Mohanty, Nussbaum, MacKinnon

Here’s a sampling of the wonderful and famous “Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses” for your delectation. I have to tell you – it’s kack. Read that and then read a page of Martha Nussbaum – for instance her essay ‘Judging Other Cultures: the Case of Female Genital Mutilation’ which I just read this morning; or read a page of Susan Moller Okin or Catharine MacKinnon or Katha Pollitt – and you will see a difference. Mohanty is all pretension and extended jargon-mongering; the others are clear (without necessarily being easy, much less dumbed down) and precise and specific. Mohanty is not really trying to argue a case (if she were, she would do it in a different way); she is doing something more like trying to score points in a very particular kind of game. (And clearly she has succeeded fairly well, since she gets people in a particular discipline to refer to her as famous a lot.) Nussbaum and the others I mentioned are indeed trying to make an argument: they don’t waste time on verbal pirouetting, on showing off their High Theoretical vocabulary, they’re too busy doing other things. Other and better things.

The relationship between Woman – a cultural and ideological composite Other constructed through diverse representational discourse (scientific, literary, juridical, linguistic, cinematic, etc.) – and women – real, material subjects of their collective histories – is one of the central questions the practice of feminist scholarship seeks to address…I would like to suggest that the feminist writing I analyse here discursively colonize the material and historical heterogeneities of the lives of women in the third world, thereby producing/representing a composite, singular ‘third-world woman’ – an image which appears arbitrarily constructed but nevertheless carries with it the authorizing signature of western humanistic discourse.

That’s Mohanty. Now for a bit of Nussbaum. (‘Judging Other Culture’ Sex and Social Justice page 122):

It is wrong to insist on cleaning up one’s own house before responding to urgent calls from outside. Should we have said ‘Hands Off Apartheid,’ on the grounds that racism persists in the United States?…It is and should be difficult to decide how to allocate one’s moral effort between local and distant abuses. To work against both is urgently important, and individuals will legitimately make different decisions about their priorities. But the fact that a needy human being happens to live in Togo rather than Idaho does not make her any less my fellow, less deserving of my moral commitment. And to fail to recognize the plight of a fellow human being because we are busy moving our own culture to greater moral heights seems the very height of moral obtuseness and parochialism.

And some Catharine MacKinnon, from her essay ‘Postmodernism and Human Rights’ in Are Women Human?:

Abuse has become ‘agency’ – or rather challenges to sexual abuse have been replaced by invocations of ‘agency,’ women’s violation become the sneering wound of a ‘victim’ pinned in arch quotation marks. (p. 55)

Postmodernism has decided that because truth died with God, there are no social facts. The fact that reality is a social construction does not mean that it is not there; it means that it is there, in society, where we live. (p. 56)

Women often serve power and do have power over children, but postmodernists have to portray women actually having power that men largely have in order to confuse people about power. (That they want to avoid being called sexist in the process, we have accomplished.) (pp. 59-60)

I know which I prefer.

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