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Concept of “Western Feminism” Essay

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Updated: Aug 25th, 2020

The main difference between the article “Westernization, Respect for Cultures, and Third World Feminists” and the other articles, “Bargaining with Patriarchy” and “Lonely in Your Firm Grip: Women in Israeli-Palestinian Families”, is its focus on the concept of “western feminism” being considered as distinctly different when compared to what can be found in other cultures. From the perspective of Narayan’s article, other cultures acknowledge the fact that feminism does indeed exist, but the western understanding of its application entirely eschews the cultural heritage of feminism that exists in other countries.

It is implied that western feminism neglects to take into consideration that other types of feminism exist and that applying the cultural norms and behaviors that formed the ideals of western feminism is just inappropriate in the greater context of the cultural heritage of other countries. However, this does not mean that the concept espoused by “western feminism” is wrong; rather, it is more accurate to state that the idea of women’s rights in other cultures are clouded by their cultural heritage to the extent that they perceive the traits given by western feminists as being strange only because they were not exposed to it.

For example, in the Narayan article, it was noted that mothers tend to give contradictory messages when it comes to the concept of feminism wherein women were encouraged to be educated, well-informed and have the capacity to support themselves yet were discouraged from acquiring some of the same freedoms that were thought to be the exclusive right of men (ex: pursuing a career instead of a family and living independently until old age). This is based on the fact that this form of feminism was still mostly connected to the male dominated society that it was a part of wherein complete independence from patriarchal norms and customs was considered as being socially unacceptable. Thus, the difference between Western feminism and Third World feminism can be seen wherein the former espouses complete rights and independence from patriarchal rule while the latter espouses only partial rights and freedom.

This “partiality” can be seen in the article “Bargaining with Patriarchy” wherein Kandiyoti showed how women’s rights were suppressed not only by the patriarchal culture but by other women within their respective society (ex: interaction between mothers and daughters-in-law). Partiality, in this case, was embodied in cases where women gained some autonomy when it comes to their roles in the household and their position within society; however, ownership, access to monetary resources and even land rights were still in the hands of men. As such, while feminism does exist in the situation showed by Kandiyoti, it still found itself operating within the same boundaries dictated by the patriarchal society.

This perspective is similar to what was shown in Narayan’s article wherein Third World feminism was seen to embody dependence rather than independence from a male dominated society. What was interesting about the Kandiyoti article was how it tackled patriarchal bargaining and how this was, supposedly, a means by which women were able to express feminism and thus their inherent rights. However, it was shown that while patriarchal bargaining initially enabled women to gain some level of control and “power”, the inherent promise of some level of equality between men and women were empty.

One of the best examples of this can be seen in the article “Lonely in Your Firm Grip: Women in Israeli-Palestinian Families” by Amalia Sa’ar. In this case, a form of patriarchal bargaining can be seen wherein a woman accepts her role of subservience in the family system so that she can gain support and assurance from her husband. There is a “promise” so to speak by entering into this type of social contract wherein a woman gains rights and support from their husband in exchange for joining with him in establishing a family. Unfortunately, what happens is that the ideology advocated by the patriarchal bargaining that occurs is far from their actual experiences with multiple instances of domestic violence happening.

The main similarity across all the articles was that even though variants of feminism do exist in different cultures, the fact remains that the roles of women were marginalized, and subservience was often a common theme across the cultures that were explored. While women shared in the labor and management of the household, they did not share in the level of “control” given to the men and, as such, were expected to fulfill roles dictated to them by their respective cultures. This was noted in the Kandiyoti and Narayan articles which examined the roles of women in sub-Saharan Africa, China, and India.

When taking all the views of the articles into consideration, it can be stated that the concepts of culture and tradition were often utilized as a means of justifying the suppression of women’s rights. Unfortunately, cultural norms and traditions within regions such as sub-sahran Africa and India prevent women from manifesting the same ideals of freedom, independence and ownership seen in western feminism. All in all, these articles showcase that concepts such as “cultural traditions” are a poor excuse for the continue abuse and denial of rights that women in the countries in these articles continue to experience.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Concept of "Western Feminism"." August 25, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/concept-of-western-feminism/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Concept of "Western Feminism"'. 25 August.

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