Printer Friendly

Feminist nationalism.


Lois A. West, ed.

New York: Routledge, 1997; 294 pp.

The scholarship on nationalism has grown enormously in the past 20 years. Theories of nationalism have been vigorously debated as we enter the new millennium. More often than not this discourse has neglected to consider the ways in which processes of nationalism are profoundly gendered. Feminist scholars have attempted not only to critique these lapses but to develop alternative conceptualizations. Feminist Nationalism is one such attempt. Its stated purpose is to "incorporate gender ... into a definition of nationalism that places women in the centre and acknowledges feminist nationalism as a process of interaction developed between women and men, and not solely by men" (p. xxx). As such, this edited collection offers an important contribution to the feminist project of reconceptualizing the phenomenon of nationalism.

Editor Lois West's introductory chapter, "Feminism Constructs Nationalism," provides an overview of some key interventions that animate scholarly discussions of nationalism and thus frames the anthology well. She identifies the androcentrism inherent in many mainstream accounts of nationalism and then presents an overview of some feminist critiques (Walby, 1992; Yuval-Davis and anthias, 1989; Enloe, 1990; Jayawardena, 1986; Peterson, 1995). The strength of this chapter, however, lies in the attempt to move toward a theory of feminist nationalism. This discussion presents a much needed counterpoint to many current "malestream" treatments of nationalism.

Drawing on her earlier work (1992), West distinguishes between three different types of feminist nationalist movements: historical national liberation social movements; movements against neocolonialism; and, identity rights movements that "wage struggles internal to their societies." In the latter case she cites "minority rights movements by Chicanas or African-Americans in the United States, and the feminist movement led by women of Quebec" (p. xxxi). This characterization is somewhat problematic because it can be argued that the aspirations of Quebecoise feminists for a sovereign nation-state are qualitatively different from the struggles of Chicanos or African-Americans for minority rights within the American nation-state. And, while West asserts that elements of each type of nationalism overlap, it may have been useful to distinguish more carefully between identity rights movements.

The volume is organized by region: Europe; Middle East/Central Asia/Africa; Asia and the Pacific Islands; and the Americas. Indeed, geographical region seems to be the only rationale for grouping cases as diverse as Korea and Hawai'i together. This does not detract, however, from the overall purpose. Two guiding assumptions help to focus this collection. Firstly, as West writes: "feminist theory is necessary to understanding the construction of gender, nations and states by placing women at the centre," (p. xxi). However, this insight is coupled with a recognition that gendered nationalism is the outcome of a process of construction specific to particular contexts. Thus, West calls for a "gendered cultural relativism" which she defines as "the relativizing of the struggles of feminists and nationalists to their historical, cultural, social and economic times and place" (p. xxxi). To greater and lesser extents these assumptions inform the 12 detailed case studies that follow from the introduction.

Two comparative overviews stand alone in a volume of country specific cases. The first is Gisela Kaplan's survey, "Feminism and Nationalism: The European Case." Reviewing key historical events, Kaplan attempts to show how historically feminism and nationalism are "almost always incompatible ideological positions within the European context" (p.3). The two exceptions, she highlights, are 19th century Italy and 20th century Finland. The chapter ends with a discussion of developments toward supranational alliances and the implications for women. Given the adoption of the Schengen Agreement and the deployment of stronger internal immigration controls for some groups of people it would have been useful if this last section also considered the impact of such trends upon those women positioned as "European" and those represented as "minority," "guestworker" or "migrant." Nevertheless this chapter provides an interesting overview of historical and contemporary developments in Europe.

The same is true of Norma Stoltz Chinchilla's discussion of feminism and nationalism in the context Central america. She focusses on the cases of Nicaragua, Guatemala and El Salvador in the 1970s and 1980s to consider under what conditions women's revolutionary participation leads to greater gender equality (p. 215). Her analysis of these particular cases leads her to conclude: "Feminism ... is not an automatic consequence of women's involvement in political struggle or of men's experiences with women doing things they were not expected to be able to do" (p. 216). Chinchilla's contribution is invaluable insofar as she succeeds in highlighting the specificity of each individual case while drawing out some of the issues and concerns that link women's experiences of armed struggle in Central America.

Given recent events, two chapters in Feminist Nationalism are particularly topical. Jill Benderly's contribution examines the relationship between feminism and nationalism(s) in the Yugoslav successor states. She carefully documents how war in this region has pushed feminists in various directions. Questions between "those who identify with their nation-state and those who oppose the objectives of their nation-state" (p.60) have divided feminists and have strained or shattered relations between women's groups from various republics. In contrast to dominant news accounts of the conflict and war which frequently portray women as "victims," Benderly's account focusses on women's agency and feminist activism.

Feminists in Northern Ireland have also been divided over the "National Question," as Cannel Roulston's chapter illustrates. This case demonstrates how women have become politicized through nationalist struggles and feminist activism in the period 1973 to 1995. Roulston carefully documents how tensions between unionism, nationalism and republicanism have profoundly affected feminist activism. A key claim made here is the degree to which women and women's issues are not central concerns on the political agenda. For example, many feminists activists are concerned that the current peace process neglects women and women's issues. Both Roulston and Benderly succeed admirably in detailing some of the dilemmas women encounter in their engagement with questions of nationalism.

Canadian scholars will be particularly interested in Patrice LeClerc and Lois West's piece on Quebec: "Feminist Nationalist Movements in Quebec: Resolving Contradictions?" While much has been written about relations between Quebec and Canada, there is very little available about gender and nationalism. Indeed in their review of the discipline of political science, Jane Arscott and Marion Tremblay charged: "The firm alliance between feminism and nationalism in Quebec hardly penetrates the consciousness of most scholarship in Canada" (Canadian Journal of Political Science vol. 23, no. 1, p. 144). While LeClerc and West's account is somewhat sweeping -- covering the early Quebec through to 1995 -- it is a useful contribution in attempting to address this gap.

Other chapters in the anthology examine women's encounters with nationalism in a variety of contexts ranging from Sherna Berger Gluck's examination of Palestine to Alma M. Garcia's piece, "The Development of Chicana Feminist Discourse," in the United States. It is unreasonable to expect a single volume to include every instance of contemporary feminist nationalism. But the cases in Feminist Nationalism are valuable insofar as they suggest many other possible research directions to follow. For example, it would be useful to know more about the ways in which indigenous women are organizing in relation to nationalism. Only one contribution, Haunani-Kay Trask's piece, "Feminism and Indigenous Hawaiian Nationalism," examines this issue.

It can be argued that not all the chapters address the theoretical issues raised in the introduction explicitly. Indeed some offer a somewhat uneven analysis. But taken together they do effectively demonstrate the diverse ways that women have both defined and organized in relation to the particular nationalist struggles. While the contributions do speak to the value of deploying "gendered cultural relativism" and do illustrate "that there is such a cross cultural, or global, phenomenon as feminist nationalism" (p. xxix), much less is said about the implications and contradictions of this phenomenon. It would have been useful if West had added a conclusion to the volume that drew out what aspects of feminist nationalism and/or feminist visions women share cross culturally. What are the implications of differences among women? Indeed, the diversity and historic specificity of cases presented would appear to question the validity of West's assertion at the outset that there is a possibility of "a cultural nationalism that unites women around the world on issues like inequalities" because feminism has become globalized (p. xxxii).
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2000 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Publication:Resources for Feminist Research
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2000
Previous Article:Family shifts: families, policies, and gender equality.
Next Article:Femmes poetes du XIXe siecle: une anthologie.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2020 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters