ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Is Feminism about 'Women'?

A Critical View on Intersectionality from India

Feminism requires us to recognise that "women" is neither a stable nor a homogeneous category. Does intersectionality as a universal framework help us to capture this complexity? This paper argues that it does not. It addresses this question through the intricacies of the terrain that feminist politics must negotiate, using the Indian experience to set up conversations with feminist debates and experiences globally. Feminism is heterogeneous and internally differentiated. We need to pay attention to challenges to the stability of given identities-- including those of "individual" and "woman." These challenges constitute the radically subversive moments that are likely to be most productive for feminism in the 21st century.

This paper has benefited from discussions at a conference on “Intersectionality and Colonialism: Contemporary Debates,” University of Paris, 7 March 2014; a presentation at the Centre for Women’s Studies, JNU, September 2014; and from the comments of the anonymous reviewer for EPW, Pramada Menon and Sumit Baudh.

In this second decade of the 21st century, we all know that feminism is not in fact about “women” but about recognising how modern discourses of gender produce human beings as exclusively “men” or “women”. In other words, feminism requires us to recognise that “women” is neither a stable nor a homogeneous category. But nor are caste, race or class, stable or homogeneous categories.

Does intersectionality as a universal framework help us to capture this complexity? I argue that it does not. In this paper, I will address this question through the intricacies of the terrain that feminist politics must negotiate, using the Indian experience to set up conversations with feminist debates and experiences globally.

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