Panel educates on global feminism

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LSA professor Elizabeth Wingrove and Leela Fernandes, a professor of Women's Studies and Political Science, left and right respectively, speak at a panel on transnational feminism at Lane Hall on Friday. Buy this photo

By Stephanie Shenouda, Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 31, 2013

A mix of undergraduate students, graduate students, scholars and professors came together Thursday night to discuss transnational feminism, a term that was defined at a unique panel.

Leela Fernandes, a professor of Women's Studies and Political Science, led a panel discussion Thursday to discuss the subject, which is also the focus of her new book, “Transnational Feminism in the United States: Knowledge, Ethics, and Power.”

“I got interested in writing the book because of my history in teaching women’s studies,” Fernandes said. “All of my research has involved thinking critically about how we’re producing knowledge about the world.”

Speakers in the panel included LSA Professors Maria Cotera, George Steinmetz and Elizabeth Wingrove.

Fernandes said the transnational feminism theory has been widely circulated, but not necessarily for the right reasons.

“Transnational perspectives have been increasingly dominant, but a device of the security state and falsely romanticized,” Fernandes said.

Fernandes said her work has largely focused on different forms of inequality in India over the years, allowing her to teach with an international perspective. Her book centers on the concept of transnational feminism, which she describes as “the relationship between different countries and political, economic and social phenomena and how we understand them.”

“It’s meant to provoke people to think about how we learn about the world,” Fernandes said. “And ways that we can think about viewing the world in ways that don’t produce a nationalistic perspective.”

On the panel, Cotera explained that while their fields of study differ, the discussion was a welcome opportunity to speak with like-minded scholars. She added that she “didn’t like the book, she loved it,” and that she can’t wait to integrate the theory into her teaching.

“It was really focused on how women’s studies as a discipline can re-think the way it represents women from other places," Cortera said.

Cotera said transnational feminist theory is mainly about proactivity — training graduate students to become professors who can relate the concept back to the next generation of undergraduates.

Steinmetz said that he recognized many of the dynamics from his own discourse

“(Transnational feminist thinking) allows the lens of the state to be focused not only with regard to feminism, but geo-political expansion,” Steinmetz said. “The focus of (transnational feminist thinking) on service of culture and people moving between states instead of located inside states, places histories outside of their origins.”

While the lecture was set with a more scholarly angle in mind, some professors encouraged their undergraduate students to attend.

LSA freshmen Jessica Eisma and Lauren Trulik said that they decided to attend to learn about the material in tandem with their Filipino culture class.

“We didn't really know what transnational feminism was until now,” Eisma said. “We’re actually here for our Filipino culture class; we thought it would be interesting.”

“Even though it’s an American culture class, our teacher is also a women's studies professor. She encouraged us to go,” Trulik said.