Feminism has long been criticized for its early declaration of a “universal female experience,” an assumption that all women’s struggles are the same as white women’s struggles. In reality, there are as many women’s experiences as there are women living today. As Audre Lorde says, “[t]here is a pretense to a homogeneity of experience covered by the word sisterhood that does not in fact exist” (855). This homogeneity has very real consequences for often the most vulnerable groups of women, as their battles are overlooked in favor of those easier to solve. For example, a federal law declaring men and women must be paid the same doesn’t address hiring inequality and the systemic racism and sexism involved with simply getting a job. It’s easy to fall into a trap of viewing little victories as absolute successes, and that can be detrimental to the feminist cause.
There is a similar trap that occurs when examining post-colonialism. In The Angel of Progress, Anne McClintock argues, “[j]ust as the singular category ‘Woman’ as been discredited as a bogus universal of feminism…so the singular category of ‘post-colonial’ may license to readily a panoptic tendency to view the globe within generic abstractions voided of political nuance. The arcing panorama of the horizon becomes thereby so expansive that international imbalances in power remain effectively blurred” (1187). Essentially, viewing post-colonialism as one absolute pattern of events prevents us from seeing the true scope of colonialism in our world today. In this lens, we start to see the success of one previously colonized nation as a marker of success for all previously colonized nations. For example, consider the U.S. We all know that the U.S. gained independence from Britain in 1776, after a little revolution. Could every once-colonized nation have followed this lead? Obviously not, because the intricacies of colonialism go much deeper. The early Americans had the benefit of being white, and had participated actively in colonialism through the slaughter of Natives. They may have been colonized, but England isn’t going to destroy its own former people – not when they look like them.
This idea of “looking the same” is what Lorde is arguing when she says, “…white women face the pitfall of being seduced into joining the oppressor under the pretense of sharing power” (857). The first few results upon a Google search for “How did America win the Revolutionary War” will tell you that the early Americans had great spirit, that they refused to give in when up against the most-powerful military at the time. But, in their attempts for independence, I’m certain that every other previously colonized nation had the spirit, the hope that early Americans did. Here, the U.S. had a choice: use its status as formally colonized to help other nations break away from Britain, or declare itself as equal to Britain, hope that Britain will share the world stage, and join them as an imperial power.
Naturally, the U.S. chose the latter and used the next 250 years to perfect imperialism. Anne McClintock brilliantly states that “[t]he role of ‘Africa’ in ‘post-colonial theory’ is different from the role of ‘post-colonial theory’ in Africa” (R&R 1191). In this same vein, women in left-behind African nations play a different role in feminism than white American women do, but only recently are we hearing them. To get the full picture of the influence of both patriarchy and colonialism, we must listen to, respect, and incorporate previously unheard voices, specifically female voices, into a new, more inclusive canon.