“The whole is better than the sum of its parts” – Reflecting on Bell Hook’s feminist theory

In Bell Hook’s article titled “Black Women: Shaping Feminist Theory,” she discloses some insight on why some feminists are not being recognized in the feminist movement at large. Being a refugee and an American citizen is conflicting sometimes, its a conflict most in exile face. At heart, we’re refugees, but we have the privilege of carrying a passport that welcomes our existence. Having lived in four different countries, I’ve been able to gain some knowledge in viewing the differences between different cultures and its traditions, but recognizing that at heart people just want to belong and be respected. In hook’s statements, all feminists unite in categorical ways, but the risk is that the common good of the “majority” will take over the distinctive good of the minor differences that shape how one identifies their self. The very essence of what makes the individual experience is unique.  Hook makes the example of Betty Friedan and the second wave’s movement shaping and defining the feminist movement as a whole – without acknowledging the different social and class distinctions that played a great disadvantage to many silent feminists in the movement – those who did not have the means to speak up.

Democracy, standing in line with the majority in numbers often tend to undermine the minority.  The system itself is set up in a way where you focus more on the quantity instead of the quality. By simply quantifying the majority’s personal beliefs and their opinions will not delete the the minorities of unsatisfied people; in this case, minority women leaders. The main reason why democracy isn’t always what it lives up to be is largely due to the unequal platform upon which it was started to begin with. The wealthy and the powerful, the ones who can afford the time and finances to voice their opinions get heard. All the while, many are simply living  the 9-5, trying to step up in the status quo, and cannot afford the time nor resources to contribute. That should not go to say that their voices will not be heard, they are still very much present in the political debates that weight in on the outcome of this country.

I agree with Hook’s statement that Friedan had not thought about the different American women of that time, the ones that were not college educated because they were doing the domestic work while Friedan was attending school. White women of that time had a head start in entering the academic institutions and were eager to learn.  The “other,” couldn’t fully participate because their focus was survival. They were not able to speak on the oppression in the sexism world of white men having power over white women’s lives, because they were the ones taking care of the white babies while the white mothers fought the ‘good fight’. The oppression felt by White and Black women were outrageously different.

“There is much evidence substantiating the reality that race and class identity creates differences in quality of life, social status, and lifestyle that take precedence over the common experience women share” (Bhavnani, pg 34). In the statement above, Hook points out that even though the shared common experiences of women are a good point; they are not necessarily in the order of precedence for all women and generally never experienced in the same way. The difference in placing importance on the above mentioned versus something such as culture and tradition is not taken into account, and it’s generalized towards all women  without considering their different circumstances and opportunities.

At the same time, this issue of diversity not being acknowledged in the feminist movement is not only of race, class and socio economic back ground, but also one of location, and mainly, colonialism. It is the direct effect of the changing world heading towards being more educated and “civilized” in the western cultural perspective. Many people come to the United States for a better education but do not realize that while living in the west, they themselves are also losing parts of their national and cultural traditions due to assimilation in their new environment.  Patricia Hill Collin’s article titled “The Social Construction of Black Feminist Thought,” explains the need for Black women to also emphasize on trying to understand the differences between Black and Afro American because their origins are not the same, thus their experiences are not the same. She points out that it is not good enough to be knowledgable, but just as imperative to know the wisdom in order to make judgments and statements that define all black “African” feminists.

This shows that the problem is not of one simple defining category, but of multiple historical instances that have created a huge divide in the people on such issues of identity. Many women who are also feminists have not even been taken into account because they lack the resources to speak out on the matter. However, the few Black women who have gained some credibility in academia should look into highlighting the  different types of inferiority experienced by Black and African American women all together.

In considering the feminist movement, it is important for the leading feminists who have access to reach the masses to re-consider their notion of what feminism truly is, and what characteristics constitute being a feminist. Most notably, it is important for them to not only know the difference but also understand it before they make statements on behalf of all feminists or even “Black feminists alone.” More writers and leaders in the movement are using terms such as “third world feminism” to distinguish other feminists with diverse cultural and traditional backgrounds.  It’s imperative that we acknowledge the differences amongst feminists world-wide. That would be a step forward towards acknowledging women of all different backgrounds, facing similar struggles of power,  yet working towards finding some common ground in the form of having the choice to have their voices heard.

A short reflection on Partha Chaterjee’s “Nation and its Fragments”

The purpose of Chatterjee’s book “The Nation and Its Fragments” seems to explore the idea of “community” nationalism Bengal, apart from political nationalism of India, especially in terms of India’s diverse history. This reflection just touches on a chapter of the women of Bengal and their struggle in the shift of a new era and new thinking of preserving the traditional Identity from colonialism and British takeover.

