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(en) The commoner #7 - Gender and Globalization: Where, Now, are the Women, the Feminists… and the Movement? Peter Waterman reviews 'Globalisation and Gender'

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Sun, 20 Jul 2003 11:07:11 +0200 (CEST)

A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E

Weighing in at what feels like a healthy kilo, over 350 pages in length,
containing some 20 contributions, and co-edited by well-known
specialists, this collection makes a substantial feminist contribution to
a developing area of study and struggle.

An Editorial sets out the intentions of 'Gender and Globalization'
(henceforth G&G). These are, in the first place, obviously, to fill a
lacuna in critical theorizing about globalisation - its customary
gender-blindness. Whilst feminist political economists and others have
recognised the significance of women's subordinate role in
internationalization/globalisation, the editors are concerned about the
absence of address to women's centrality within, agency in respect of,
and social movements in opposition to, globalisation. They are equally
concerned that feminist theory should surpass such simplistic binary
oppositions (also feminist ones) as globalisation from above/
globalisation from below, global capitalism/local social movements,
and northern-imperial social movements/southern (anti-imperial?)

The articles in this special issue complicate these
approaches?In particular, these articles address the
ways in which political economy, social movements,
identity formation, and questions of agency are often
inextricable from each other. They discuss the
participation of women trying to better their conditions
as crucial aspects of globalisation, thereby
contradicting the assumption that globalisation is a
process imposed solely from above by powerful states
or multinational corporations. (944-5).

The attempt to look at globalisation both as a gendered process and in
a dialectical way is carried out through a set of articles, exchanges and
book reviews. We have a diverse series of contemporary studies, in
which are considered the relation of gender and sexuality to
globalisation and nationalism, several of which reflect critically on
existing feminist and other globalistion theories. Another group of
articles considers the relationship between women's activism and
globalisation, again criticizing facile assumptions concerning
international solidarity. There follows a series of brief dialogues,
commentaries and roundtables on aspects of globalisation: these are
as varied as: the globalized prison industry, the international division of
labour, the anti-globalisation movement, international financial
institutions, Chinese feminism, studies of the Middle East, and
women-and-globalisation studies more generally.

Whilst the collection contains a number of admirable pieces, I feel it
lacks overall impact. This may be because the Editorial actually goes
further than what follows. We are certainly presented with challenges
to simplistic approaches, 'malestream' or feminist. And much is made
of 'agency' - to the point of characterizing certain collective behaviour
as 'agentive' (an adjective I won't mind never seeing again). But the
Editorial fails to prepare us for the extent to which the papers are
addressed to US academic feminist concerns and theory, which are -
inevitably - a limited part of, or angle on, our increasingly complex and
globalized world disorder. Even when we move from 'agency' to
'movements', the latter turn out to be mostly Non-Governmental
Organisations (NGOs) and their international relations. I miss the
Latin American feminist demand to move de la protesta a la propuesta
(from protest to proposition). But, then, the vibrant international/ist
movement and thought of and on Latin American women and feminism
is also absent (Alvarez 2000, Barrig 2001, Mendoza 2001, Olea 1998,
Sanchis 2001, Vargas 1999, 2001, as well as Thayer below). My
feeling is, then, that whilst we have a worthy supplement to other
feminist work on globalisation, we have here no noticeable advance.

I have other problems with the editing of the collection and writing
style. I am not accustomed to finding feminist writing lacking focus or
stylistic fireworks. But the 35 pages on the autobiography of a
Jamaican Creole woman entrepreneur and adventurer - with no
anti-colonial, anti-racist, social reformist or feminist characteristics -
seems entirely out of place in this collection, whatever it might tell us
about 'the complex interplay in the nineteenth century between
gendered mobility, black diaspora identity, colonial power, and
transnational circularity' (949). Elsewhere in the collection I felt
somewhat overwhelmed by a uniform US academic malestream style,
in which the personality and subject position of the author is buried
under layers of formal stylistic ritual. I do not know whether this is
responsible for the considerable overlap or repetition within and across
contributions, but it has a dulling impact.

