Blog post

Important response to Nancy Fraser: 'White Feminist Fatigue Syndrome'

Christina Chalmers 1 November 2013

Academics Brenna Bhandar and Denise Ferreira da Silva have written a response to Nancy Fraser’s recent article on the Guardian’s Comment is Free page. They argue that Fraser’s account of the post-war genesis and recent development of feminism is blinded in the ways that it delimits its subject matter and ignores the importance of trends in feminism that should be central to any analysis of historical shifts in feminism between the mid-twentieth century and the current period. Her article, they argue, ‘reveals the innate and repetitive myopia of White feminism to take account, to converse and think along with Black and Third World Feminists.’

Fraser fails to mention many major exponents of Black and Third World feminisms which do not merit Fraser’s critique of more mainstream conceptions of feminism. These theorists ‘systematically engaged a feminist critique of not only state capitalism, but of a globalised capitalism rooted in colonial legacies.’

The work of A.Y. Davis, Audre Lorde, Himani Bannerji, Avtar Brah, Selma James, Maria Mies, Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Silvia Federici, Dorothy Roberts and scores of others, have shattered the limited and exclusionary nature of the conceptual frameworks developed by White feminists in the English speaking world.
(For more detail on these feminisms, read the article in full.)

Failing to use these analyses and to develop on them, Fraser does not manage to furnish feminists with any real ‘radical critique of liberalism’ or move beyond liberal frameworks.

Unlike their detractors, Bhandar and Ferreira da Silva do not identify ‘White feminism’ merely as a subject position inhabited by women racialised as white; they see ‘White feminism’ as a tendency within feminism based on liberal conceptions of a feminist subject.

Let us just say there is no such thing as a “feminism” as the subject of any sentence that designates the sole position for the critic of patriarchy. For such position has been fractured ever since Sojourner Truth said “Ain’t I a woman too?” There is though a feminist subject position, the one Fraser is lamenting, which has sat very comfortably in the seat of the self- determined, emancipated subject. That position, of course, is that which she identifies as a contributor to neoliberalism. But that is no surprise, for both her feminism and neoliberalism share the same liberal core that Black and Third World feminists have identified and exposed since very early in the trajectory of feminisms.

Fraser’s own critique of second-wave feminism excludes these feminisms, which have consistently maintained and developed analyses of the role of capital, race, and colonial relations; they ‘consistently developed critiques of capitalist forms of property, exchange, paid and unpaid labour, along with culturally embedded and structural forms of patriarchal violence’. They did not become capital’s ‘handmaiden’, nor did they submit to simplistic co-optations by neoliberal ideologies, as Fraser had argued many second wave variants of feminism do. To tar all types of feminism with the same brush is an oversight on Fraser’s part – and contributes to what Bhandar and Ferreira da Silva describe as the falsely universalizing character of White Feminism. They desire a different kind of discourse:

The persistent claim to universalism, which is the core of this White feminism, renders the experiences, thoughts and work of Black and Third World feminists invisible, over and over again. Time’s up!