Third Scenario

A Research into Third World Feminism

“There is a constant drain of energy which might be better used in redefining ourselves and devising realistic scenarios for altering present and constructing the future.”[1]

                                                                                                                     — Audre Lorde


“Third World” has long been considered an obsolete term. Should one therefore assume that the term “Third World Feminism” is also meant to fall into disuse? Why do I propose to discuss Third World women’s issues? Why do I choose to use such a term to “defeat myself”?[2]  As the term Third World has been glossed over by “Global South”, what has this terminological change concealed or annulled? And how can an outdated term be subjected to the times for its effectiveness? Third World, as Trinh T. Minh-ha states, “Whether it sounds negative or positive also depends on who uses it.”[3] 

The term Third World was coined in the 1950s’ by Alfred Sauvy during the cold war and refers to the Third Estate (Tiers-État) which had been freed from feudal oppression by the French revolution. The 1955 Bandung Conference[4]advocated a new world emerging from the old world order. In his book The Wretched of the EarthFranz Fanon equates the Third World (Le tiers-monde) with the oppressed and colonized people of the world. In the 1960s’ the Third World was deployed to appeal for a third way between authoritarian socialism and exploitative capitalism. Mao Zedong proposed the political concept of "Three World Theory" in the field of international relations, which played a significant role in the politico-economic development strategy of co-operation between China and the former colonial countries of Africa, Latin America, and Asia. The Third World is the major force of anti-imperialism, anti-colonialism and anti-hegemony. Neither the condescending term Developing Countries or the popularized Global South can in fact provide such a layer of emancipatory indication or imply a potential for building alliances as the term Third World.

The engagement of Third World women in feminist struggles can be traced from postcolonial and transnational feminist projects consisting of contributions by feminists who cross national borders. Critique and theorization are their core tasks. Black, expatriated, and indigenous feminist scholars, as well as a number of western feminists, bring intersectional and analytical tools into feminist discussions. “Third World feminists have argued for the rewriting of history based on their specific locations and histories of struggle of people of color and postcolonial peoples, and on the day-to-day strategies of survival utilized by such peoples.”[5]

In this text I attempt to foreground the contextualization of Third World women’s engagement in feminism by mapping the relevant fields of study. In postcolonial studies - a largely male dominated field - the colonial experience of gender differences has long been ignored. However, there are a group of feminists of colour who have been revealing and unravelling the internal power relations and urging for a rewriting of the theory. In her essay Under Western Eyes[6]Chandra Talpade Mohanty deconstructs the homogeneous and monolithic categorisation of Third World Women set in place by western feminists. She stresses the necessity to both theorize and politicize the hegemonic production of Third World women. Audre Lorde and bell hocks break silence, transforming the struggles into language and actions[7]that characterize black Feminism as a leading force against such hegemony of western feminisms. An analytical tool to describe the devastating intersection between racism, classism, sexism, ageism, and heterosexism, is coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw as Intersectionality. Alice Walker invents the term Womanist, which takes particular aim at methodological feminism. She stresses a broader understanding of alignment between genders and indicates that complexity can be used as a lens through which analytical tools can be built. Those contributions go beyond simple reactions and critiques of the mainstream discourses in both postcolonial and feminist theory. They devise theories that can generate knowledge. Furthermore, they articulate that Differences should be used as their strength to unite.[8]In order to build up feminist solidarity in the globalized capital mist, Mohanty identifies this important work as Feminism Without Borders.[9]The recount of the four historical events of The World Conference on Women shows the fissure between feminists in the discourse of international development and poses the idea of global solidarity, revealing global inequality at the same time. It also exposes the decisive role that the nation state plays in the politics and development of poor women. The marginalised situation of Third World Women and Women of colour in the First World provides them a certain kind of privilege in the aspects of knowledge production. As the inspiring key-concepts elaborate, it thus benefits them in analysing the naturalised oppression and dominated structure.

I write with full awareness of the problematic, assigned, relative and hierarchical attribution of the term Third World and Third World Women. My point is that in reviewing the historical context, the term Third World expresses a positive and progressive appeal, especially for the oppressed majority and the marginalized minority. Their complex experiences, perceptions and sense of life circumscribe their circumstances and can be taken for fuelling inspiration. This stimulating and astute use of the term Third World can also inform feminist struggles, indicating a possibility and viability for understanding and constructing subjectivity. Moreover, the term Third World addresses an imaginary meaning to promptdifferent groups of feminists to go beyond their usual way of working - simply in reactive terms and under the condition of similarity -instead we shall use the Differences between us as a bridge, to join together for our shared goals.

[1]Audre Lorde, Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference,Your Silence Will Not Protect You, Silver Press, Ed. R. Eddo-Lodge, S. Ahmed, UK 2017.
[2]Here refer to Mohanty’s book Feminism Without Borders- Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity, Duck University Press, 2003. It concerns the politics of difference and solidarity, decolonizing and democratizing feminist practice, the crossing of borders, and the relation of feminist knowledge and scholarship to organizing and social movements. Mohanty offers a sustained critique of globalization and urges a reorientation of transnational feminist practice toward anti-capitalist struggles.[3]Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity, Duke University Press. 2003, p 52.
[4]Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Under Western Eyes: Feminst Scholarship and Colonial Discourses, Third World Women and The Politics of Feminism, Indiana University Press, 1991, p 51.
[5]I use the words: Silence andTransformto reflect onAudre Lord's essay: The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action. This paper was firstly delivered at the Mordern Language Association's 'Lesbian and Literature Panel', Chicago, 28. Dec. 1977.[6]Trinh, T. Minh-ha, Women, Native, Other, Indiana University Press, US, 1989, p 97.
[7]The first large-scale Asian–African or Afro–Asian Conference - also known as the Bandung Conference (Indonesian: Konferensi Asia-Afrika) - was a meeting of Asian and African states, most of which were newly independent, which took place on 18–24 April 1955 in Bandung, Indonesia. The conference was an important step towards the eventual creation of the Non-Aligned Movement.
[8]Audre Lorde, Age, Race,Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference, Your Silence Will Not Protect You, Ed. R. Eddo-Lodge, S. Ahmed, Silver Press, UK, 2017, p 95
[9]“Why use such a term to defeat yourself?”from the text: Difference:” A Special Third World Women Issue”, Trinh, T. Minh-ha,Women, Native, Other, Indiana University Press, US, 1989, p 99.

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