Having got this all off my chest, let me mention some pieces that
impressed. These include Suzanne Bergeron's useful overview of
political-economic discourses on globalisation; Carla Freeman's case
study of Caribbean women who combine their day jobs in the
white-collar, but proletarianised and globalized data-entry industry,
with spare-time, globalised petty-trading, reveals the limits of any
simple class analysis; two pieces on transnational women's/feminist
NGO networking, one on Russia, one on South Africa, show how
contradictory such relations can be; one of the dialogues, on/against
the World Trade Organisation brings us close to where - I hope - the
next wave of global feminist activity will be centred. I was, finally,
fascinated by a study of the Miss World contest in India, precisely
because of its address to the novel, complex and contradictory
responses to such of women and social movements locally. I will
return to the last two items in more detail, starting with the Indian one.

Rupal Oza's 'Showcasing India: Gender, Geography, and Globalisation',
is about the protest surrounding the 1996 Miss World contest in
Bangalore. There were here two broad protest movements, a rightwing
Hindu-based movement, defending Indian culture from westernization,
and a leftwing socialist and/or feminist one defending the Indian
economy from globalisation. Whilst there were distinct differences
between the two movements, there was a coincidence in 1) seeing
representations of women's bodies as threatening to India's borders, 2)
making the Indian nation and/or state the point of positive identity, 3)
failing to come to terms with women's own agency and sexuality, and
4) subordinating women and sexuality to the economy, the nation and
the state. Oza draws a conclusion of more general relevance:

The construction of resistance at any level that is
predicated on structures of oppression or suppression
at other levels or is contained through them is
problematic from the start. Equally problematic are the
assumptions of political hierarchy whereby gender and
sexual politics are put on hold against the priority of
local resistance to the overarching force of
globalisation. The underlying assumption here is that
gender and sexuality?are not already constitutive of
globalisation and of local resistance. The political
hierarchy in this context, then, is a ruse for denying
agency to gender and sexuality. These issues have
been raised in the context of the struggles for women's
rights and the structural place of the women's
movement within nationalism. Therefore, conceptually
progressive politics, when framed in terms of local
resistance to globalisation yet dependent on adherence
to hegemonic structural positions within a 'new'
patriarchy, is politically dangerous and theoretically
precarious. (1090)

Although Oza's case deals with a nationally-identified and bounded
women's/feminist protest against globalisation, it throws light on the
anti-globalisation movement worldwide. Here, too, we find leftwing
movements that, because they see globalisation in terms of 'the
highest stage of imperialism', must pose against it 'the highest stage of
nationalism', i.e. a socialism both nation-state-based and defined. In,
however, posing the Nation against the Global, such movements not
only find themselves in uncomfortable proximity to a rightwing both
hated and feared, but are also disqualified for two essential
contemporary tasks: 1) developing what has been a traditional
inter-nationalism into a global solidarity movement and discourse (i.e.
one that displaces the state-defined nation from the centre of politics);
2) re-inventing the democratic nation-state in the light of the global and
gender justice movements. The international women's movements, and
feminisms, proposing post-national identities, can make a major
contribution to these struggles. But do they do this, in the case of the
major international movement of our day, the 'global justice',
'anti-corporate' or 'anti-capitalist' movement?

Kathleen Staudt, Shirin Rai and Jane Parpart's discussion suggests
that women have been marginal to this latest internationalism, and
they seem to consider the anti-globalisation movement responsible for
this absence. I would consider it, rather, the prime responsibility of the
women's movements and the feminists (as with the late, light presence
of labour, and the virtual absence of African-Americans in Seattle)! It
is true that, whilst feisty women and prominent feminists have
participated in, and are even spokespeople for, the anti-globalisation
movement, there has been minimal women's movement presence or
explicit feminist engagement here. I can only put this down to a
previous over-politicisation (state-centredness) of the women's
movement, and to the engagement of much of its leadership with
inter/national (again: inter-state and state-like) policy-making
institutions, or their gender advisory committees. This proposition is
lent credibility by G&G and in two ways. The first is explicit, lying in
the critiques of international 'ngo-isation', the second is implicit, lying
in the paucity of contributions on actual women's/feminist movements
confronting globalisation.

