant discourses of emancipation and development (as Mohanty, 1991, so famously argued): women are “objectified as beneficiaries and victims” (Youngs, 2006, p. 9).

Three main claims have generally been made regarding the beneficial impact of increased global integration on local women's movements. First, increased global integration is said to create opportunities for local movements to participate in international conferences and partnerships with international organizations (Gray, Kittilson, & Sandholtz, 2006; Sassen, 1998, pp. 96–97). Second, it is said to help local movements participate in transnational networks that work together on global issues such as trafficking or domestic violence and are able to exert pressure both on transnational organizations such as the UN and the European Union and on national states to adopt policies that support norms of equality for women (Keck & Sikkink, 1998; Moghadam, 2000). Third, it is argued that both these forms of cross-border contact create opportunities for learning feminist framing strategies that focus on gender equality and freedom of choice and are superior to local forms of activism that are organized around motherhood or “parochial” identities (Sassen, 1998).

As triumphantly announced in journals and magazines, a la Fukuyama, late capitalism and its contingent logic of neoliberalism (ostensibly) reigns supreme, exploiting each site it encounters with precision. According to this fantasy of capitalism's seamless and ultimate triumph, domination is produced as inevitable, social struggle and revolution, a utopian dream. Yet, what many have seen since the 1990s is that this narrative requires military mobilizations of different kinds (i.e., “the war on terror” has become of late the reason thousands are being killed daily in Afghanistan and Iraq).

Creative Commons 2006 Petra Kuppers, Anita Gonzalez, Carrie Sandahl and Tabitha Chester, gratefully acknowledging input by community members

What sustains feminism across the range of shared and invisible interests, experiences, and geopolitical struggles that make us usefully discuss “sustainable feminisms”? The same things that sustain feminists. One of these is networking with other feminists. As evidenced by the participation in the conference that led to this volume, feminists are sustained not by similarities or differences but by networking and collaboration with one another. How can we make our networks more sustaining of feminisms?

About the Authors

Pages 159-162
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Brooke Ackerly is an assistant professor in political science at Vanderbilt University. Her research interests include democratic theory, feminist methodologies, human rights, social and environmental justice. She integrates empirical research on activism into her theoretical work. Her publications include Political Theory and Feminist Social Criticism (Cambridge University Press, 2000), “Women's Human Rights Activists as Cross-Cultural Theorists” in International Journal of Feminist Politics (2001), “Is Liberal Democracy the Only Way? Confucianism and Democracy” in Political Theory (2005), and Universal Human Rights in a World of Difference (Cambridge, forthcoming). She is currently working on the intersection of global economic, environmental, and gender justice. With Jacqui True (University of Auckland), a text on feminist research methodologies, Doing Feminist Research in Social and Political Sciences (Palgrave), is forthcoming.

Subject Index

Pages 163-165
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Publication date
Book series
Advances in Gender Research
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
Book series ISSN