Span 37

Journal of the South Pacific Assoc for Cwlth Lit and Language Studies
Number 37, 1993
Yorga Wangi:
Postcolonialism and Feminism

Edited by Anne Brewster, Marion Campbell, Ann McGuire, Kathryn Trees

Debbie Rodan

Annotated Critical Bibliography: The Intersection of Postcolonialism and Feminism


Spivak, Gayatri. C. "Strategy, Identity, Writing." The Post-Colonial Critic. Ed. Sarah Harasym, New York: Routledge, 1990. 35-49.

This useful chapter is an interview with the postcolonial feminist critic Gayatri Spivak (conducted in Australia in 1986). It raises two main points of interest. The first of these is the notion of national and personal identity, Spivak expresses a deep suspicion of any 'positivist' and 'determinist' notions of identity; that is to say, for Spivak, identity cannot be neatly inscribed in a language, location or biology. The second issue is in relation to women. It is contended that the subject/object position cannot be easily applied to all women in all contexts. The applicability depends on the specific woman's political-social situation. Consequently first world feminists/academics need to unlearn their own sense of privilege and re-learn it as loss in order to be taken seriously by the other "female constituency."

Trinh. T. Minh-ha. "Commitment from the Mirror-Writing Box." Woman, Native, Other, Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 1989. 5-44.

This chapter raises important postcolonial and feminist issues for women of color (Third World women); notably their relationship to language and writing and the relationship between their language and their identity. By employing the personal pronoun I, Trinh provides a reflexive and accessible account of the relationship of 'women of color' to writing and language which challenges First World patriarchal notions of literature that constructs universal paradigms of what writing is; namely clarity and objectivity. Also Trinh challenges First World feminists who construct 'woman' as a monolithic category which excludes many 'women of color'. It is contended that this construction is the reason why 'woman' has no fixed identity, and "'woman' can never be defined" (Kristeva). Above all, in the chapter is the notion of difference (influenced by postmodern, postcolonial, and feminist conceptions of subjectivity, identity, and the self) which embodies the ideas of endless deferral of meaning, no fixed identities, taking account of ethnic and racial difference, and sexual difference as opposed to androgyny between men and women.

Trinh. T. Minh-ha. "Difference: 'A Special Third World Women Issue'." Woman, Native, Other, Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana Up, 1989, 79-116.

This chapter looks at the issue of 'difference' and how that concept applies to Third World women. One application, Trinh points out, is that 'difference' can be used as an ideology of separatism. To illustrate this she offers a critique of academic feminists who acknowledge 'difference' while subtly excluding Third World women, at the same time. The point is made that Third World women's 'difference' is accepted by First World feminists as long as Third World women do not question the terms laid down by First World academic feminists. Another application of the issue of 'difference' is the questioning of origins and of authenticity. This ploy which is often employed by the dominant culture enables differences to be dealt with as 'fragments'. In summary Trinh sees the assertion of 'difference' as an important strategy for interrogation of the totalising and universalising discursive manoeuvres of the dominant culture. (In this case this also includes First World and academic feminists).


Spivak, Gayatri C, "Acting Bits/Identity Talk." Critical Inquiry 18 (4) (Summer 1992): 770-803.

This complex (at times abstruse) article on the subject of identity politics attends to the question of women in another dimension of 'identity', namely their religion. It is illustrated that there are no fixed identities. Identities are an 'inscription' and they are 'fractured.' Any attempt to 'restore origins' is, according to Spivak not a quick answer which will enable cultural translation. At times the article is a self-reflexive account of the writers own inscribed identity. At others times it demonstrates the fracturing of identity through the analysis of a few selected postcolonial and filmic texts. Finally from her perspective as a feminist-in-decolonization Spivak discusses the position of women as subject in relation to nation and religion; and claims that identities for women become 'commodities.' For this reason women become the 'medium of exchange' in their enforced movement between national and religious identity. As a result they are not necessarily being allowed to remain in the position of national subject which was gained during the struggle against colonialism.

Trinh. T. Minh-ha, "Not You/Like You: Post-Colonial Women and the Interlocking Questions of Identity and Difference." Inscriptions 3/4 (1988): 71-77.

