Postcolonial Feminism: Can all the Women in the World be seen as a Homogenous Community?

“The master’s tool will never dismantle the master’s house.”

American feminist writer Audrey Lorde once said, “The master’s tool will never dismantle the master’s house.” Meaning that the tools of the exploiting community cannot bring down exploitation. She talked about looking at the world from the perspective of postcolonial feminism and questioning global mainstream feminism. Women cannot be homozygous, that is, homogeneous, based on their gender identity alone. This is because many other identities are associated with women’s existence on an individual and social scale. Lorde writes, “It is a kind of academic pride that no feminist theory should not consider and vote for its differences with the poor, black, women of third world countries, lesbians.” According to her, in a country where racism, gender discrimination, homophobia are so dominant, women’s experiences cannot be the same. Therefore, looking at the consequences of patriarchy through a prism, the fate of feminism becomes quite vague. Audrey Lorde further writes that for those outside the accepted definition of women in society, their survival is more than just an academic skill.

Consequently, the differences based on their essential social identities should be acknowledged in the feminist discourse. She further criticizes mainstream feminism for the ignorance of black feminists while serving the white feminist as savior complex. They are questioning the idea of ​​global sisterhood and arguing that it serves as a cover for other identities of women. Though the slogan “Sisterhood is global” came from the second wave of feminism, it certainly missed its mark to become global and inclusive as its slogan.

To fully understand postcolonial feminism, one has to understand its core spirit. Feminism came under criticism around the 1980s as a response to the phase that was more concerned about Western culture and women’s experiences in the old colonial colonies. It believes that others were not adequately portrayed and analyzed by mainstream feminism. They thought that considering women as a universal group based on their class, race, sexual choice in their identity is not correct. The first and second feminist waves regarded women’s identities based on race and class. They chose to address only the problems of white Western women that resulted in postcolonial feminism during the third wave of feminism.

Chandra Talpade Mohanty, a distinguished feminist, in her article ‘Under Western Eyes,’ talks about how Western feminism saw women from third world countries as victims of misogynistic domination and historical exploitation, disregarding the cultural differences of the West. Moreover, she favored that these women should voice their own experiences and stories within the feminist discourse challenging a deeply engraved nail in the society termed “double colonization, which means the exploitation of women by patriarchy and colonial powers.

Hence in the Indian context, it is subsequently necessary to focus on gender and caste identity together, which has been absent from the mainstream feminist discussion. And as per the core spirit of postcolonial feminism, it is apparent that caste/status certainly influences the experience. For example, Rural Dalit woman is subjected to more physical abuse, labor, sexual exploitation, and mental abuse. In contrast, the women from the upper caste may be immune to those exploitations because of the privileges associated with a higher status, tentatively being in a position of power that further exploits the lower caste. Therefore, feminisms must acknowledge the differences in society from every angle, uncovering the issues in specific histories of colonialism and slavery.

Besides, for women to avoid being a homozygous community, it becomes equally important to outline the social structures of Postcolonial feminism that criticized the leading feminist theories. Thus Baby Kamble and Urmila Pawar take a critical look at India’s mainstream feminism. Their approach focuses on rejecting the patriarchal exploitation of Dalit women both within and outside their community. Sharmila Rege underlines that the autobiography of Dalit women differs from other autobiographies in many ways. Books by Baby Kamle and Urmila Pawar are one such autobiography. In Ambedkarite movements, part of postcolonial feminism is seen accepting the divided privileges and struggles among women. Urmila Pawar, along with Meenakshi Moon, has documented the efforts of Dalit women from a feminist perspective stating that Postcolonial feminism needs to be aware of itself and women of different social identities living in the third world countries.

Additionally, Sharmila Hege finds that the tradition of marriage within the caste in India regulates the sexuality of women. Thus, there is a division of labor based on caste, class, and gender. While ‘conceptualizing Brahmanical patriarchy’ written by Uma Chakraborty, it states that there is a reason for ‘caste purity’ behind curbing the sexuality of women. However, the societal stereotypes force its beliefs that ‘purity’ is destroyed by a mere touch of Dalit women. To illustrate specifically, in the case of Bhavani Devi –the Rajasthan court had said that men of higher castes are prohibited from raping women of lower castes for the sake of their ‘sanctity.’ Genuinely supporting the mere case of how women are exploited based on what caste, class, and gender they belong to briefly emphasize the need for solid construction of structure within postcolonial feminism.


Article by Audrey Lorde

Waves of feminism

Baby Kamble’s “The Prisons We Broke”

“Conceptualising Brahmanical patriarchy” by Uma Chakroborty

An avid reader and feminist, Chhavi Saini is a final year student of BA Political Science & Geography Majors at Miranda House, Delhi University. Surviving on coffee and poetry, she strongly believes in power of kindness to change the world. She loves to doddle art and practices reflective writing. She wants to pursue career in law and endeavours to perform her role with great ethics.

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