FemDems at the University of Michigan convened a panel Monday night at the Ford School of Public Policy titled “De-Westernizing Feminism: Varying our Viewpoints,” which emphasized the importance of considering different views when discussing the intersectionality of feminism in national and global spaces.
A branch of the University’s chapter of College Democrats, FemDems is a committee focused on women’s issues, including reproductive rights and feminism. The event panel included female professors and lecturers of the University from diverse backgrounds and ethnicities: chemical engineering professor Lola Eniola-Adefeso, women’s studies lecturer Debotri Dhar, American culture professor Maria Cotera and local organizer Sumaiya Ahmed Sheikh.
The panel spotlighted differing views in feminism through the lens of race and social class. As mentioned in FemDems’s goals of the discussion, student facilitators stressed white women are often portrayed as the majority in Western women’s rights issues and feminist theory, though they are actually a minority relative to the global female population. This misconception, they stated, can cause inherent tensions within various subgroups of women, including those between people of color.
Eniola-Adefeso detailed the struggle of being a woman in the STEM field, as well as dissonance within the community of people of color when facing gender inequalities. The miscommunication among groups, she said, is a barrier in furthering the conversation of equality for all.
“The voice that (gets) lost … is the voice of women of color,” she said. “White women assume that women of color have shared experiences with men of color … and, of course, the men of color assume that white women have the backs of the women of color.”
Where the panelists shared University titles and experiences in academia, stories of their upbringings highlighted the impact of socialization on feminist thought, and dispositions toward gender equality. Dhar, who focuses her research on South Asian studies and feminist theory, expressed her unique background as a woman of color in a society where most feminism is centered on white people.
“The interesting thing was I became a woman of color when I came to the West, because in India I wasn’t a woman of color,” Dhar said. “That trajectory is very interesting, because … your self-perception changes based on how people are looking at you.”
LSA freshman Camille Mancuso said she attended Monday’s panel to enhance her perspective on similarities and differences between feminism in other cultures.
“This is an issue that affects everyone around the world … feminism stems all across the world and it has its roots in many different cultures,” Mancuso said. “We can broaden (our) perspective and every woman in every area can be benefited from that.”