This brief article explores meanings in the concepts of 'identity' and 'difference.' Trinh points out that identity indicates a searching for some 'original authentic self.' Added to that, identity separates 'entities' into 'insider' and 'outsider' groups. In contrast, 'difference' as a concept, tends to "distinguish one identity from another without necessarily incurring separatism." Furthermore, for Trinh, differences exist within a single entity as well as in between an insider/outsider group. Overall Trinh maintains that difference "undermines the very idea of identity." It would have been useful if the article had explored the strategic value of identity for a postcolonial and feminist politics.


Ashcroft, W.D., "Intersecting Marginalities: Post-Colonialism and Feminism." Kunappi XI N.2. (1989): 23-35.

The function of the paper is to show a greater "cross-fertilization of ideas" and "theoretical strategies" which would benefit both post-colonial and feminist discourses. Ashcroft sees the point of comparison and intersection of both discourses as their concern with language and writing. This point is demonstrated via reference to french feminism; particularly Cixous, Kristeva and Irigaray.

Bal, Meike. "The Politics of Citation." Diacritics 21(1) (Spring 1991): 25-45

This article is a feminist cultural critique which uncovers the discourse of four postcolonial male critics. The discourse, which is being problematised, surrounds visual images from colonial texts. Bal accuses the critics of "neocolonialism." In other words their "overt discourse" about the visual images of the black women presented in colonial texts has a "subtext" which lacks any "self-critique" of their own subject position. Thus, this insightful critique contends that post colonial scholars as critics need to reflect upon their own complicity in relation to sexist and racist material.

Boehmer, Ekkeke, "Motherlands, Mothers and Nationalist Sons: Representations of Nationalism and Women in African Literature." From Commonwealth to Post-Colonial. Ed. Anna Rutherford. Sydney: Dangaroo Press, 1992: 229-247.

This article draws on the theoretical forces of post-colonial and feminist theory in order to demonstrate how nationalism is constituted and constructed by the "pre" and "co-existing" structures of patriarchal rule. Nationalism, it is contended, is structured by gender. At the same time gender is a signifying and symbolic effect of nationalism. So nationalism is a practice that constructs the figure of 'woman' as a metaphor of the mother who stands for national values, and 'man' as a 'social actor' who takes the role of author and the subject which personifies the nation. The text reiterates the same point which a number of other post-colonial feminists have made; namely how 'woman' in neocolonialist nations is not allowed to remain a nationalist, therefore 'woman' as a "concept-metaphor" (Spivak) inevitably becomes the object of exchange of patriarchal family structures in national identity.

Busia, Abena P.A. "Silencing Sycorax: On African Colonial Discourse and the Unvoiced Female." Cultural Critique 14 (Winter 1989-90): 81-104.

This article focuses on the 'silencing' of the black African woman in the re-reading of colonial and imperial texts. Busia contends that in these colonial texts the black African woman is constructed as a 'fully embodied fleshy being,' but one who is "unvoiced." This construction is contrasted to the European woman who speaks and has obtained language. Despite the awareness of the positioning of 'other' in contemporary postcolonial studies, for Busia then, 'woman' is still often written as a "category of exchange in systematic and linguistic orders that continue to deny her [woman] any historical and social subjectivity." Moreover, Busia contends that the voice of black African woman is in the text, in other words there is no actual silence. The problem, according to Busia, is more of a "systematic refusal to hear" the speech of black African women. In conclusion, Busia suggests that the black African or subaltern 'woman's' voice is signified in the text if the colonial or postcolonial critic chooses to hear it.

Buss, Helen M. "The Autobiographies of Han Suyin: A Female Postcolonial Subjectivity." Canadian Review of American Studies. Vol 23 (1) (Fall 1992): 107-126.

This article discusses the memoirs of Han Suyin, a Chinese/Belgian woman by birth, now an American writer. Suyin is described as a postcolonial female subject who 'contests' the post-structuralist notion of subjectivity as temporary and shifting. The memoirs are described by Buss through a theory of women's writing (which she does not spell out) which emphasises the self and the "maternal pretext." In other words it emphasises the subject position of the mother within patriarchal-colonial society. According to Buss, Suyin from the origins of a "half-caste girl-child" in a colonial society recognises herself as both an interpellated subject and as a subject with personal agency. It is this context of a "seeming[ly] contradictory" subjectivity in the memoirs, Buss contends, that illustrates both the personal and political nature of post-colonial female subject positions. In conclusion the article loosely points to the link between personal and national identity. In particular Suyin's personal identity as a heterosexual woman of mixed descent, and the national identity of China (from a colonial perspective). What Buss attempts to do in this reading of Suyin's memoirs, then is to account for the political realm which is often left out of poststructuralists concepts of subjectivity.

