Post Colonialism and Feminist Theory | Literary Criticism

 Post-Colonialism & Feminism

Post Colonial Theory & Criticism :

Since about the 90's post colonial theory and criticism has had a major impact on literary and social studies. works like post colonial studies post Colonial literature or postcolonial cinema are frequently encountered. Students of literature, language, social science and law now see their subjects in a new light thanks to the postcolonial theory.
The insights from postcolonial theory are so rich that they illuminate not only the abstract world of our ideas but also the everyday world of our habits and practices. Thus, why we dress the way we do, how we view things in terms of inferior-superior dichotomy, why we consider some colours and shapes more important than others can all the partly explained by post colonial theory.

Terminology (Colonialism) :

Post Colonial :

The basic word in post colonial is colony. The word colony gives us many more words namely colonial, colonizer, colonization and decolonization. In the same way the prefix post gives us words like postcolonial and post-colonial, the hyphen and no hyphen is, in this case, sometimes suggesting a different range of meaning of words.

Colony :

The colony is to be seen in relation to the mother country. If India was the colony of Britain, then Britain was the mother country. If France was the mother country, Algeria was its colony.

Colonizer :

Colonizer were people in control of the colony. for example, the British and French colonizers. The word colonial is used in conjunction with other words namely colonial masters, colonial people, colonial period etc.

Colonialism & Imperialism :

The word colonialism can be differentiated from the words like imperialism, Neo colonialism and internal colonialism.

Colonialism refers to occupations of lands with the significant physical presence of the colonizers; where as imperialism is more a form of ideology in which the actual presence of colonizers in the colony may not be necessary but the colony especially it's economy can still be controlled by the imperial power.

Although colonialism may well be over, imperialism continuous to define relationship between Independent nation. The cry of globalization, with its important agencies like the World Bank and the International monetary fund help the cause of imperialism in subtle ways.

Neo-Colonialism :

Neo colonialism is used as a synonym of imperialism. The word Neo suggesting the hidden nature of colonialism in which the oppressive presence of colonizer is not noticed by the colonial people but their life are nevertheless affected by the process of imperialism.

Décolonisation :

Decolonisation refers to the particular phase in history where a number of countries started winning their independence from the powerful colonial powers like Britain and France. Many of these countries, mostly from Asia and Africa, achieved their independence after 1940. However the word decolonisation is also used to refer to the shedding of many colonial practices, beliefs and habits not easily accomplished. As such decolonisation of the Mind is an on going process and is very complex in nature.

Internal Colonialism :

Internal colonialism refers to nationalism acting like colonialism and applying force to control its own people. It is a known fact of our world that many religious, racial and ethnic groups, often facing discrimination, seek some form of independence from the dominant power in their land.

In fact, they are ruled by force and the power relationship between the two unequal groups make integration of the country a difficult proposition.

Post Colonial Theory, Scholars & Criticism :

History bears out that where there is power there is resistance. The question of power and resistance provides a different direction to post colonial theory.

Among the figures who have focused their attention on resistance are the names of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Algerian writer and revolutionary frantz fanon.

Gandhi and Frantz Fanon :

Gandhiji's concept of non violence,  his use of religious-spiritual vocabulary, his idea of renunciation and his racial critique of Western civilization provide an interesting narrative in the postcolonial theory.

Fanon, on the other hand, was a no votary of nonviolence. A psychoanalyst by training and revolutionary by conviction he is a major reason in postcolonial theory.

Fanon's two influential books black skins, white masks (1952) and the wretched of the Earth (1961) focus on the effects of colonialism on the colonized people. The effect of the gaze of colonizers turn the colonized from the subject to object.

What fanon painfully learnt was that his identity was being made by somebody else. It was the white man who was defining his identity. In this process he ceased to be a man like other men and became an object insted.

Edward Said and Gayatri Spivak :

However the publication of Edward Said's orientalism in 1978 is generally considered to be the key moment in the history of postcolonial studies.

Said's book was a major influence on the study of marginality, a fact affirmed by no less a critic than Gayatri spivak, who along with Indian critic Homi k Bhabha, are other important names in the postcolonial theory.

In his book culture and imperialism (1993) Said addressed the issue of resistance. Edward Said introduced the postcolonial concept of contrapuntal reading of text. Contrapuntal reading takes into account both process of imperialism and of resistance.

Edward Said's reading of Jane Austen's mansfield park, in which he uncovers the novel's relationship to colonies and the Empire, is a classic example of contrapuntal reading.

Marxist critic Ejaz Ahmed has specially been very bitter critic of Said. He has criticized him for not sufficiently highlighting the issue of resistance in his account.

Another book that had substantial impact in the area of postcolonial studies is the Empire Writes back (1989) by Bill ashCroft Gareth griffiths and Helen Triffin.

Post Colonialism, Nationalism and Women question

The main idea which united people in their battle for independence against the colonial rule was the concept of nationalism. Related to the phase of industrialisation and imperialism the concept of nation is of a fairly recent origin and is the concern of a great number of postcolonial poets, novelists, critis and theorists. The concept of nationalism has also been critiqued from a number of perspectives.

