This week’s Women’s Magazine broadcasts a shortened version of a keynote talk at UC Berkeley by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, titled “Situating Feminism” [historically and geographically]. Reading the Berkeley website’s introduction one would have expected a deeply theoretical discussion on feminism, post colonialism and globalisation…..
This presentation will attempt to situate feminism geographically, in terms of the triumph of the Euro-specific (even Anglo-specific) model, in terms of the history of both of Marxism and Capitalism. It will trace feminism’s itinerary through both coloniality and globalization. It will also attempt to situate feminism historically in terms of the provenance of what we at radical U.S. universities call feminism and see how it reflects on the development of mobility among women in terms of not only capital but also the great engines of world governance.
Instead Spivak, [in the WM clip] begins by revisiting her landmark essay “Can the Subaltern Speak” with humour, self-reflection and a clarity, which for me was not always present, when reading the text. She begins by admitting that the essay was “very hard for me to write”. She goes on to say it was more a critique of “the Hindus, it’s not really an anti-colonialism essay” ……” because none of them really touched on subject formation of the women concerned just passed good laws”. This is interesting because I never got that and I am sure most readers didnt.
Another interesting fact she reveals is that the sentence “the white men, are saving brown women from brown men” was a sentence which enabled her to get more in touch and more involved with “subalternity” in India and elsewhere. It was not “the heart of the essay” but as a very general assertion it is “ignorant and racist” and was used merely as a way of beginning – a way to start. She gives the example later realising she was using Freud – “turning to a white man – Freud, in order to save the brown women who were getting on the ‘chitas’ to be burned.
In talking about Feminism she returns to her child and her parents, especially her mother, who brought her up as a “woman to woman” person sparing her from the possibility of an arranged marriage. Her mother worked with poor women in Calcutta in what she describes as “undercover work” in the 1950s. In other words she was, like many of us, a feminist – but never a single issue feminist, [it is impossible for WOC to be single issue feminist whatever part of the world they live in] before she even heard the word let alone was able to attach any meaning to it in relation to herself and other women.
Listen to the full talk here.