Caraway, Nancie. "The Cunning of History: Empire, Identity and Feminist Theory in the Flesh." Women and Politics 12 (2) (1992): 1-18.

An informative article exploring the value and the dangers of "counter representations of 'self'" through concepts like a "theory in the flesh." Caraway argues that in the multicultural United States, the concept of a "theory in the flesh" provides an "interpretative" paradigm for the emerging postcolonial and multicultural feminist discourse. This article is particularly concerned with identity politics as a postcolonial and feminist position counter to many poststructuralist theories which construct the subject as an "academic abstraction."

Dodgson, Pauline. "Culture and Literary Production in Zimbabwe." From Commonwealth To Post-Colonial. Ed. Anna Rutherford. Sydney: Dangaroo Press, 1992: 248-258.

This brief article gives a short overview of Zimbabwean post-colonial literature in English. It suggests that it is Zimbabwean women writers who have written the more "stimulating" and "challenging" work. What is more their work demonstrates how independence does not necessarily bring liberation for women from traditional or patriarchal society. This article further illustrates Spivak's position that nation and identity are commodities, that is 'something made for exchange,' and it is 'woman' who becomes the 'medium' of that exchange because women are not allowed to remain in the position of national subject after liberation.

Kabeer, Naila, "The Quest For National Identity: Women, Islam and the State in Bangladesh." Feminist Review 37 (Spring 1991): 38-58.

This informative article cites the place of religion and culture (in this case the State represents culture) as the cause of contradictory interests in defining a national identity within the Bengali muslim 'collectivity' in post-liberation Bangladesh. It is argued that these contradictory interests are clearly illustrated in the struggle for women's rights. On the one hand there is the state policy which 'champions' the emancipation of women, but which nonetheless has its own 'gender subtext.' On the other hand there is the 'creeping' Islamization process which sanctions separate spheres of the sexes as 'natural.' Moreover the article points to the difficulty and the complexity of the place of Bengali women in a postcolonial society. Particularly highlighted is the situation of women who do not have a subject position in either a national, religious, cultural, or historical context. Overall the crucial importance of race, class, and religious beliefs in women's struggle for identity in postcolonial societies is exemplified.

Katrak, Ketu H. "Decolonizing Culture: Toward a Theory for Postcolonial Women's Texts." Modern Fiction Studies 35 (1) (Spring 1989): 157-179.

This article examines the pertinent issue of the lack of western and non-western theoretical models for the study of postcolonial women's writing. Fanon and Ghandi, non-western male writers, are cited as examples of the theoretical limitations of postcolonial male theory in studying women writers. It is suggested that, it is these men's unquestioning acceptance of women's status as 'property' within the family that is chiefly problematic. Katrak also demonstrates that it is the use of language in Fanon's (male dominated) theory which can be employed as a model for the study of postcolonial women's text. This use of language can uncover the 'linguistic,' 'cultural' and 'psychic' violence of colonialism.

Katz, C. "All the world is staged: intellectuals and the projects of ethnography." Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 10 (1992): 495-510.

This article draws on feminist theory, new ethnography, and postcolonial studies in examining the power relations involved in the ethnographer's role in representing another culture. The text focuses on the problem of representation of the 'other' and raises a number of important issues about academic discourse, theory and political praxis. Overall Katz contends that identity as a position is useful to "build difference." This is done in order to appropriate knowledge from the "space of betweenness" which exists in the middle position as opposed to on either side of the gender binaries. This enables intellectuals to align strategically with their cultural 'other,' allowing a move towards change. In addition it could be useful in overcoming the problem of relativism.

Lwyn, Tinzar. "The Mission: Colonial Discourse on Gender and the Politics of Burma." New Literatures Review (post-graduate issue) (24) (winter south 1992): 5-22.