“The outer and the inner world – Women as keepers of Identity”


When dealing with cultures unknown to the self, an imaginary third eye would be useful to keep an open mind on the things we might not be able to see fully. It would raise the possibility of understanding the differences from another point of view instead of insisting on our terms of beliefs and its definitions. Pratha Chatterjee’s Nation and It’s Women touches upon the western systems of dichotomies of separating Bengal’s nationalism for preserving its identity as communities versus the political nationalism of India and how these definitions by both parties- fighting for and against colonialism- positioned women in the central party of preserving the house in her “spiritual” feminine self which carries the traditions of Bengals before Western modernization took place, all without her consent.

While the traditionalists were surrendering to the notion of modernization in the “outer” world, they were confident in preserving their identity through the “inner” world which embraced the home as being the true keepers of Bengal’s identity. Chatterjee argues that due to this resistance, women’s position in the modern world was compromised by prioritizing the national identity of their community which worked to enforce women to be keepers of the identity. This was soon defined through “the spiritual signs of her femininity”… “Clearly marked – in her dress, her eating habits, her social demeanor, her religiosity” pg 130. While all at the same time, men were able to camouflage into both the inner and the outer worlds and maintain their prideful identity in the modern world with their wives and daughters by their side. This is similar to the United State’s political structure upon which the private and public sphere is divided and the patriarchy system has allowed men to be privileged in walking amongst both the private and public sphere will full rights to their lives while women play catch up in history’s disparity. Though the comparison of the private and public sphere can be relative to this story, the underlining matter is not the similarity amongst the two, rather, the difference upon which the two systems were created and why their origins took place.

The anti-colonial nationalism that arose in an attempt to defy the western modernization taking place in Bengal at that time defended their traditional identity through social construction of two spheres defined as the “material” versus the “spiritual”. In the material outer world, they would adapt to the modernization colonialism has brought over through learning the structure upon which western society ran its “market place of ideas” type of theory which made the economy run, however in the spiritual inner world, they would maintain their traditional identity which was represented by women and family life composed of religion and the old caste systems.

“Fundamental elements of social conservatism such as the maintenance of caste distinctions and patriarchal forms of authority in the family, acceptance of sanctity of sastra (scriptures), preferences for symbolic rather than substantive changes in social practices- all these were conspicuous in the reform movement of the early and mid-nineteenth century” pg117.

The statement above clarifies our understanding of what type of system was created and the value for this particular system bent upon the prideful self identity wanting to prioritize the perception of the self rather than the actual self; community resistance. This becomes another example of how most patriarchy systems are built on the standard of pride in resisting and exterior force only to burden the women of their society to be inferior to themselves, by force or negligence, in either case, the result ends in the same way. Although women were presented to be safe keepers of the traditional identity at home, they were also chastised if they did not fit or meet the standards of the particular femininity which represented their whole community, thus leading to excluding women the chance to modernize with the rest of the world.

There will always be fights over power and beliefs around the world, history is apparent in repeating itself again and again, lets get “Herstory” along with it, shall we? However, it seems that women will always end up in the ladder because we are gifted with being the safe keepers of our traditional identity by baring, nurturing and preserving it, while fighting for our own identity and modernizing all with the national identity. It becomes a burden when we vigorously try to achieve all or are forced to choose one above the other.

Cross Roads at Intersectionality with Gender Identity – A Tibetan feminist perspective

Our multicultural society at large is so diverse that we struggle to define or identify people in categories. We are all taught not to judge others, and treat others the way we would like to be treated. However, in practicality it’s often the case that due to the lack of information about others, we depend on stereotypes of their communities and practice racial profiling. In most cases we look directly at the physical features of a human being to try an guess their identity. We approach them in the manner that fits the definition of our very own standards – the unconscious bias. One common struggle of inequalities appears when we judge others by their gender. Intersectionality has been accepted by many feminists as being a key to understanding the gender divide that exists in our society.[1] Race, nation, gender has been amongst many other factors that assist in categorizing people into objects of commodities accessible for judging and positioning. The fact is even women don’t believe that all women want the same equal rights because everyone has their own priorities that follow their social surroundings and their beliefs and values in their individual personal lives.

