In ‘Can The Subterranean Speak,’ Gayatri Spivak argues, ‘White men saving brown women from brown men.’ This quote sheds light on how gender norms and feminism have been used as tools for colonisation and colonial forms of violence. Spivak delves into the rescue of brown women from the ‘barbaric’ practice of Sati by white men in colonial India. This article analyses the significance of Spivak’s quote in understanding the work of minority women and the subtler forms of oppression women continue to face worldwide. It discusses how these women are asserting agency and emerging from the shadows, challenging the legacy of patriarchy’s idea of masculinity.
They lacked a platform, not because it was absent, but because it never truly existed. They were forced to rely on an oppressive Western voice speaking on their behalf, leading to their voices being overshadowed. Some argued that they couldn’t speak for themselves, leading to the necessity for Westerners to speak on their behalf. This belief stemmed from the notion that minorities lagged behind the West, a concept also evident in Edward Said’s Orientalism, where the West believed it had to civilise and modernise ‘lesser’ societies as they did not ‘upgrade’ when it comes to their language, their culture, and the way they carried out their everyday lives. They believed that they had the responsibility of the burden of civilising and modernising the ‘lesser people’; and that without the aid of Western thought, minorities did not have the mental capacity and innovation to thrive in a modern society and advance economically.
Case Study #1: Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El-Saadawi
El-Saadawi’s narrative unfolds as she interviews Firdaus, a woman who recounts her life journey from a village upbringing to becoming a prostitute in the city. Firdaus’s story exposes the dire conditions that millions of women and children face throughout their lives, starting from childhood through adolescence, marriage, and beyond. The theme of not belonging to oneself persists throughout the book. Firdaus is married off to a man four times her age, subjected to constant surveillance, and later finds herself in a harrowing situation where she is raped by her captor’s friends for months. Her story highlights the pervasive objectification and domination of women by men.
It addresses the systemic silencing and marginalization of minority women in various societal structures, emphasizing the importance of amplifying their voices and experiences.
Firdaus’s perception of self-worth undergoes a transformation when she encounters Sharifa, an independent and confident prostitute. Sharifa teaches her the power of self-confidence and self-respect, emphasising the importance of owning one’s body. Firdaus learns to assert her dominance by denying men access to her, demanding respect and setting a higher value on herself. In her narrative, respect is not earned but demanded, as men, from her experience, are often driven by lust. Firdaus’s journey ultimately leads her to independence, culminating in her bold declaration of the refusal to adhere to societal norms of money and sexuality.
Case Study #2: Ugandan Feminism: Political Rhetoric or Reality? by Barbara Mbire-Barungi
Barbara Mbire-Barungi’s article delves into the intricate dynamics of feminism in different cultural contexts, particularly focusing on the disparities between Western feminism and minority feminism, with a critical examination of the concept of ‘African feminism.’ Mbire-Barungi raises thought-provoking questions about the contrasting recognition of feminism in the North and South, highlighting the
challenges faced by women in the Global South who grapple with traditional norms and expectations. She emphasises that many advocates for feminism often overlook the voices of women from the Global South, who lack the necessary platforms and audiences to make their struggles heard.
Mbire-Barungi illustrates these complexities through the personal experience of an anonymous woman trapped in an abusive marriage. The woman’s attempt to seek a divorce unveils the intricate local conflicts that complicate the pursuit of gender equality and global feminism. Notably, when she turns to her respected aunt for advice, the response is unexpected, as her aunt prays for demons to be driven
away from her home when approached on the topic of divorce. This illustrates the deeply ingrained cultural expectations and challenges women face within their societies. Furthermore, the woman faces another surprising hurdle when she seeks legal counsel, discovering that the verdict on her plea for divorce would be made by a female judge. This unexpected twist underscores the complexities and
contradictions within the societal expectations placed on women, making it even more crucial to advocate for women’s rights, especially in contexts where traditional norms limit their freedom and individual expression.
Case Study #3: Is It Radical? Women’s Right To Keep Their Own Surnames After Marriage by Masumi Arichi
Arichi discusses the persistence of traditional expectations in Japan, where women are legally required to change their surnames after marriage. This seemingly trivial issue holds significant importance as it challenges women’s identity and roots. The author emphasises that the right to retain one’s maiden name is as critical as any other right. Women in Japan are advocating for the right to choose whether to change their surnames after marriage. This right is straightforward; it does not seek to make such changes illegal but merely provides the option to maintain one’s surname. Arichi highlights that the struggles faced by Japanese women often go unnoticed by the rest of the world, illustrating the need to shed light on these issues. The importance of names in identity and culture is acknowledged, as names are often used for discrimination. Arichi stresses the importance of fighting for one’s name, as it represents who we are and where our roots lie.
Their unique perspectives and experiences offer invaluable insights, fostering diversity, equity, and ensuring holistic societal growth.
All over the world, there are different issues when it comes to identity and culture. Whether they are history, stereotypes, nationality, sex, gender, race, or class identity. In our current society, name is one of the first things that are used to discriminate against people. The importance of a name cannot be emphasised enough to show that that is who we are. People are changing their names to fit in,
changing their names to appear to not belong to a specific religion and/or nation. Name is our identity.
Case Study #4: Twenty-Five Years of Mexican Feminism by Sylvia Marcos
In her discussion, Marcos explores the intersection of feminism with politics, particularly within the context of class and ethnic divisions in society. She underscores the crucial link between women’s rights and human rights, emphasising that women’s rights are synonymous with human rights. This fundamental principle, when examined in the context of Mexican politics over the past twenty-five years, provides valuable insights into the relentless struggle for equality. Within Mexico, diverse groups of women share a common aspiration: the freedom to make autonomous life choices.
However, these groups often remain marginalised due to ethnic and class disparities. Notably, indigenous women and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are frequently overlooked. This disregard for racial and ethnic distinctions runs counter to the essence of feminism, which inherently seeks equality for all women. Therefore, the omission of certain demographic groups based on race constitutes a significant oversight. The article underscores the importance of adopting a unifying perspective when addressing global issues of this nature. In the Mexican context, feminism has transcended mere marches and protests to become a prominent political issue.
Marcos poses a critical question: How can a nation effectively shed new light on a pressing social problem while simultaneously excluding lower-class and indigenous women from the conversation? This inquiry highlights the imperative need to include all women, regardless of their socioeconomic or ethnic backgrounds, in the feminist discourse and policymaking processes to truly achieve gender equality.
Spivak’s insights underscore the urgency of unity among women,transcending boundaries, and leveraging platforms to uplift those who have been marginalised for unjust reasons. This paper has underscored the profound significance of addressing the challenges faced by minority women who have historically been relegated to the sidelines.
Spivak’s quote remains pertinent forwomen at all points along the spectrum seeking empowerment through feminism,especially those taking initial steps toward asserting their self representation, despite
facing scepticism about their readiness. Through an analysis of various articles authored by minority women, this paper highlights the enduring relevance of Spivak’s quote in understanding the struggles and triumphs of minority women who have carved their paths to self-expression and representation.
This paper showcases how minority women are emerging from the shadows, whether by demanding a divorce, challenging traditional notions of feminism, setting boundaries by saying ‘no’ and demanding respect, or asserting their right to keep their birth names. They are actively shaping their agency and reshaping a society steeped in sexism, dismantling the patriarchal constructs rooted in the West’s colonial legacy.
The excuse that minorities, especially minority women, need assistance or protection is no longer a valid justification for those who seek to maintain dominance. The world has always belonged to women, and as the creators of life, they possess the power to reclaim their autonomy from those who have oppressed them..