There is no shortage, in the real world, of such movements, nor,
actually, of feminist address to such. Two references make the point.
The first is the book on globalisation, democracy and women's
movements by Catherine Eschle (2001). The second is a paper by
Millie Thayer (2001) on the relationship between popular women
activists at the global periphery and transnational feminism.

The Eschle book does not appear promising, given that its primary
focus is on democracy rather than movements and that its form is that
of a critique of the literature (already over-represented in the G&G
collection). But she is concerned precisely with the necessity and
possibility of a feminist contribution to a reinvention of democracy in
the era of globalisation. And her understanding of feminism and
democracy is one that is dependent on social movements. So, after a
long march through and beyond the commonly state-centric theories of
democracy, she addresses herself energetically to 'Reconstructing
Global Feminism: Engendering Democracy' (Chapter 7). Here she
stresses the necessity for the women's movement to be anti-capitalist,
as also to develop 'transversal' (horizontal, reciprocal) relations, and to
democratize internally. I do not intend to set up Eschle against G&G,
in so far as she develops a note and orientation present within the
collection. Moreover, there are limitations to both her
conceptualization and her evidence. 'Transversal' is an evocative but
loose or non-technical term. One can say much more by developing the
classical notion of 'international solidarity' (for an attempt see
Waterman 2001: 235-8). There is also a limitation in so far as her case
studies are drawn from a secondary literature that is often stronger in
the mode of advocacy than of analysis. Although, finally, she is
concerned that the international women's movement be anti-capitalist,
she hardly exemplifies this. So it may be that my favourable
comparison with G&G lies mostly in her 'movement-centredness'.

Millie Thayer's provocative title is 'Transnational Feminism: Reading
Joan Scott in the Brazilian Sertão'. Her rich case study and theoretical
argument runs as follows:

Fieldwork with a rural Brazilian women's
movement?finds another face of globalisation with
more potentially positive effects. These activists
create meaning in a transnational web of
political/cultural relations that brings benefits as well
as risks for their movement. Rural women engage with
a variety of differently located feminist actors in
relations constituted both by power and by solidarity.
They defend their autonomy from the impositions of
international funders, negotiate over political resources
with urban Brazilian feminists, and appropriate and
transform transnational feminist discourses. In this
process, the rural women draw on resources of their
own based on the very local-ness whose demise is
bemoaned by globalisation theorists.

Again, I do not wish to pose Thayer against G&G. Indeed, the
intention of the G&G Editorial seems to be rather well exemplified by
her paper. Nor is Thayer without her own shortcomings or lacunae. She
surely misreads Manuel Castells' masterwork on the information
society, since he actually gives women's/feminist movements the
space, scope and transformatory significance he denies to workers'
ones (Waterman 1999a). And whilst she suggests a virtuous spiral
between, in this case, Northern and Southern feminisms/women's
movements, we are not shown how the Southern experience or ideas
feeds back to the Northern (or international) movement, rather than to
her as a Northern feminist academic. It is, again, the tone of the writer
that is at issue here. Gramsci would recognize the disposition of both
writers towards the movement: 'scepticism of the intellect; optimism of
the will'.

My final thought on G&G is that it cast its net too wide. The field (to
move from fishing to agriculture) has actually been better tilled than
the Editorial suggests. See, for example, Dickenson (1997), Harcourt
(2001), Wichterlich (2000), and two review articles (Eschle 1999 and
Waterman 1999b). What is now needed may be more narrowly-focused
collections. And, of course, more women's movements making their
customarily pertinent, outrageous and utopian contributions to the
major internationalist movement of our day.

