Mohanty’s book, Feminism Without Borders, examines the role of Third World women in the world and within feminist efforts. One of her largest critiques of how Third World women are conceptualized is that they are often placed together, based on their gender, as women without the acknowledgement of their different situations and histories. Mohanty stresses the distinction between the two different conceptualizations of the female gender – Woman and women. A Woman is the conceptualized notion of how the female gender should be and is produced by hegemonic discourse; women are historical subjects that reflect women in different locations with different histories. Thinking of Third World women as a universal group defined as Woman is very problematic for Mohanty. One of the groups that she is questioning is Western Feminists and the fact that they conceptualize the Western female gender much differently than the Third World female gender, and seem to group all Third World women together universally because it seems as though white privilege is what provides individualism. Mohanty does believe that change is possible but only when differences are acknowledged and explored so that there can be solidarity without universalism.
For Mohanty one of the largest critiques of Western Feminism and travesties for Third World women is that Western Feminists blur the line between the idea of Woman that is produced by hegemonic discourse and women as unique historical subjects. All different third world women become grouped together and thought of as one Third World Woman. They are defined by society’s conceptualization of a gender without looking at any of their differences or uniqueness. Third World women as a group are then characterized universally as powerless victims. “This is because descriptive gender differences are transformed into the division between men and women. Women are constituted as a group via dependency relationships vis-à-vis men, who are implicitly held responsible for those relationships.” (25) In this light there is a monolithic notion of sexual difference and the world is transformed into victims and oppressors – There is little room for individual histories. Western Feminists use this grouping of women as a category of analysis and try to make universal claims about male dominance because of their assumed “sameness” of oppression. They incorrectly analyze Third World Women and claim that they are all; victims of male violence, universally dependent, playing specific roles in familial structures, oppressed by religion and development, and that married women are victims of the colonial process. Even without knowing much about the topic and lacking research it seems absurd to me to believe that all women in the Third World are oppressed in all these ways. There must be differences based on individual locations and histories, and that is exactly Mohanty’s critique.
For Mohanty gender is important on two fronts. Firstly, she is critical of the reality that Third World women are grouped as one based purely on their gender without examining any of their uniqueness and secondly, it is important to note that for Monhanty there is a large difference between the conceptualization of Woman in the third world vs. the Woman in the Western world. Western Feminists discourse gains power from the systemizational oppression of Third World women. Mohanty believes that change will occur only when we start to acknowledge the different realities women from around the world and stop trying to group them together and study them universally. The focus should then be on real shared oppressions like how labor roles are defined and Third World women are exploited within these roles. This will lead to solidarity in the cause without the troubles caused by using only one conceptualization of the female gender for Third World women.