The Neoliberal White Feminist Academy

As I read Wilder’s analysis of how the academy provided the theological and scientific justifications for the genocide of native peoples, settler colonialism, and slavery, I thought about another historic and current way the academy intervenes in favor of white supremacy, by creating white savior narratives which justify neo-colonial intervention, foreign and domestic, supposedly on behalf of oppressed peoples. The reason I was thinking about this is that we recently read an essay entitled Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses in Junior Seminar, which discusses how Western feminists appropriate¬†third world women’s lives and struggles through universalizing analysis that serves the narrow interests of white liberal western feminists while dehumanizing women of color. While Wilder discusses how Ivy league scientists, theologians, and activists helped justify white supremacist racial categories, I do not know how relevant this is to Bryn Mawr, which appeared later. Certainly M Carey Thomas would have endorsed the projects of racial science, because of her well known white supremacist views, but I think the space of a women’s college, indeed populated much by future privileged white women scholars who¬†Mohanty critiques, is more interesting in terms of what types of feminisms it creates.

Thinking back on the Dean Spade lecture, I remember how he critiques the type of feminism currently endorsed by women’s colleges and encourages a gender justice framework which better incorporates indigenous and racialized peoples. Yet the actual feminism in women’s colleges can be the neo colonial Hilary Clinton feminism which endorses “humanitarian intervention” and universalizes the experiences of women, or all women of color. There is a long history, as Spade points out, of feminists excluding certain women from their project and universalizing, something we are certainly historically guilty of here. I think mapping how Bryn Mawr’s feminism discluded or included certain women in their feminist framework would be an interesting project, and the type of history one would write if attempting to write a racial history of women’s colleges. This history would be about race and feminism, and race in feminist scholarship, which is often produced at women’s colleges.

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