Inderpal Grewal is a professor at Yale University with her academic focus in the field of women, gender, and sexuality studies. Caren Kaplan is an American studies professor at the University of California at Davis, Kaplan also worked in the academia of women’s studies. Grewal and Kaplan together worked in the field of transnational feminist practice, otherwise called Transnational Feminism.
The duo also authored a book in 1994 named ‘Scattered Hegemonies‘, which is based on the theme of postmodernity and transnational feminist practice. Grewal and Kaplan have engaged extensively in post-colonial studies as feminists and have then applied it to their practice. Grewal and Kaplan critique and evaluate global feminism for its dismissal of “the diversity of women‘s agency” in its construction of “a theory of hegemonic oppression under a unified category of gender”.
Transnational feminism is a broad concept that arose in the globalisation epoch. This feminist practice takes into account the diverse, manifold, and unique experiences that occur within, between, and at the margins of national and international boundaries. It acknowledges the complexity while working in the feminist discourse.
It is closely related and places special attention on the concept of intersectionality as talked about by Kimberle Crenshaw. Therefore, it permeates the boundaries of the world and encompasses the experiences within the borders including immigrants, refugees, and people who are displaced from the place of their residence due to several reasons and people who belong to a multi-cultural diaspora in the geopolitical context.
Transnational feminism sees the differences of people as the basis for activism and thus, deconstructs the notion that women all over the world have the same form of oppression, discrimination, ways of exploitation, experiences, and privileges. There is also an acknowledgement of dislodged power between women across the world like the global north and south. The transnational feminist practice encompasses “the interdisciplinary study of the relationships between women in diverse parts of the world.”
The term Transnational has been used instead of other terms like international or global for a reason. It is used to diminish and not maintain boundaries of nation, gender, and race. The term looks at nation-states as sovereign entities that are distinct. The idea of “global sisterhood” presents a very one-dimensional White, middle-class, liberal feminist viewpoint and subsumes non-west, people of colour with their different forms of exploitation and oppression.
Thus, the tag of transnational feminism is seen as a refined or enhanced form of global/international feminism. But at the same time, there is a cognisance that transnational feminism is not exempt from disproportionate power systems. Transnational feminism lays out a platform to critique asymmetrical power relations. The idea is to question the binaries of uneven and unequal power, resistance, and exploitation that is the proposition of ‘west’ vs. ‘non-west’, ‘traditional’ vs ‘modern’, etc.
The relationship between transnational studies with post-colonial studies is also an important one regarding the nation and nationality. For feminist scholars, nationalism is a way in which patriarchal elites acquire the power to create the general narrative for the nation. It is also said that transnational feminism emerged out of postcolonial and women of colour feminism.
Postcolonial feminism and transnational feminism accentuate social and structural factors that intensify the power differences like colonialism, neo-colonialism, capitalism, imperialism power structures, etc. Let us examine some of the key features of transnational feminism:
Intersectionality: intersectionality is undoubtedly one of the most important elements in not just transnational feminist practice but all feminist discourses all around. Transnational feminism has intersectionality as the basic premise, which it takes forward and extends further. Transnational feminism takes a look at historical perspectives that collide with other factors like gender, race, class, nationality, nation, etc., which then produce dissimilar forms and experiences of oppression for women in diverse parts of the world. To better understand and consequently progress the condition of women it is essential to not overlook their diversity and distinctiveness.
As established earlier, transnational feminist practices advocate working together across, in between and within borders. Various ideas related to borders, for example, shifting and transcending borders are also taken into account. Grewal and Kaplan’s idea of transnational feminism paved way for a more inclusive and better feminist approach
Decolonising knowledge and focusing on reflexivity: transnational feminism questions and challenges the major forms of knowledge systems as well as create decolonised alternatives. It points out the colonisation or “taking over” of the local, native experiences and knowledge.
It also looks at how colonial comprehension and knowledge in and about minorities enables their domination and inequalities. The idea of “epistemic privilege” also prevails in transnational feminist practice. It talks about how the marginalised and disadvantaged groups have access to knowledge, events, conditions, situations, etc., owing to their minority status that the privileged groups are unaware and ignorant about.
Transnational feminists are also focused on a critical examination of their standpoints, which means they actively try to pay attention to their own biases and prejudices and further introspect how many a time we contribute to oppressive patriarchal structures, whether knowingly or unknowingly. Practising self-reflexivity, and knowing one’s privileges and positionality, is thus crucial to transnational feminism.
Respecting differences and crossing borders: a prevalent theme of feminist practice in the global north is viewing women of the global south as “helpless victims” that need help from the global north, western “saviours”. While their geopolitical and social context is important in women’s advocacy, transnational and third-world feminisms dismantle this helpless victim narrative that puts one as superior and the other as inferior.
Transnational feminism helps in women’s agency in breaking down patriarchal practices by working together in alliance, and collaboration while at the same time respecting each other’s differences.
As established earlier, transnational feminist practices advocate working together across, in between and within borders. Various ideas related to borders, for example, shifting and transcending borders are also taken into account. Grewal and Kaplan’s idea of transnational feminism paved way for a more inclusive and better feminist approach.
After the publication of Scattered Hegemonies, Chandra Mohanty and M. Jacqui alexander published ‘Feminist Genealogies, Colonial Legacies, Democratic Futures’ which proved to be a chief work in transnational and post-colonial feminist practice.