Abstract: Many feminists of color have demonstrated the need to take into account differences among women to avoid hegemonic gender-essentialist analyses that represent the problems and interests of privileged women as paradigmatic. As feminist agendas become global, there is growing feminist concern to consider national and cultural differences among women. However, in attempting to take seriously these cultural differences, many feminists risk replacing gender-essentialist analyses with culturally essentialist analyses that replicate problematic colonialist notions about the cultural differences between “Western culture” and “non-Western cultures” and the women who inhabit them (Narayan 1998). Seemingly universal essentialist generalizations about “all women” are replaced by culture-specific essentialist generalizations that depend on totalizing categories such as “Western culture,’ “non-Western cultures,” “Indian women,” and “Muslim women.” The picture of the “cultures” attributed to these groups of women remains fundamentally essentialist, depicting as homogeneous groups of heterogeneous peoples whose values, ways of life, and political commitments are internally diverge.
Comment: This text can be used to teach about the pitfalls of imperialist feminism such as Susan M. Okin's as well as gender and cultural essentialism. It would also be excellent on any courses that attempt to discuss cultural value or cultural heritage as it complicates the idea of cultures as discrete, bounded and unified entities.