The Hague/Lima



Alvarez, Sonia. 2000. 'Translating the Global: Effects
of Transnational Organising on Local Feminist
Discourses and Practices in Latin America'.
Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism, Vol. 1

Barrig, Maruja. 2001. ?Latin American Feminism:
Gains, Losses and Hard Times?, NACLA Report on the
Americas, Vol. 34, No. 5, pp. 29-35.

Dickenson, Donna. 'Counting Women in: Globalisation,
Democratisation and the Women's Movement', in
Anthonly McGrew (ed), The Transformation of
Democracy? Globalisation and Territorial Democracy.
Cambridge: Polity. Pp. 97-120.

Eschle. Catherine. 1999. 'Building Global Visions:
Democracy and Solidarity in the Globalisation of
Feminism', International Feminist Journal of Politics.
Vol. 1, pp. 327-31.

Eschle, Catherine. 2001. Global Democracy, Social
Movements, and Feminism. Boulder: Westview. 278

Harcourt, Wendy. 2001. 'Globalisation, Women and the
Politics of Place: Work in Progress', Paper to EADI
Gender Workshop: Gender and Globalization:
Processes of Social and Economic Restructuring, April
20 200.

Mendoza, Breny. 2001. 'Conceptualising Transnational
Feminism'. Paper to Conference on 'Trends in
Transnational Feminisms', Institute of Gender,
Globalisation and Democracy, California State
University, Northridge. June 13. 11 pp.

Olea Mauleón, Cecilia (ed). 1998. Encuentros,
(des)encuentros y búsquedas: el movimiento feminista
en América Latina. Lima: Flora Tristán. 234 pp.

Sanchís, Norma (ed). 2001. El ALCA en debate: Una
perspectiva desde las mujeres. [The FTAA in Debate:
A Women's Perspective]. Buenos Aires: Editorial
Biblos. 195 pp.

Thayer, Millie. 2001. 'Transnational Feminism: Reading
Joan Scott in the Brazilian Sertão', Ethnography, No. 4,

Vargas, Gina. 1999. 'Ciudadanias globales y
sociedades civiles. Pistas para la análisis' [Global
Citizenships and Civil Societies: Lines for Analysis],
Nueva Sociedad, No. 163, pp. 125-38.

Vargas, Virginia. 2001. 'Ciudadanía y globalización:
hacia una nueva agenda global de los movimientos
feministas' [Citizenship and Globalisation: Towards a
New Global Agenda for the Feminist Movements] in
Norma Sanchís (ed). El ALCA en debate: Una
perspectiva desde las mujeres. Buenos Aires: Editorial
Biblos. Pp. 61-76.

Waterman, Peter. 1999a. 'Women as Internationalists:
Breaching the Great Wall of China' (Review Essay),
International Feminist Journal of Politics, Vol. 1, No.
3, pp. 490-97.

Waterman, Peter. 1999b. 'The Brave New World of
Manuel Castells: What on Earth (or in the Ether) is
going on?' (Review of Vols. 1-3 of `The Information
Age: Economy, Society and Culture'), Development
and Change. Pp. 357-80.

Waterman, Peter. 2001. Globalisation, Social
Movements and the New Internationalisms. London:
Continuum. (Paperback Edition, New Preface). 302 pp.

Wichterich, Christa. 2000. The Globalised Woman:
Reports from a Future of Inequality. London: Zed. 180

Gender and Globalization: Where, Now,
Are the Women, the Feminists?and the

Peter Waterman

Global Solidarity Dialogue

Email: waterman@antenna.nl

Group/List: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/glosodia

Website: www.antenna.nl/~waterman/

'Globalisation and Gender', Signs, Vol. 26, No. 4, Summer
2001. Special Issue. Editors: Amrita Basu, Inderpal Grewal,
Caren Kaplan, Liisa Malkki. Pp. 943-1314.

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