This polemical and convincing article analyses how the colonial discourse of the 'West' (in this case Australia) positions itself as 'saviour' and 'civilization,' and constructs the national identity of Burma (and at the same time the personal identity of Burmese women) as 'barbaric other' and 'nature.' By employing the gender binaries of masculine and feminine as inscribed on male and female bodies it is illustrated how Burma's difference is disavowed by Australia just as 'woman's' difference is disavowed by 'man.' Furthermore the positioning of Burmese women by First World feminists as passive victims is criticised for its colonialist constructions. As a consequence of the criticism it is claimed that Burmese women have agency as national subjects and see themselves as resistant subjects. (As a First World feminist I feel I cannot question this claim).

McWilliams, Sally. "Tsitsi Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions: At the Crossroads of Feminism and Post-colonialism." World Literature Written in English. 31 N.1 (Spring 1991): 103-112.

The article contends that the theories of feminism and postcolonialism cross each other over issues of identity, manichaeism, and mimicry. This is illustrated through the literary text 'Nervous Conditions' (a term from Fanon) by Tsitsi Dangerembga. This text is a 'first-person retrospective narrative' which tells of the search for identity by two young female Black Zimbabweans. Overall McWilliams relies heavily on the notion of an 'essence' of Blackness in the young women's voices, and she could therefore be interpreted as leaning towards essentialism.

Mohanty, Chandra. 'Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses.' Feminist Review 30 (August 1988): 61-88.

This valuable article analyses the production of "'Third World Woman' as a singular monolithic subject" in western feminists' texts. For Mohanty the central problem occurs when western feminists employ "'women' as a category of analysis" based on the notion of a shared oppression. This is problematic because it assumes that women are a 'coherent' group or 'category' prior to their entry into the social, cultural and family structure. According to Mohanty, any analysis of women needs to be based on "particular local contexts." At the same time meanings and explanations need to be given "according to the socio-historical context." For Mohanty then, any feminist analysis needs to take account of local cultural practices, class and kinship patterns and social-historical circumstances. Consequently this article highlights the ethnocentricism that occurs in the writings of feminist texts, especially when some western feminists make assumptions about women from other cultures without taking account of local, often complex, social structures.

Mongia, Padmini. "Postcolonial Identity and Gender Boundaries in Amitov Ghosh's The Shadow Lines." College Literature 20 (February 1993): 225 -228.

This short article is a critique of gender construction in the text The Shadow Lines by Amitov Ghosh, an Indian fiction which is a rewriting of a colonial fiction in English. Padmini illustrates how the male postcolonial writer narrowly inscribes women's desire in terms of freedom. The women characters' desire is written as if it is only for national freedom and not also for sexual freedom. It is contended that in terms of gender reconstruction of colonial texts, this representation of women leads to 'impotency' in postcolonial male writing.

Odeh Abu Lama. "Post-colonial Feminism and the Veil: Thinking the Difference." Feminist Review 43 (Spring 1993): 26-37.

A valuable self-reflective account of the position of Arab women (the writer does not say which Arab women) as veiled and unveiled - sanctioned and sexualised - bodies in the postcolonial Arab world. This text raises interesting issues about the ambivalent attitudes of Arab women to their veiled or unveiled bodies. This article is written from a postcolonial feminist position. It would have been useful if the writer had also given a deconstructive reading of the "concept-metaphor woman" (Spivak) as instrumental of 'family sexual honour,' as this goes unchallenged.

Parry, Benita. "Problems in Current Theories of Colonial Discourse." Oxford Literary Review 9 (1987): 27-58.

This important (and dense) article criticises Spivak for silencing the subaltern 'woman' in her critical analysis of colonialist texts and discourses. It is contended that through the practice of deconstruction, which positions 'self' and

'other' as inextricably inseparable, Spivak obliterates the subject position of the 'other' in the imperialist texts. Consequently a space is not necessarily provided for the postcolonial 'woman' to speak. In contrast it is demonstrated how the work of Fanon, through a dialectical process of 'self' and 'other,' gives the 'native' a subject position in order to promote the construction of a politically conscious and emancipatory self. It is further suggested that Fanon is an intellectual whose writing makes evident the inseparability of political engagement and social action, whereas Spivak's deconstructive practice, according to Parry, hides her political passivity. (However, Fanon as far as I am aware, never theorised about postcolonial women's position in colonialist and neocolonialist societies). Chiefly this article stresses that critiques of colonialist discourse need to uncover an oppositional discourse, that positions the 'other' also as a "historical subject and agent." The article is radical in its questioning of the very premises of the practices of a very well established writer who is normally regarded as oppositional.

