GIRL ON GIRL: ON “FIRST WORLD” AND “THIRD WORLD” FEMINISM

 

The Colored Girl Project curated by Victoria Jones and Tori Elizabeth | Photographer: Island Boi Photography
The Colored Girl Project curated by Victoria Jones and Tori Elizabeth | Photographer: Island Boi Photography

“Due to the racialized history of feminism that lacked intersectionality and overlooked the struggle of POC feminists, there is very legitimate criticism of Western feminism as being non-inclusive.”

Female empowerment is not a new concept in Africa. For as longs as women have been navigating paths of work and survival on the continent, there have been efforts to improve their well-being. More recently, public figures such as Chimamanda Adichie self-identifying as feminists have allowed for this empowerment to be studied under a new lens, one that, unfortunately, tends to be comparative and divisive.

So, what is First World feminism? When women in the West received the rights to vote in the twentieth century, this was seen as an achievement for women, a culmination of all the struggle and fight that had led up to that point. The right to vote, while heavily debated and protested by some at the time, can in modern context be seen as a noble cause worth fighting for. Similarly, the right for female students to receive education and the raising of the marrying age for girls is given this same importance, and these are all seen as markers of democracy. However, after this point is where we see a shift.

Western, or “First World feminism” is thought to have derailed somewhere along the lines, with issues such as “freeing the nipple” and stopping cat-calling being seen as trivial and not deserving of the same admiration as the previously mentioned causes. This First World feminism is often compared to “Third World feminism” in an effort to make it seem less important.

So what is Third World feminism? “Third World feminism” are efforts for female equality that exist outside of the West, in the “developing world”. Due to a number of factors, media portrayal, different cultural norms, etc. this so-called “Third World feminism” is held up against “First World feminism” as something noble, deserving of larger attention and action. The struggles of women in the Third World to receive education, have rights to the ownership of their bodies etc. are given brief importance to silence the calls for “lesser” and seemingly unimportant issues, such as rape culture, and street harassment, which, oddly enough, is thought by many to only exist in the First World. Who can listen to your First World thoughts about sexism in the video game community when FGM is still a thing happening in Africa? Who cares that a man on the street made you feel uncomfortable when a 14-year old girl can still get married to a 60-year old man?

“Street harassment is very real in Africa. Date rape occurs in Africa. Unequal pay exists in Africa. These problems are not “Western”, and to paint them as such is ignorant.”

To be clear, there is much work to be done in terms of gender equality and female empowerment in Africa, and greater global attention to the plight of those fighting against these inequalities would be hugely appreciated. But to only care about the issues of women on the African continent when it benefits your attempt to silence a “First World feminist” is ignorant and smacks of self-importance. Not only it is dismissive of the very real inequality that still exists in the West, it ignores the fact that these same issues exist in the developing world. Street harassment is very real in Africa. Date rape occurs in Africa. Unequal pay exists in Africa. These problems are not “Western”, and to paint them as such is ignorant.

Now, it would be wrong to make comparisons of Western and Third World feminism without pointing out the divisions that actually do exist. Due to the racialized history of feminism that lacked intersectionality and overlooked the struggle of POC feminists, there is very legitimate criticism of Western feminism as being non-inclusive. For example, the right to vote in the United States, which was awarded to white women before women of colour. The inherent privilege of these traditionally white Western feminists must also be acknowledged in order to better understand existing and historical power dynamics. While I do not mean to generalize the struggles of the different waves of feminist action, the end goal of the movement is the same, to ensure gender equality for POC and non-POC feminists, both those in the West as well as those in the “developing world”. In this fight, none of the issues faced by women are “trivial.” These issues are not mutually exclusive, and greater effort to further gender equality in every area of female occupancy, whether that be the West, in Africa or elsewhere, can only serve to benefit we women as a collective.

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