“I say, ‘What do you ladies do on the [military] base all day?’ They say ‘We go into the local Taliban-run town and speak to the women there about women’s rights.’ I say, “Oh. Do you all speak Afghani or whatever it [language] is?” They say, “No.” I say, “Oh…Well. Do they speak English?”. They say, “No.” So I’m like, “Let me get this straight: our federal government is paying for you to go into the local Taliban-run town and play a game of charades…and try to trick [Afghani] women into leaving their husbands?”
This anecdote is by no means from Mohanty herself, but rather from comedian Kathleen Madigan as she discusses a conversation that occurred during her time in Afghanistan performing for American troops. I relay it here as it provides a poignant introduction, or maybe even a trickling down to a colloquial level, of the ironies central to Western feminism’s difficulty in crossing borders, or even encompassing a global female experience; ironies that post colonial and transnational feminist Chandra Talpade Mohanty has been drawing attention to in her studies for the several years.
As a professor and department chair of Women’s and Gender Studies Sociology at Syracuse University, Chandra Talpade Mohanty has been advancing the conversation about feminist dealings beyond the sphere of Western conventions for the past three decades. Born in Mumbai India in 1955, Mohanty remained in the country throughout her young life, receiving her Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in English from the University of Delhi, before finishing her education in the US with a Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Illinois Urbana – Champaign. Her first published paper, “Under the Western Eye: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses”, as well as her recent book Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity, brought critical attention to the multifaceted nature of the female experience, as it develops differently across eras, regions and classes throughout the world. Mohanty posits that this understanding or viewing of womanhood as globally diverse is often glossed over in the Western feminist construct; or worst yet, is regimented to a category of the “Third World Woman”, which squeezes females living in the southern hemisphere into a boxed conception of the based on what little information is known about the plights of their countries or regions. Mohanty points out these issues not simply as a means of critiquing Western feminism, but of illustrating areas for reconciliation – of building “transnational solidarity” between the women of the Third World, and the women of the West. What Mohanty brings to light, in a substantially more intellectually rooted way than Madigan, is essentially the need to move away from a “game of charades”, and toward real, equal and intelligent discourse.