Prentice, Chris. "Rewriting Their Stories: Postcolonialism and Feminism in the Fictions of Keri Hulme and Audrey Thomas." Span 23 (September 1986): 68-80.

This article traces the intersection of feminism and postcolonialism through the question of national and personal identity in the literary texts of writers from New Zealand (Hulme) and Canada (Thomas). These authors illustrate the postcolonial and feminist 'crisis' of sovereignty and the complexity of 'self' and 'other.' This is done in their narratives through the portrayal of the relationships of 'women and men,' 'women and society' and 'indigenous and settler races.' The key tactic which both texts employ is to blur the boundaries of race, gender, sexuality, language and literary styles.

Rowan, Leonie. "The Powers of the Marginal: Some Tactics for Subverting the Centre." new literatures review (Post graduate issue) 24 (Winter South 1992): 68-78.

From a brief survey of postcolonial and feminist theory, this article demonstrates how the 'other' (notably women) can subvert and resist the centre by employing the "tactic of displacement." This tactic, Rowan contends, is particularly useful for women because it enables them to employ "counter-narrative" strategically in an overt and conscious way. Subversion, is described as a personal act through conscious questioning by the individual woman of anything that is presented as a self-evident truth by the centre.

Suleri, Sara. "Woman Skin Deep: Feminism and the Postcolonial Condition." Critical Inquiry. 18 N.4 (Summer 1992): 757-769.

The article is an acerbic critique of North American postcolonial academic feminist writers who employ the postcolonial condition as an 'abstraction.' In other words, as a 'metaphoric' postcolonial feminism based on theoretical writing or personal narrative, and not as the 'discursive practices' produced out of the historical fact of being a 'woman of color' in a postcolonial condition. Suleri posits two types of realism. The first of these is found in postfeminist theory, autobiography, and personal narrative. An example of the second is the realism of lived experience of the law of Pakistan and the effect of that law on postcolonial women in that country. Overall this is a thought-provoking article which raises the important issue of lived experience, yet tends to assert that certain narratives have more validity (as being representative of a postcolonial condition) than others.


Brewster, Anne. "Is there such a thing as International Feminism? Post-coloniality, postmodernism and (post)feminism in the work of Gayatri C. Spivak and Trinh T. Minh-ha." Post Colonial Women's Writing. Ed. Rosemary Colmer Sydney: Macquarie UP, Forthcoming 1993.

A useful monograph which investigates the writing practices of two diasporic feminists. These writers are Spivak who uses deconstructive re-reading as strategy; and Trinh, who uses (post)feminism as a deconstructive strategy. The points of intersection and divergence of postcoloniality, postmodernism and (post)feminism are discussed through the issues of identity, representation and subjectivity. The text also clarifies how postmodernism differs from feminism and postcolonialism chiefly at the moment of the 'articulation of identity.'

D'Cruz, Doreen. "Feminism In The Post-Colonial Context: Shashi Deshpande's Fiction." Paper presented at the Postcolonial Fictions Conference, Fremantle: Unpublished, 1992, 1-19.

This paper is an analysis of two texts by Shashi Deshpande, an Indian writer. It is concerned with the issue of feminism in a postcolonial context. D'Cruz suggests that a common thread in both texts is the history of the speaking subject. The importance of recognising "the social and cultural contexts in which the individual is placed" is demonstrated in the analysis. D'Cruz also points out that Desphande illustrates the importance of an 'essential self' which is one of the core feminist issues within the texts. This 'essential self' is of importance because it gives a subject position to speak from, to Indian women who have been silenced. Moreover, D'Cruz argues that in Desphande's texts feminism and postcoloniality are 'conflicting discourses.' The reason for this conflict is that postcolonial discourse is unable to find a representational space for feminism. Added to that Desphande is said to present the reader with a more complex world. That is to say "the historical subtext in her fiction clearly indicates a multiply mediated connection for women." Thus her texts are not irreducible to a postcolonial nor a feminist interpretation. The point is made that the postcolonial female subject has to relate to other factors than just to being the colonised.

Murdoch University

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