Book Review: Philosophical Trends in the Feminist Movement by Anuradha Ghandy

To cap off International Women’s Month, we present a review of Anuradha Ghandy’s Philosophical Trends in the Feminist Movement, published by the Foreign Languages Press.

Institute for Nationalist Studies
4 min readMar 31, 2021

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By: Kirsten Mansilungan

The word “feminism” has been thrown around so much that many women and younger girls are irked with the idea of identifying as a feminist. Textbook definitions of the word would paint feminism as the “advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes” — and one ought to wonder how a once celebrated movement deteriorated into being a mere insult or even a threat used to devalue women and their struggles.

In “Philosophical Trends in the Feminist Movement,” Anuradha Ghandy charts the historical trail of feminism from the emergence of women’s movements during the development of capitalism, a period of immense change in social conditions. Within a hundred pages, Ghandy’s text is a fierce and informed synthesis of the most relevant philosophical trends. Each chapter offers a critical argument against the primary ideological tenets of each trend, along with a brief critique informed with a perspective on class. Its relevance is as straightforward as it can get: historicizing the feminist movement is necessary to advance our theorization of the struggle away from the errors and shortcomings of previous strategies.

True to her own philosophy on the Dalit movement, she critiques feminist movements for turning into mere identity struggles that seek reform in an intrinsically unjust system. Piece by piece, she deconstructs the advantages and drawbacks of each trend with a sharp political assertion that is not simply academic but also profoundly personal. As one delves further into reading, it becomes clear how her books and political thought are banned in her home country: a writing this sharp and relevant poses an immediate danger to capitalist and imperialist states.

“How incorrect theoretical analysis and wrong strategies can affect a movement can be clearly seen in the case of the feminist movement. Not understanding women’s oppression as linked to the wider exploitative socio-economic and political structure, to imperialism, they have sought solutions within the imperialist system itself.”

Even so, the sharpness of the text is not, in any way, dulled by its accessibility for the common reader. The text is also as timely as ever, especially with the ruling class’s continued distortion of the notion of feminism to discredit the movement for women’s liberation.

Like in the Philippines, the condition of women can be contextualized within the framework of a semi-feudal, semi-colonial society. Feudal relations remain preeminent inside the traditional family, forcing women into gendered and unpaid domestic work. The lack of economic independence for many women imposes geographic constraints that limit their mobility — preventing them from breaking free from patterns of domestic abuse, both physical and psychological. While women in advanced capitalist societies celebrate their ‘liberation’ in the form of female executives — or any other case that resembles an equilibrium of power between the sexes — women from the Global South become the primary victims of neoliberal policies imposed by these imperialist countries. These policies manifest themselves as cuts in social welfare programs and as landlessness in the countryside which force women to sell their labor either as migrants in the global care chain or in urban centers for various industries, where they are exposed and victimized into a mindless cycle of consumerism.

Sacrificing women’s lives to maintain trade relations with imperialist countries has always been central to governments subservient to the whims of their imperialist masters. Interviews from independent worker’s rights organizations reveal widespread abuse of domestic workers from the third world, including India and the Philippines, in the form of excessive wage cuts, forced labor, sexual assault, starvation, physical and psychological abuse, among others.

‘We in the Third World are being told by the IMF[International Monetary Fund] and World Bank, “Here are the models in the West,” and [we are] having conditions put on us that take away what little we have achieved in our own countries.’ (from a woman trade unionist in India, Disposable Domestics)

Ghandy emphasizes this in her critiques — most philosophies in the feminist movement would rather shift their analysis towards the superstructural elements (culture, languages, and concepts), excluding the fact that this modern and distinct form of sexism is intrinsically embedded in capitalism, and that overthrowing the system must be at the forefront of the strategy for women’s liberation.

Despite the conciseness of the text, it establishes itself as a necessary read. I would go as far as to say that the critiques in each chapter are perhaps the most integral aspect of the text — it is not simply a synthesis of history wherein one is coaxed into identifying their brand of feminism, nor a dictionary-like definition of ‘feminisms’. Rather, it is an enlightening text that exposes how most feminists fall short of a much needed class analysis in their philosophy and exclude millions of women while advancing reformist strategies. Having read this initially as a means to provide a more profound definition than the traditional one, this book exemplifies the need to transcend identity politics and reclaim the struggle for women’s liberation into one that is not isolated from the struggle against imperialism and capitalism.

Philosophical Trends in the Feminist Movement by Anuradha Ghandy is downloadable for free thanks to the Foreign Languages Press. Download here: https://foreignlanguages.press/colorful-classics/philosophical-trends-in-the-feminist-movement-anuradha-ghandy/

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Institute for Nationalist Studies

The Institute advances ideas and information campaigns on social issues to ferment a nationalist consciousness for the interest of the people’s welfare