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Transnational Feminisms, Nonideal Theory, and “Other” Women’s Power


Postcolonial and transnational feminists’ calls to recognize “other” women’s agency have seemed to some Western feminists to entail moral quietism about women’s oppression. Here, I offer an antirelativist framing of the transnational feminist critiques, one rooted in a conception of transnational feminisms as a nonideal theoretical enterprise. The Western feminist problem is not simple ethnocentrism, but rather a failure to ask the right types of normative questions, questions relevant to the nonideal context in which transnational feminist praxis occurs. Instead of asking which forms of power are gender-justice-enhancing, Western feminists are fixated on contrasting “other” cultures to an idealized Western culture. A focus on ideal theorizing works together with colonial epistemic practices to divert Western feminist attention from key questions about what will reduce “other” women’s oppression under conditions of gender injustice and ongoing imperialism. Western feminists need to ask whether “other” women’s power is resistant, and answering this question requires a focus on what Amartya Sen would call “justice enhancement” rather than an ideal of the gender-just culture. I show how a focus on resistance, accompanied by a colonialism-visibilizing hypothesis and a normative vision that allows multiple strategies for transitioning out of injustice, can guide Western feminists toward more appropriate questions about “other” women’s power.

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