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Emigre feminism: transnational perspectives.

EMIGRIE FEMINISM: Transnational Perspectives

Alena Heitlinger, ed.

Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996; 292 pp.

I welcome this edited volume by Alena Heitlinger, an outcome of a conference on Emigre Feminism, held at the University of Trent in 1996. It is an invaluable effort of a Canadian emigre feminist to make a unique and salutary contribution to the feminist discourses in this country. The volume is particularly valuable because it brings together under one cover feminist views of emigres from many parts of the world, including countries which were part of the former Soviet Union. The volume demonstrates clearly the editor's own feminist sensibility and sophisticated understanding of both the difficulties and the advantages of emigre feminist positions, life experiences and perspectives. This volume illuminates the ambivalent (or should I say multi-valent?) interpretations by emigre feminists of the present national and international hegemonic feminism, of the well-funded, anglophone and liberal tradition, which is oblivious of what it cannot access because of its cultural limitations. The collection consists of an excellent introduction by the editor and 13 chapters written by emigre feminists from Africa, Australia, the Caribbean, Europe, Latin America and the Near East. In no way can this brief review do justice to the richness and complexity of the ideas and experiences presented in this volume.

The core of notion of "emigre," as defined here, is the exposure to and life experience of contrasting cultures and socio-political environments. Placed on a broad continuum, it starts with those forced to emigrate by oppressive political regimes or voluntary escapes from equally oppressive patriarchal norms, to Canadian feminists working abroad in "aid" agencies, to post-emigres (those who have adopted Canada as their country of residence and action). This includes a number of persons, who as result of juxtaposing and reflecting on the "there" and "here" create a variety of new syntheses, meanings and interpretations of feminism and develop a greater sensitivity to the varied and nuanced meaning of this term.

The great majority of the authors in this volume are academic social scientists, studying, teaching and doing research in Canadian Women's Studies programs. They bring to the volume rich feminist insights from the perspectives of their various fields (anthropology, education, history, literature, political science, sociology, fiction writing and activism). The chapters vary in form and content. Many use auto-biographical information to provide a background for their particular perspectives and to situate the specific points of their feminist visions and argumentations. They also describe the adaptations used by women when facing Canadian culture and society. Some entries show the creative ways women's varied backgrounds assisted them in establishing their lives and views of feminism, as well as the coping and transformative strategies employed in their new lives in Canada.

Other chapters are written on more abstract, theoretical levels and address issues of feminist theory and epistemology. Most of these are framed in critical, post-modern feminist theories, advocating open, evolving, inclusive and multifaceted feminist perspectives. Many are quite outspoken against any attempt to establish a monolithic, overarching feminist theory. All authors are cognizant of the complexity of multiple oppression experienced in women's lives, so that the reference to consideration of "class, race, ethnicity, nationality and sexual orientation" (age seldom included) often sounds like a redundant, ritualistic recitation of a required disclaimer.

Several chapters highlight the complex two-way interchanges by emigre feminists with their countries of origin. They reveal how some of the uncritically accepted conceptions of Canadian feminism can seem totally irrelevant and meaningless to feminists in the author's own country. These chapters also highlight the influence of foreign criticism on Canadian feminist thought. Others document the marginalization experienced by emigre feminists both in Canada and in their countries of origin, when returning after a few years of absence. Fortunately, some of the advantages of this marginality are also highlighted.

Particularly interesting are the chapters dealing with feminism in countries of Eastern Europe, highlighting the danger of using such terms as emancipation and liberation. These terms are now seen with suspicion, because in the past they, and the notion of women's equality in the workplace, were used for political manipulation. In those countries, their use does not advance the goals of feminism. Moreover, these chapters show that many conceptions of "mainstream" feminism often interfere with the recognition of the great variety of feminist manifestations in countries with different cultural and socio-political histories and exclude them from consideration as part of the global women's movement.

To conclude, I recommend reading this excellent volume to all who see themselves as feminist, as well as for uses in upper level undergraduate and graduates courses in Women's Studies and a must in "International Development" studies in Canadian Universities. Perhaps the most important message of this volume to all feminists is that the cultural, socio-political and historic background life experiences of women (and men) shape the types of feminism they will espouse and the gender issues they will highlight for analysis, reflection and action.

Hopefully, this will lead to the recognition of these processes as the same that shaped Canadian "mainstream" feminism, leading toward greater mutual sensitivity, and interest in learning and understanding differences and emphases advocated by feminists. In the long run it might strengthen the emergence of a more complex, open, polyvalent and less judgmental global feminism.
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Publication:Resources for Feminist Research
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2000
Words:879
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