The narrative of the freedom struggle has often been presented in patriarchal terms and in terms of motherhood. And the contribution of women to the freedom struggle or to the process of the colonization has not been sufficiently acknowledged.

Postcolonialism and feminism :

Both feminism and post colonialism are concerned with the question of marginality. Both feminism and post colonialism are oppositional discourses i.e. they have an enemy, they display a tone of anger and acute sense of historical wrong and they demand new historiography.

When feminism first made its appearance in the humanities and the social sciences the relationship between the feminism and post colonialism( which became an academic subject in the 90s) exposed many blind spots in the two perspectives.

The well known postcolonial critic Leena Gandhi 1998 identifies 3 areas of controversy which fracture the potential unity between postcolonialism and feminism:

1. The debate surrounding the figure of the third world women.
2. The feminist as imperialist.
3. The colonialist diployment of a feminist criteria to bolster the appeal of civilizing mission.

John McLeod offers another perspective as he sumerises the 'feminist critic of nationalism' offered by Floya anthias and Nira Yuval Davis in their book woman nation state (1989).

According to them women appear in 5 major ways in nationalist discourses :
1. As reproducers of the boundaries of ethnic National groups.
2. As biological reproducers of members of ethnic collectivities.
3. As participating centrally in the ideological reproduction of the collectivity and transmitters of its culture.
4. As signifiers of ethnic National differences.
5. As participants in National economic, political and military struggles.

Rana Kabbani's book imperial fiction : myths of Orient (1994) argues how the eastern women, as she appears in the genre of travel writing, is an object of lust who arouses desire. Colonialism and patriarchy, combines forces to turn her into an exotic figure.

Interestingly she is not any different in the writings of Western women travelers. In fact Western women writers were equally guilty of perpetuating colonial patriarchal attitude about the Orient.

The debate surrounding the third world women has generated a lot of controversy. The category of third world women has been attacked by :
1. it's at ethnocentric bias,
2. For hiding racial prejudice,
3. for stabilizing an old hierarchy in new orientalist terms.

As the first world refers to Europe and the United States of America, the third world refers to the countries in Asia and Africa. Edward Said's orientalism has established that the first world in most Western accounts is enlightened and liberated, democratic and rational and the third world is just its opposite.

Since post colonial studies generated a lot of academic interest in the concept of marginality the figure of the third world women appeared to epitomise the very concept of marginality for the Western feminists. She was doubly colonised.

However, there are problems in the notion of double colonization as the critics like Trinh T. minh-ha, Chandra Talpade Mohanty and Gayatri spivak have argued. The third world women becomes an object which serves the intellectual and discursive interest of Western feminist. She becomes a monolithic category, a subject of study and site for creating knowledge.

She becomes an interesting figure because she possesses an anotherness which Western feminism demands. She holds the promise of a permanent supply of alternality otherness for an all too adventurous Western feminism.

The relationship between imperialism and western feminism has been proved by critics like Gayatri Spivak. In her incisive and truly post colonial reading of Jane eyre titled three womens text and a critique of imperialism (1985) Spivak finds problems in the classic text at the level of narrative and representation.

Jane Eyre can be celebrated in western feminism for exercising agency for making her choices and for feminism only by suppressing a creol women's voice. In the novel that bertha mayson the creole woman is imprisoned in her house and she has to die for Jane to marry Edward Rochester reveals the novel's complicity in the imperial projects.

There was the patriarchal bias in the nationalism. Many champions of nationalism were different to the lots of the native women. However when the colonial masters try to talk about the reforms, they were greatly perturbed. Any effort by the colonial masters to introduced reforms in societal affairs affecting Indian women was considered an interference and met with a lot of resistance.

In his famous work the nation and its fragments (1993) Partha Chatterjee refers to the nationalist tendency to divide the culture into the material and spiritual sphere.

Leena Gandhi aptly sums up Partha Chatterjee's argument : while it was deemed necessary to cultivate and imitate the material accomplishments of Western civilization, it was compulsory to simultaneously preserve and police the spiritual properties of national culture. And in the catalogue of the Nation's spiritual effects the home and its keeper acquired a troublesome pre-eminence.

It must be mentioned that feminism has provided imagery and motifs to many political movements in india both before and after independence.

Gandhi's act of spinning, as Robert young says, was a traditionally feminine activity, as the term spinster suggests. In fact Gandhi saw himself not only as both a Hindu and Muslim but also as both a man and a woman. His androgynity was a protest against the macho colonial aggression. Even his doctrine of non violence form the basis of relationships between men and women on terms of equality. The concept of non violence together with his vegetarianism also provided a basis for what would later be known as eco feminism.

A more concrete example of eco feminism is provided by the chipko movement which began in the early 70's in the Chamoli district in present Uttarakhand. The movement got its name from women's hugging and embracing of trees to register their cutting and felling.

One important strand in postcolonial theory is the colonisation of nature. The cutting of trees the destruction of the flora and fauna of the colonised land and the planting of new trees for economic gains are all aspects of this colonisation of nature.

The contribution of women to the chipko movement and also to some recent movements like Narmada bachao andolan has played a role in defining the nature of eco feminism in India. Famous campaigners like Medha Patekar, Arundhati Roy and Vandana Shiva are important names in these compaigners against deforestation and what they call it, mal-development.




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