What we fail to realize is that many people are so inter racially linked now that only the dominant traits appear in their physical features and we cannot define them properly or even fully define ourselves. All that knowledge however does not come forward in our consciousness when we use just our eyes to define others. Perhaps it is meant to be that people shouldn’t be approached differently based on their physical appearances – which often times leads us to manipulate their identity in small categories.

“Since critics first alleged that feminism claimed to speak universally for all women, feminist researchers have been acutely aware of the limitations of gender as a single analytical category. In fact, feminists are perhaps alone in the academy in the extent to which they have embraced intersectionality—the relationships among multiple dimensions and mo- dualities of social relations and subject formations—as itself a central category of analysis. One could even say that intersectionality is the most important theoretical contribution that women’s studies, in conjunction with related fields, have made so far.”[2]

The United States Census Bureau estimated that just in California alone 6,798,406 people are currently mixed with two or more races.[3] Surely it would be very difficult to define all these people based on just their physical traits and it would take ages to find definitions that they would all comply to.

Understanding intersectionality is a necessity in understanding our own identities. We believe that our identity is meant to express ourselves. Thus, when others decide to do it for us, we feel a discomfort of forced or coerced silence. A simple factor of acknowledgement would be that an individual’s social identities profoundly influence one’s belief based on their experience of gender.  It’s important to look into their surroundings, and acknowledge their individual wishes to define themselves on their own terms without being coerced into categories of subjects. The mere factor that there exists so many forms of identities within each individual should be a major underlying factor in the feminist movement’s attempt to unify all women rights into positions of consideration for change – In compliance and agreement to the right priorities that women deserve ofcourse.

When Melanie M. Hughes, a PHD candidate at Ohio State University did a study on “Complications at the Intersection: Overcoming the Challenges of Cross-National Research on Minority Women’s Legislative Representation”, she stated that “Differences such as race, ethnicity, religion, and language not only impact women’s identities and interest, but form intersecting social hierarchies that shape women’s access to power.”[4]

In Ella Shohat’s article “Dislocated Identities”[5], she shares her personal experience of having to choose between two of her identities in order to serve the purpose of the war that had taken place. Shohat describes the syncretic identity that formed within her as an Arab Jew in the United States.  Shohat’s priorities to her womanism might not be the same as Mimi Nguyen; a Vietnamese American carrying a load of history with her physical appearance in the United States. Ngugen talks much about how “everything changes when she travels”[6] because of the perception of her identity defined by the “othering” factor.

Though Ella Shohat and Mimi Nyugen both share similar feminist ideals in wanting equal rights for women their priorities are separate than mine.  China occupied my country, Tibet in 1959 – forcing my grandparents to escape into exile. Though I have this opportunity to excel in education and various other professional fields in this free country, I have also lost a lot of my traditions, my culture and my history back home and often feel dissembled within my own small community of Tibetans. Though I am an advocate for equal rights, I will not use all the rights handed to me for I want the choices in life which work to identify my authentic individuality.

In the end, it is our determination to have various choices in our life that portray our personal accountability and responsibility for our actions without the feeling that YET AGAIN we have become victims of oppression. Instead we must take on the role of survivors who will work for progress of choice for women and men all over the world while promising that we will not make the choices for them. Instead, we owe it as a universal responsibility to all mankind to advocate for others rights! The right to make their own choices in their personal inhabitant that fits their personal surrounding identity – as with ourselves.

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1)      McCall, L. “The Complexity of Intersectionality.” SIGNS -CHICAGO-. 30. 3 (2005): 1771-1800. (Online); http://www.rochester.edu/college/psc/news/intersectionality_readings/mccall.pdf

2)       U.S Census Bureau, “M0207. Percent of the Total Population Who Are Two or More Races”. U.S Census Bureau. 11/29/2009

http://factfinder.census.gov/servlet/ThematicMapFramesetServlet?_bm=y&-geo_id=01000US&-tm_name=ACS_2008_3YR_G00_M00633&-ds_name=ACS_2008_3YR_G00_&-_MapEvent=displayBy&-_dBy=040#?126,262

3)      Grewal, Inderpal, and Caren Kaplan.  Gender in a Transnational World.”Dislocated Identities”; Ella Shohat, pg 440; Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2006.

4)      Hughes, Melanie M. Politics at the Intersection A Cross-National Analysis of Minority Women’s Legislative Representation. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University, 2008. (online); http://sociology.osu.edu/people/mmh/APSA_paper.pdf

5)      Grewal, Inderpal, and Caren Kaplan.  Gender in a Transnational World.”Viet Nam: Journal/Journey”; Mimi Nguyen; pg 435, Boston: McGraw-Hill Higher Education, 2006.