Chandra Talpade Mohanty’s “Under Western Eyes” continues to be important in postcolonial feminism because many issues she raises remain unresolved or have only been partially addressed. In contrast, the article’s relevance has also increased because widely diverse feminists continue to expand the borders of feminist thought and action.
Mohanty’s discussion of gender issues in postcolonial theory occurred during a global re-appraisal of feminism, which up until the 1980s had often been considered a Western movement. Advocating for addressing the historical complexity of gender politics within global geopolitics, she was prominent among scholars who argued that race, class, and imperialist ideologies were crucial factors in analyzing women’s positions. She argued against the idea—which was widely promoted by Western, white feminists—that there was a singular, universal category of “woman.” Instead, the vastly differing situations of women in many countries demolished the validity of such universalism. In the postcolonial world, race and class-based inequality often predominated over gender in helping to perpetuate the subordination of some women. Postcolonial feminists pointed out that upper-class white women had long benefitted from, and had actively perpetuated, white male structures of subordination.
Many postcolonial feminist scholars were women from countries outside Europe and North America which had achieved independence from foreign colonial rulers in the twentieth century. People of color in Western countries were also active in interrogating feminist assertions that downplayed race and class. They increasingly focused on violations of human and civil rights for LGBTQ+ people as well as cis/straight women.
Perspectives from intersectionality address such commonalities, especially in regard to race. Transfeminism is one movement that considers feminists concerns to be all issues that interconnect some women to oppressed peoples of any gender. In contrast, issues of white privilege that apply to elite women are increasingly challenged as an overly narrow appropriation of feminism.